BYOD—bring your own device—has become ubiquitous both as a choice, where learners opt to use familiar smartphones and tablets, and as a policy, where companies no longer issue mobile devices. This poses new opportunities and challenges for virtual classroom instructors. But with the right preparation, virtual classroom instructors can engage learners wherever they are.  

Choose tools carefully

The first challenge is selecting a platform. Mobile support is hot, so virtual-platform vendors are touting their mobile support—and many learners assume that anything they can do using their laptop, they can also do using a tablet or even a smartphone. Instructors and learners should take note, though: This is simply not the case. Virtual classroom mobile apps don’t necessarily include the same features as the desktop platform.

“Some programs are almost identical between the versions, while others are significantly different. If you know your attendees will join by mobile device, and you have choice over which platform to use, then select a virtual classroom platform that accommodates it,” said Cindy Huggett, a virtual training consultant and author.

For example, the Adobe Connect mobile app allows learners—on iOS or Android tablets or smartphones—to use chat, vote in polls, use status indicators, and view shared content, but they cannot enter breakout rooms.

Jigsaw promises learners “the same training experience on any tablet,” but the website cautions that using a screen smaller than eight inches will require scrolling and that activating some buttons “may present a challenge.” Jigsaw also works on Android phones, but not on iPhones.

Tablet-using learners “can actively participate in the immersive and activity-based work from a mobile device,” according to Jigsaw’s vice president of sales and marketing, Ginger Ackerman. But, due to limited capabilities of mobile devices, breakout rooms and desktop sharing are not supported. However, mobile users can view content shared by an instructor who is using a laptop or desktop.

Other platforms claim that learners can access shared content on their mobile devices, but give few details.

The takeaway: Instructors who anticipate that some learners will join virtual sessions using mobile devices should check with tool vendors to see what they offer in terms of mobile support.

Design for all devices

Next, instructors need to think about the design of the training. Should the instructor make full use of the features and assets the mobile classroom offers, or limit herself to options that are available on all devices?

For example, WebEx Training Center allows tablet-using learners to draw on the whiteboard using a marker tool but not to type on the whiteboard—a feature that desktop users can access, according to Kassy LaBorie, the director of virtual training services at Dale Carnegie. WebEx’s mobile app is available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Some learners will find that they cannot view all shared video formats on some mobile devices.

For some virtual classroom sessions, these limitations won’t matter at all; for others, they could severely impair the learners’ ability to participate or benefit from content.

Advice to instructors: “Instructional designers should know the virtual classroom platform inside and out,” Huggett said. “They need to know which features are only available in the full desktop version and what features are available in the mobile version. That way, when they are developing a virtual class, they are aware and able to create activities using the available tools.”

If a must-have activity requires desktop-only functionality, instructors don’t necessarily have to redesign training to accommodate mobile attendees. “If—in order to meet the learning outcomes—you need to use features only found in the desktop version, then let learners know ahead of time about this requirement. Set them up for success by communicating expectations,” Huggett said.

While some learners may choose to join via tablet or smartphone anyhow, at least those learners will have been duly warned that they will miss out on important content.

Meet learners where they are

Ackerman said that about a quarter of virtual learning happens on mobile devices. “That’s rapidly changing as participants understand they can actively participate in training sessions on mobile devices,” she said. “Most products don’t have the same level of active learning as Jigsaw, so in the past, as people went to join on mobile, they were restricted to seeing certain things but couldn’t actively participate.”

It’s not only learners who are on the move, either. Instructors are increasingly using tablets to present virtual sessions. Jigsaw is ready. “We’ve built our virtual learning apps to include activity-based learning for instructors on the go.”

Adobe Connect also allows instructors to present from tablets, including sharing whiteboards and all types of content; smartphone users can share presentations.

The growing use of mobile devices to access eLearning content has pluses and minuses. Providing content that learners can access anywhere, at any time, offers them choice and lets them control their time and schedule. Allowing, and even encouraging, learners to use familiar devices will mean that they spend less time (and experience less frustration) trying to get the device to work; and therefore, they might be more focused on the content.

However, busy learners who are fitting in eLearning between other obligations—consuming content while commuting or in an airport, for example—are often located in distracting environments or dividing their attention between two or more activities. Engaging learners in remote content is challenging at best; engaging learners in these decidedly suboptimal conditions will be even tougher.

Instructors will need to get creative to come up with engaging activities that use only the features available to mobile learners or provide alternate ways to participate. For example, if smartphone users can’t type text on the whiteboard, invite them to participate via chat instead. Flexibility is the byword here; the payoff is getting more learners to spend more time engaging with training or other eLearning.

Learn more!

Are you eager to learn more about creating virtual classroom training for mobile learners? Cindy Huggett is presenting two sessions at FocusOn Learning 2017 Conference & Expo in San Diego, California, June 20 – 22:

Plus, dozens of additional sessions allow you to take a deep dive into mobile eLearning strategies and best practices.