What does ‘responsive’ mean?
You are probably already familiar with responsive websites; take for example the Bray Leino Learning website that you are on right now. If you are viewing it on a desktop, slowly reduce the width of the window and see what happens. You can see that the content adapts to the new size by first streamlining the navigation buttons into a self-contained menu and then by shrinking it further. The size of the logo decreases and the text and images have proportionately resized with the window.
This action of resizing the window replicates how the website is viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile device.
How does this affect eLearning?
Traditionally eLearning is a fixed resolution, unresponsive design, meaning that it is optimally designed for one display resolution. If you view it on a display with a different resolution the course will either shrink (higher resolution) or it will enlarge to the extent that it is cropped and content is missing (lower resolution). This is obviously far from ideal in the multi-device world we live in.
Before responsive design, eLearning Developers would have to create multiple versions of the same course for compatibility across different devices. Not only is this very labour intensive and inflexible for a developer, but from a user’s point of view it’s also quite restrictive. Each version of the course is essentially a completely separate programme, so neither version of the same course talks to one another. This means that if you logged onto the programme on a desktop computer at your office and then decided to complete the course on your commute home using your phone, you would have to run the mobile version of the course, which wouldn’t remember your previous progress.
Responsive eLearning design hopes to solve this problem by using a one size fits all approach. Now a user can continue to run the same course across multiple devices.
What are the drawbacks?
Having a one size fits all approach is fantastic, but quite often sacrifices will need to be made to ensure the user has a consistent learning experience across all devices.
When building responsive eLearning it needs to be designed from the lowest common denominator i.e. a smart phone. This means that very careful consideration needs to be taken with features, which can be otherwise taken for granted in typical eLearning. Rich animations and transitions are not recommended due to their processor intensive nature; this also has a knock on effect with bandwidth used.
Voiceovers should be ruled out completely, especially when they require syncing. Text really needs to be streamlined, it’s difficult to read pages of text on a phone, and if video is used it must be optimised.
Responsive eLearning tools are very much template driven due to the restrictions of responsive technology, so being able to replicate a design 100% is unrealistic. Arguably responsive eLearning should be quicker to produce but tweaking one design to work on all devices can be time consuming. Essentially the whole process of developing eLearning changes from the ground up.
Responsive eLearning is undoubtedly exciting and with more eLearning authoring tools likely to adopt it, it will eventually become the standard. However, as a company you need to ask yourself, do we really need it? Are we willing to sacrifice design, user interactivity and learning experience? Are we willing to adopt a new (eLearning), niche technology?
If the answer to any of these is no I recommend using a tool like Articulate Storyline which offers the best of both worlds by being scalable (not responsive) and tablet friendly all within one course. If it has to be mobile compatible, Articulate is also capable of producing mobile optimal courses, however this will have to be made as a separate course.
The technology is not yet fully matured. So a cautious but sensible approach to choosing your solution is advised.
Phil Eagles, Senior eLearning Developer, Bray Leino Learning
In my series of blogs I’ll talk about the components of eLearning design and development.
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