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Learning design

Choose One: Responsive vs. highly interactive digital learning

Recently I evaluated a few of the popular eLearning development tools, looking to be impressed by the progress and advancement these applications had made. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Instead, it appears that a lot of eLearning development tools expect us to make a choice around functionality to the potential detriment of our learning outcomes. The choice: Do you need a fully responsive mobile-first course design or the ability to add advanced functionality and interactive to your courses, you can only choose one.

Fully responsive courses

What is a fully responsive course? A fully responsive course is a course which has been developed using technologies that allow the layout of a course and its content to automatically adjust and adapt to any device or screen size (ie. mobile, desktop, laptop or tablet).

Some eLearning tools claim to be responsive but use a slide style screen layout which is scaled to fit the available device, resulting in wasted layout space on some devices and tiny almost unreadable content on other devices. Other tools claim to be responsive, but as the course designer you are required to realign each screen of content for each device type, and then hope it all renders ok on the learner’s device. These are not fully responsive courses and result in a lesser learner experience.

There are, however, some tools that create a real responsive experience, creating visually appealing, easy to navigate learning content that changes layout automatically depending on the device you are using. These tools deliver a modern and easy to navigate learning experience, similar to any modern website experience. The problem is that this responsive course design comes at a cost. These tools often then provide a limited set of customisation and the ability to add interactivity, which is a feature set required in most modern digital course designs.

Advanced functionality and interactivity in courses

What is advanced functionality and interactivity? Modern eLearning tools often come with a set of advanced features such as custom theming, drag and drop, what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) style interfaces out of the box. As learning designers and developers we then have the opportunity to use these features along with a more advanced set of functionality which allows us to create sophisticated, custom interactions and feature sets not limited by the interact types pre-built into a specific tool. For example, if you wished to create an interactive game which sent results to your learning management system (LMS) every time the learner completed a task, or levelled up, you would have the opportunity to create that functionality.

There are eLearning development tools out there that are perfect for quickly creating courses that are unencumbered by the inbuilt interaction types, and that can be visually customised to suit your style, your branding and the needs of a particular piece of learning. However, these same tools are highly unlikely to be fully responsive, leaving you with a difficult choice. Do you create a course that is easy to navigate on all devices or a course that includes all the features and interactivity you need to create an engaging learning experience?

Understanding the technologies we use to teach

It is disappointing that as learning professionals, we are still required to compromise on our learning outcomes and instructional approaches due to technical limitations. Education should drive technology, not the other way around. While fully custom-coded eLearning courses can, of course, be developed, this is not in the scope or the budget for a lot of organisations. In the meantime, we have to stay informed and make the best technology decisions we can make within the available options to ensure we minimise the impact on our learning outcomes.

Catherine Duncan

Catherine Duncan

Catherine is a learning technologies and digital education practitioner with over twelve years experience across a variety of industries. She enjoys using her technical, educational and creative knowledge to assist organisations in determining their technical and/or training requirements and assisting them in finding the optimum solution.

One thought on “Choose One: Responsive vs. highly interactive digital learning

  • Nice post Catherine!
    During the COVID-19 lockdown I went looking for mobile app for my daughters (4 and 6) – and of course I wasn’t just looking for games, but apps that had interactivity, and a reasonable amount of learning content / opportunity.
    Overall I was very disappointed with the general quality, and the fact that almost all free apps had pop-up adverts 🙁
    That’s one reason I started developing a number of games and activities in H5P.
    And although it’s HTML5, even there the control I have as a designer for small screen display is limited.
    It seems we are waiting for a ‘dynamic and responsive framework’ that intelligently manages content across multiple devices, sizes, and reolutions.
    Times like this I wish I had become a developer… lol


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