Jakob Nielsen, the usability expert, defines three classes of mobile phones, specifically:
- Feature phones (regular mobile phones), with tiny screens and a numeric keypad.
- SmartPhones with midsized screens and a keyboard.
- Touch-screen phones with device-sized screens and touch gesture input.
I think this is a very useful categorization for mobile learning design principles. I just read an article by Elias, "Universal Instructional Design Principles for Mobile Learning" by Elias (2010), and I could not help but cringe while reading it. The recommendation that all mobile learning should be developed with the lowest common denominator – the feature phone – frustrates me.
The reality is, that if I own a SmartPhone or a Touch-Screen phone, I will find courses that are designed for the SMS feature phones to be boring and yesterday! The risk is really high that what you develop will quickly become obsolete. I want to see innovative content that aligns with what my device can do. Mobile learning has so much more potential that what you can do with SMS and MMS.
Don't get me wrong, I think there is a place for feature phone content – but let's start calling it that, "feature phone mobile learning" and not say that all mobile learning needs to be so featureless.
The design principle that makes more sense to me is to design for the richest feature set available, and degrade elegantly. So, take advantage of graphics and video, but make sure those that can't access them can still access the content in a reasonable fashion. Don't cut the graphics and video because some of your learners won't be able to access it.
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