Guest Blog by Francis Kneebone,  CEO, E-learning Developer + Project Manager of Cognition E-learning

Many online activities are sliding fast to a Mobile First experience, meaning that laptops or desktops are secondary to mobile access if accessed at all.

The reality of Mobile First can be seen with social media, online shopping and productivity tools and now with the introduction of the Apple Watch computing ‘off canvas’ is growing.

CC-BY image from ""
CC-BY image from “”

But still Mobile is still to this day an afterthought in many E-learning projects and I believe it should be the First thought.

It is often thought that learners are not accessing course work on their phones so it is not worth investing in. Can I say that coupled with this belief that students won’t access E-learning through mobile devices is the reluctance to actually provide quality mobile access to E-learning. But if you build it they will come.

One conclusion I have come to is that to reach the ideal of interoperable E-learning experiences we need to design from the smaller viewport (mobile phone) context upwards. This is becoming a popular design approach with web developers.

Mobile First Responsive Web Design is a term created by Luke Wroblewski that highlights the need to prioritize the mobile context when creating user experiences.

“Starting with mobile first (Brad Frost Web, 2011):

  • Allows websites to reach more people (77% of the world’s population has a mobile device, 85% of phones sold in 2011 equipped with browser)
  • Forces designers to focus on core content and functionality (What do you do when you lose 80% of your screen real estate?)
  • Lets designers innovate and take advantage of new technologies (geolocation, touch events and more)”

The biggest benefit of the Mobile First approach to content design is that it forces us as educational content designers to get back to making clean, simple, fast-loading and gimmick-free E-learning, as you can only do so much with a small phone screen.There is a strength in limitation you could say, but it is a refining through a process of only leaving what is necessary.

Over time this has made for some actual improvements to the UX (user experience) of the overall experience in many web experiences. I find that the Apps or phone browser versions of Social Networking sites Twitter and Facebook are much better to use than the desktop versions. UX benefits discovered through Mobile Operating Systems and Apps have in turn influenced the function and design of their Desktop counterparts.

Mobile First is a design approach that takes into account first and foremost:

  • Screen Size – Design for immediate need and design in balance. eg. Navigation less than 4 items deep, Obvious Gestures (for upsize), touch/mouse
  • Performance – Fast-loading + Pre-loading elements for possibly slow web
  • Context – The place and time of mobile device use is considered eg. 1 hand/1 eye, Competing Priorities, between A and B

To learn more about Mobile First E-learning Design, join Francis Kneebone “On the virtual couch with a Mobile Learning Expert” on 14 November 2014.

Contact us now via email or phone 0400 732 270 to learn how to effectively implement mobile first e-learning design or enquire about our E-learning content development services.  Subscribe to our Digital Capability – Doing it Smarter eUpdates.


Francis Kneebone - Mobile Learning ExpertFrancis Kneebone is CEO, consultant and trainer with Cognition E-learning. Francis is an experienced Training Manager and E-learning developer who is passionate about the use of technology to enhance training and learning.

Cognition E-learning pushes the boundaries in the area of ‘point of need’ training through mobile technology and delivering training in HTML5/CSS3/JS and other emerging technologies. Francis follows a Mobile-First approach to creating educational content and learning communities, and has recently released his free e-book, BlendEd – a guide to getting the best out of your e-learning strategy.

Mobile First E-learning Design
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4 thoughts on “Mobile First E-learning Design

  • October 14, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Its very true that the reason students aren’t learning on their phones is largely because they can’t … most systems just don’t work on that platform 🙂 … nice post. David

  • October 14, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Francis,
    Great article and very true.
    I have often found the people funding the projects think that making it mobile ready is like an add on module and will double the cost of the project. As thought the project will cost X dollars and to make it mobile ready adds another X dollars on top of the project. Getting them to understand that if you build it with mobile first approach, it doesn’t double the cost of the project. They do generally understand the benefits of mobile ready although I did have one University say that none of their students use Mobile for learning based on their website usage statistics. Maybe their Uni site wasn’t mobile friendly.

  • October 15, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Thanks Chris & Dave,

    I think the Uni stats are probably accurate, but if the mobile course experience was a good one…maybe different results. I’m still working it all out myself but believe we need to give learners something we can test properly. I spend time on my phone interacting and learning (informally) on twitter (through conversations and connected articles/videos) so much that is surprises me that we can’t create a formal experience that is similar. How much of this ‘twitter’ learning experience is the mobile aspect, how much the social aspect and how much is personal self-directed factor I’m not sure.

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