Device agnosticism is a hot topic in the web content development arena. Because of the fact that so many different devices with different screen sizes, specifications and operating systems are releasing every day, content developers are looking for ‘create-once-and-deliver-for-all’ kind of solutions. That’s where device agnosticism comes into the picture: writing content that’s suitable for most devices (ideally all devices) and be responsive nevertheless.
For a quick recap, responsiveness is the ability of the content to optimally adjust itself according to the device it is being accessed on. Responsiveness isn’t just about displaying content on a smaller screen. It is about optimizing viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling. Interactivity is the ability of the application to accept user actions and inputs such as click, touch or mouse-hover events. Quizzes, puzzles, games, etc. are all examples of interactive applications.
An example of truly responsive web design may be worth mentioning here. Financial Times newspaper is a very good example of how a browser based newspaper is made user friendly and intuitive for even the small 3 to 5 inch screen devices. The desktop version of the newspaper http://www.ft.com/home/us gives you more real-estate on the screen and consequently the content is chunked under different links such as International News, National News, Market, Sports, etc. on the same page with drop down lists for each. On the other hand, when you access the mobile version of the website, what you see first is just a listing of the different categories which you can click to view the topic headings. Once you click on a topic, the website renders the article according to the size and dimension of your device.
If you set out to design device agnostic content for mobile learning, you’ll come across a lot of pre-packaged rapid authoring software applications that claim they can be used ‘off-the-shelf’ while delivering good quality of interactivity. While such packaged software may be good to get you started, a couple of drawbacks defeat the very purpose of device agnosticism. These include:
Though rapid authoring software can publish in HTML5 which is intended for mobile delivery, what it essentially does is shrinking the content meant for PCs and displaying it on a smaller screen. For example, if a Lectora or Storyline interface is built for a certain default spec, you can’t really make it responsive. Thus usability of the content suffers.
Reduced or no interactivity
Learning on the mobile is all about interactivity and immersive experiences. Students have to interact with applications and move forward in the mLearning course by getting results out of those interactions. Using packaged authoring software can rarely create the interactivity required to match individual organizational needs.
Inherent challenges because of customized operating systems
Operating systems come in different flavors. For example, an Android KitKat 4.4 may look different on HTC, Samsung and Motorola devices. This happens because handset manufacturers OEM devices with a slightly customized version of the OS. So though all given devices may be Android KitKat, technically speaking, they could be different in the way they render content. These are challenges inherent to instructional designing for device agnostic content and they get amplified when you use a standard, packaged software as compared to when you develop content from the ground up.
When we talk of mobile learning, we are talking about using devices that are essentially perceived as tools for recreation and entertainment (when you think of a smartphone, it’s all about music, apps, games, social networking and communication, right?). If we are using such devices for learning, they should be able to fulfill these inherent user needs, which is why there’s a lot of emphasis on interactivity.
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