Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Please note: This was published over a year ago. Phone numbers, email addresses and other information may have changed.

The era of mobile learning: a revolution of true anytime, anywhere learning (part 1)

Posted by | 1 comment

We’ve read so many best practices for instructors on how to engage students in their online class by replacing standard text and course materials with more interactive and engaging content using multimedia and technology. These course materials can be video clips from recorded lectures, electronic textbooks, publisher’s online resources, PDF files, recorded whiteboard animations, etc.

PCC Course Content viewed on iOS devices

The era of VHS tapes, videocassettes, and slide projectors are gone. This is an era where everyone is surrounded by technology. Everyday I leave my house carrying my house key, car key, smartphone, and tablet. I used to carry around my planner book to check my day-to-day activity, but now I cannot live without my phone. I rely heavily on my phone with my daily schedule and always checking my messages and emails at least one every hour. I can imagine some of you who read this nodding your head, agreeing with me that you do the same things I do in your daily life.

There is a rapid rise of students accessing and completing coursework by using mobile applications and devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices. It is a revolution of true anytime, anywhere learning. They may not have their laptops or tablets with them, but they will have their smart phones, 3G (or 4G) access, and a data plan that help them accessing their course while waiting on the bus or shuttle, or do their homework while waiting in the coffee shop. It’s the real power of mobile learning, access at your fingertip.

You can see trend growth in people who are accessing our PCC Desire2Learn (D2L) website using mobile devices vs. computer from Google Analytic data. Below are some snapshots of the data.

Google Analytic showing computer vs. mobile devices accessing PCC D2L from April-May, 2014

The statistic above shows that in just within these 2 months, almost 11% of people are using their mobile devices to access our PCC D2L and still 89% are using regular computer. It’s because not all course content can be accessible using mobile devices (credit to Andy Freed).

Google Analytic showing computer vs. mobile devices accessing PCC D2L from April-May in 2013 vs. 2014

You can see above a snapshot comparison between last year and this year, from March 31st through May 30rd. The growth of accessing PCC D2L using mobile devices has doubled in 2014 to almost 11% in comparison to 5% in 2013 (credit to Andy Freed).

Google Analytic showing variety of mobile devices accessing PCC D2L from April-May, 2014

The above snapshot is a comparison of a variety of mobile devices people use to access PCC D2L. Apple iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) are in the top two, with a little over 60%, followed by android devices due to their varieties (credit to Andy Freed).

If mobile learning is really the new trend and it continues, we will see about 20% of visits from mobile devices next year, instructors would need to adjust teaching/learning pedagogy for their online course. Consider usability and accessibility on mobile devices when selecting or creating online materials and e-texts to make the most of mobile technology. Design your course materials, from the start, to be accessible and navigable on mobile devices, rather than attempting to translate print materials or more traditional online materials into a mobile format later.

Best practices for online instructors to create mobile-friendly courses

PCC class content displayed on the laptopChunk your content into smaller sections

If you think about students who spent about 13 minutes per session in Desire2Learn using a computer, they would only spent 8 minutes using a tablet, and just 4 minutes using a smartphone. So by chunking your content into smaller sections, it’s easier to navigate smaller sections of content rather than one long page.

Use the course templates provided by Desire2Learn and PCC Distance Ed.

These course templates, as you can see from the picture above, aside from being consistent and have beautiful layout, are also accessible and responsive on mobile devices. Use your existing course template to create a new one and follow the tutorial on how to create a new html page. And if you need to request a course template, contact the Distance Ed. Faculty Helpdesk.

Stop using tables for formatting

Do not format your content using table; use it only for displaying tabular data. Tables are difficult to adjust, slow to load, and often hard to read when viewed on a small mobile device screens. Be aware that students who are using screen reader software will read the table in a linear way from left to right, top to bottom, one cell at a time (no repeats). If cells are split or merged, the reading order can be thrown off. You can visit the WebAIM website to learn more about creating accessible table or DL Website to learn about creating accessible page in Desire2Learn.

Reduce file size

You probably don’t notice anything when uploading and sharing a large file, like a 50MB PowerPoint file, when using a computer and good network connection. However, users on mobile devices often suffer from large files. Mobile users rely on a good Wi-Fi or 3G/4G data connection, plus there might be charges for larger file downloads. Often time, students won’t be able to access the files on their devices.


image from PCC IS Accessibility website.

Consider breaking larger files into smaller parts, or remove unnecessary images and media from PDFs and PowerPoints. Some software also has the option to optimize the page for web before saving the file. If you use video, do not embed the video into the file. You should host the video on a streaming service, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Kaltura, or Mediasite, and link to it or embed it inside Desire2Learn. These services reduce file sizes, can be captioned, are mobile-optimized, and can avoid additional plug-ins that may not be available on mobile devices.

no-plug-ins-iconUse mobile-friendly media

Simply avoid Flash and Java, as the majority of mobile devices don’t support activities that rely on these plugins. Unless the activity is absolutely necessary, try to find an alternative. The new Desire2Learn upgrade version 10.3 support HTML5 equation editor and doesn’t rely on Java. Blackboard Collaborate also has a mobile app version to do web conferencing.

Advise the student

Unavoidably, there will be times when the content or an assignment cannot be optimized for mobile use. It is important to keep in mind that there are some students who will use mobile devices as their primary device to access your course. Advise them to find an alternate means, most likely using a computer, to complete an assignment, read content, or interact with the course. For example: if an assignment requires Flash, Java, use of a camera or microphone, or uploading of a file.

Do you want to try creating a mobile-friendly course now?

You may think that this whole buzz about mobile learning is a lot of work and you may avoid mobile apps because you don’t want to spend a lot of time or money exploring them. However, it would be a wise move to at least check out your content on a mobile device, if possible on multiple platforms, even if you don’t personally use them. It would be best if you can design your course as accessible and mobile-friendly from the outset. After all, that is what your students are doing. I will end here, but look my next post, part 2 of the era of mobile learning.


There is one comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Monica Marlo 2 years ago

Thanks for the great post on mobile, Melany! I’m hoping some of our instructors who use mobile in their curriculum will chime in with examples, and if they don’t yet use mobile, what from the best practices you presented could we be most helpful by assisting them with?

Add to the discussion

PCC offers this limited open forum as an extension of the respectful, well-reasoned discourse we expect in our classroom discussions. As such, we welcome all viewpoints, but monitor comments to be sure they stick to the topic and contribute to the conversation. We will remove them if they contain or link to abusive material, personal attacks, profanity, off-topic items, or spam. This is the same behavior we require in our hallways and classrooms. Our online spaces are no different.