Why Responsive (Mobile-friendly) eLearning Content Is Critical to Entering Global Markets
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Phones are the primary access point for your information worldwide
“According to StatCounter, people in India access the internet through mobile devices nearly 80 percent of the time. Desktops amount to just 20.24 percent of usage, and tablets are a mere blip — at 0.79 percent of usage. China’s mobile internet access constitutes 57.18 percent, against 40.5 percent from desktops. In the United States, the numbers are much closer.” From DMN
Your company is selling tractors in India. The buyers need to know how to operate, maintain, and repair them. You have learning content for all of these needs but it was developed on a non-responsive platform and contains many media elements that do not display in a useful way on small screens. But your Indian buyers only have mobile phones and don’t speak or read English.
Now imagine this: Your competitor is also selling tractors in India, but their documentation and training is mobile-friendly and translated into multiple dialects. Which tractor is your Indian buyer more likely to buy?
Traditional authoring platforms vs. responsive digital distribution platforms
These are not minor roadblocks to global expansion. Your training developers and eLearning providers are very likely using content authoring platforms, as opposed to content publishing platforms, that can publish to multiple device formats. You may have a great slide deck showing how to set up a tractor attachment. You may have even translated it into the languages of your Indian market. But the end user on the ground cannot access it out in the field because they only have a mobile device with limited bandwidth. And the slides are not designed to be read on a 6” screen.
Of course, you can and will ship printed manuals. But a customer may have additional questions or need access to visual or video demos because they can’t read. You may offer on-device documentation via a screen in the cab of the tractor. Is that screen desktop size?
It is easy to keep extending this scenario but you get the point. Your content platform needs to be capable of delivering mobile responsive content to get the most out of your global expansion. And your translation and localization planning needs to be able to accommodate information whose format changes, dependent on the device used to access it.
This probably means changing the tools you use to create and distribute your learning and training content. That may sound radical but the global economy is not going away and these issues will only become more critical as digital distribution options expand.
So, how exactly do you create and translate responsive content?
Years ago, you needed coding skills to create a rudimentary web site. As they became more complex, these skills and the learning curve to build sites became more complex. And the costs involved in creating these sites went higher and higher. Then a disruptor came along, the WordPress content management system (CMS) for building sites (originally blogs). Suddenly non-coders could create and update websites without coding skills, using WYSIWYG tools in the CMS.
An entire industry came into being that supported this open-source tool and anyone could buy professionally designed themes for their website needs. When mobile began to explode, these theme developers built responsive themes that could sense the device being used to access the site and adapt the content to that screen size and device capability. And the cost of these tools came down to a point where it was not even a factor. As of last count, over 28% of all the sites on the web are built on WordPress (that’s ~172 million sites at the time of this writing).
Responsive learning and digital delivery platforms offer the same promise to the learning and development business. Like WordPress in its early days, developers will claim that their old courseware was much more flexible, once you learned to use it. And they’ll tell you that responsive platforms are limited by the parameters required to adapt content, on the fly, for various devices. Having limitations is not necessarily a negative thing. Having defined parameters creates standards and those standards will guarantee that your training and eLearning remains device-compatible across the planet.
For translation, XML is the key
These systems should offer the ability to export content as XML files that retain metadata associated with them when they are created. This metadata gives the system the ability to organize these content pieces in the intended context, even after they have been exported, translated, reviewed and edited, and reimported via APIs into the responsive platform for distribution. Changes and updates can go through these process quickly, including translation. It represents the future of learning delivery and creation workflows for global markets.
We’re not quite there yet but it’s on its way
Responsive eLearning development and distribution platforms exist today. Inkling is one example. Articulate Rise 360 is another. Adoption is increasing, in spite of the inevitable cultural issues that arise when you take familiar tools away from creators and replace them with ones that require them to work differently. Like the website development example, as adoption spreads, costs will come down, and it will be much easier to add translation into the mix. Not just easier, but essential to thriving in a globally connected world.