Tips to Create Responsive Design for e-Learning Courses
Today everybody is talking about the importance of eLearning courses for professional growth. Our lives being interlinked with the digital devices around us, learning is increasingly happening on mobile devices that have become our constant companions. This being the scenario, educators and eLearning course designers are laying more emphasis on creating mobile learning experiences that not only offer popular features like real-time video conferences, notifications, quick assessments and collaborative learning, but also exhibit a responsive design.
So, what does responsive design mean exactly? In the early 2000s, when the mobile revolution started gaining pace, web designers had to create multiple versions of a website to make them accessible to users on a mobile device. There were no responsive design techniques and designers spent a lot of time and money to make their sites mobile-ready. With the growing number of mobile platforms and other new devices, it dawned on web designers that a device-specific approach of web design would no longer be a viable option.
The term ‘responsive design’ was first used by Ethan Marcotte – a reputed web designer, in this 2010 article published in ‘A List Apart’. Marcotte used the word responsive to describe a web design approach that would optimize websites to work on different devices. Responsive design, he said, could be used to create the best possible user experience while maintaining the quality of the web content and features so that it would be easy to read and navigate on a screen of any size on any device.
Responsiveness relates to aspects of web design where developers define how the website will reposition or resize the content at different screen sizes and resolution breakpoints. In responsive design, the browser does all the work guided by the CSS specification. So, for example, a website might display content in a single column on a narrow screen such as that of a smartphone and display the same content in a wider two-column layout when its opened on a larger screen such as a tablet.
However, when it comes to delivering e-learning courses for multiple devices, there are couple of other challenges that developers face. Most e-learning courses adopt a slide-based convention with a horizontal layout that is based on objects staying in a fixed position relative to each other. And the course might contain different types of content such as graphics, text or media-rich interactions. Responsive web design works because the relative positioning of web content doesn’t really matter. However, in a slide-based e-learning content, if the objects changed position or hide to accommodate to a smaller screen size, then the learners wouldn’t be able to make sense of it at all! Hence, for a slide-based e-learning course to work on different devices, it is important that the position of the elements on the screen do not change regardless of screen size or aspect ratio.
To overcome this problem, some organizations have taken to creating micro-websites for e-learning courses that employ scrolling through the content instead of using the slide-based convention. However, since this type of content uses web design tools and not e-learning authoring tools, developers needed more time and coding skills that most e-learning developers didn’t have.
So, what is the solution for e-learning developers to build responsive courses?
Well, today there are web-based authoring tools and applications such as Rise that help develop responsive e-learning courses directly on a web browser. Course developers simply need to add text, images and upload media files to pre-built video, quiz, lessons, etc. or they can create customised lessons with a scrolling design. There are also tools called responsive mobile course players such as Storyline 360 and Studio 360 that can create highly interactive, slide-based e-learning courses that work on any device. These responsive players detect what kind of device is being used by the learner and automatically adapts the content for the screen size and orientation.
While choosing the right authoring tool is very important for eLearning developers, in order to minimize the time you spend creating a responsive course, you should also keep the following tips in mind.
- Keep the Content Multiplatform-Friendly
Whether you use a desktop computer, a smartphone or a tablet, learners must have access to courses that work intuitively on any device and deliver the best user experience. Ensure that your e-learning content is multiplatform friendly without compromising on the quality.
- Planning Makes Perfect
When transitioning to a responsive design, do remember to plan for the little as well as the more important things. Factor in the target devices and screen sizes for which you will be developing the course. You may want to create a style guide that contains information on fonts, colours and other formatting instructions. Pick the right tool to create the course that will suit your budget and business needs, and lastly plan the project with the timelines in mind. If your planning is good, the design process becomes simpler.
- Give Attention to the Tiny Design Details
Whether it’s the kind of navigation you put in place or the quality of images and graphics you use, as a designer you must put yourself in the shoes of the learner and adopt features that are easy to use and do not occupy a lot of screen space. For example, a drop-down menu in a mobile device might eat up the entire screen if the menu items are not condensed for the small screen size. Similarly, bulky images will make the course page load very slowly or could appear incorrectly on a mobile. To avoid this, you need to use mobile-friendly formats for images and graphics so that that pages are easily accessible. Also, it’s advisable to break-down your course into smaller modules that are easier to consume; a general rule of thumb that you could adopt is teaching one concept per module.
- Development is Key
Once you have established the right tool to create your course and smoothened out the planning process, it’s time for you to implement your design. Gather all your resources – graphics, buttons, icons and library of fonts – make sure they are ready for the responsive design you have in mind. Use master slides, which will help you speed up the entire development process. This is the most crucial part of your responsive design project since all your ideas and concepts come to life here; so, use the right tools and templates to execute the project the way you envisioned it.
Responsive e-learning courses are not that hard to implement, especially with the various free libraries and tools available online these days. Remember, the mantra is to keep the design simple, easily accessible and adaptable to any platform that the user might fancy.
Shwetha Bhat | Blogger