Matchstick Inc.
eLearning, Instructional Design and Learning Technology Consulting


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Designing Learning for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Environments


Mobile devices have changed how we get through our day. Whether socializing, paying for goods and services, banking, or finding information, we reach for personal “companions” whenever and wherever we happen to be. This extends to the workplace where employees are using any number of personal devices. Companies can leverage this ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) behavior in corporate education by allowing employees to access learning on demand using mobile technology with which they are already comfortable. This idea is gaining momentum as shown in a recent survey conducted by Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company. It found that half of all employers will mandate BYOD in the workplace by 2017 and will discontinue the practice of providing employees with corporate laptops, smartphones and tablets.


To adapt to a BYOD world, instructional designers must factor in the variety of devices, screen sizes, operating systems, and browsers available to learners.


How do learners use their devices? All devices are not equal, even if they’re mobile! It’s helpful to consider how people are likely to get the most out of using a device as a learning tool before starting to create content for BYOD environments. Here are some thoughts…


  • Smartphones are most often used while “on the go” - walking in the street, riding a bus, or out on a project. While not inclined to read long documents on a tiny page, learners can listen to a podcast or watch a video.


  • Tablets are often used “on the go” but employees may also like to use them when relaxing after the workday is done for taking tests and watching training videos.


  • Smartwatches will impact the corporate learning landscape as “wearable eLearning" becomes more common as a means for delivering in-the-moment and on-the-job performance improvement. Motion sensors will alert workers when they are performing a task incorrectly or unsafely. These learning-on-your-watch programs will be similar to interactive virtual coaching sessions via a connected Bluetooth headset. Text and images will need to be adapted to the size of the screen.


  • Laptops and Desktops are still where people generally do most of their work even with the rise of BYOD in the workplace. Traditional eLearning works best on these devices as employees are typically more engaged and willing to explore more in-depth content.


With thoughtful planning, you can design eLearning and “on-the-go” performance support content for mobile devices at the same time. It is impossible to know what mobile device(s) the learner will use so you need to ensure a positive learning experience across all platforms.


How do you design learning that works on all mobile devices? Mobile devices use “responsive design” technology enabling content to adapt to the screen on which it is being viewed. This doesn’t mean that making eLearning designed for big screens and turning it into an app, or making it responsive, will work as a viable mobile strategy. Content needs to be adapted for readability on small screens and for short bursts of activity, i.e., accessing a mobile learning segment in between other activities or performance support content while working on a task. Here are some BYOD best practice design tips to think about.


  • Design choices based on wider accessibility over device-specific features will give everyone the same learning experience.


  • Mobile learning is most effective when you keep it short and simple by chunking content into bite-sized 2-minute learning nuggets. Non-interactive elements (e.g., animations with audio and videos) and interactive elements using native interface features of smartphones and tablets – touch and swipe, etc. – are helpful in creating the short learning segments.


  • A delivery solution that allows a range of delivery methods – as a website, as an App or Web App – allows learners to access materials in whatever way is familiar and easy for them.


  • Learners “on-the-go” may be on a poor internet connection so quick hosting and the use of fewer, smaller images and optimized video will be vital for faster download. If the internet cuts out, learners should be able to pick up from where they left off or continue uninterrupted if, for example, their train goes into a tunnel.


  • Designing mostly for landscape view with one big idea per slide works best on all devices. Minimizing the amount of information included on each slide and using simple text and large font make it easier for learners to read small screens.


  • Mobile-friendly interactive features and bright, bold buttons help learners navigate through content. Interactive text fields should appear near the top of the screen and hotspots need to be large enough for easy selection with fingers. Bold, simple graphics without text and PNG (Portable Network Graphic) format provide best color and compression.


  • Quizzes work best when selection is limited to three choices. When using gamification, quiz-style games work better than complex games.


  • Testing across all platforms ensures that what works on a developer’s desktop works well on any learner device.


Creating mobile-friendly content once that will work across all devices is the most efficient design approach for BYOD learning. The advent of HTML5 and responsive design that automatically finds the optimal appearance of content on each device makes this possible and essential in a world where technology continues to change how employees are able to access learning.


BYOD will continue to grow in the workplace. Employees like it because it suits their active lifestyle and lets them control when and how they learn. They can learn what they need when they need it, and they can start a segment on one device, stop and move on to something else, and finish on another device in a different location. Businesses like it because they no longer have to supply devices to employees. So with BYOD here to stay, the challenge for designers is to understand the differences and possibilities of each type of device as a training tool and create flexible content that is easy to use on any device the learner chooses.