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Designing Mobile Performance Support Apps - @elearningcoach

Sumeet Moghe - the learning generalist


I'm sitting in a Mobile Learning session with one of my favourite people and authors - Connie Malamed, so forgive me for being extremely nice with my write up if that's what happens by the end of this talk. Connie's had a journey learning about apps on Mobile. She wanted to create a performance support app for instructional designers. It's called Instructional Design Guru. You should check it out. In today's talk she's going to tell us how you can walk through the design experience before you hand it over to a programmer. As instructional designers we have the skills to do this, it's just a question of thinking through each of the decisions that we're going to be party to.

When designing for mobile it's important to think of the context. Connie talks about the journey in a few steps:

1. Define the problem
2. Research and Ideate
3. Define the Solution
4. Develop the App

Everyone has ideas about apps! 5.9 billion mobile subscribers in the world. 1.2 billion of them are mobile web users. 63% more smartphone users in 2011 whereas laptop growth has been just 15%. So why mobile? First things first - it's convenient. People almost always have their phones with them. It's very relevant and contextual to the experience that someone's having at the time. People are always out there with their phones and helps with content generation. There are varied devices and mobiles do reduce friction by bringing down barriers. There are mobile collaboration tools and mobile is a far reaching phenomenon. In Africa for example mobile penetration is far ahead in comparision to computers. And lastly, mobile gives you the ability to design for either push or pull. Which is a great thing for learning design.

There are several approaches for learning on mobile:

* micro-learning: self paced mini lessons in varied media. eg podcasts
* synchronous: virtual classrooms using mobile webinar tools
* assessments: tests, surveys, polls
* social media learning: enabling networks for learning
* learning games: challenges and simulations
* performance support apps: references, job aids, collaboration, social, augmented reality

We'll focus on performance support. The key here is a few interesting things:

* it's just in time - the ability to quickly get information in the context of work
* it's part of the workflow and is seamless with the act of doing something
* it occurs when needed
* it uses a pull model
* the learners can apply the skills immediately - great for cognitive load since you don't need to remember heaps before you perform a task.

There's a fair range of things you can do with mobile learning and mobile performance support:

* queries to PLN - no need for an app here
* QR codes - used widely in marketing, but you can get people to get to information in context here
* Automatic text message reminders can be great as in context prompts
* Checklists, references, job aids are also interesting tool - that's the territory Connie's explored
* Augmented reality is a good in context training approach

Connie talks about a doctor receiving surgery advice on SMS. Quite amazing when you think that it saved someone's life. It's performance support too! Mobile performance support needs to fit within the overall learning and mobile strategy for your organisation.

In any case when you think of performance support, you've got to address the 5 moments of need:

1. When learning for the first time
2. When wanting to learn more
3. When trying to remember or apply
4. When things change
5. When something goes wrong

Mobile helps in particular with the last three situations! Think of tools like HVAC calculator. Or iBartender to make fun drinks when you don't know how. eMocha is another interesting data collection app for healthcare.

Design Considerations

Now how do people use phones? People mostly use them on the go. They're usually distracted - so remember they don't have your full attention. People use it in context - eg: Maps, Layar, Foursquare. 40% people use phones in the bathroom. People use phones when they're bored! People use them at their desks - it's a good way to impress them. People use them for micro-tasks - running an errand, paying a bill, watching a video. People use phones when they're relaxed and in a varying set of emptional states.

So the conclusion is:

* Short bursts of activity
* One handed
* Simple features first and complex next
* Text messages are hugely popular!

So what tools do you want to use? You want to figure out the use case scenarios. eg: You're at a museum you want to look up information about the artist and the painting. Or you're doing repairs - you have a complicated situation you need help with.

Second, you want to research similar apps. What other apps are out there that do similar things like your app? It can be fairly time consuming and by the way you need to spend money!

Third, what gestures will you need? This is not your grandma's mouse! The mouse is an intermediatary while playing with touch devices is quite intuitive. Even a kid can do it as Connie demonstrates. So think of taps, pinches, flicks, drags, presses and the stuff that actually happens in the mobile world. Luke W has a lot of stuff here about how to design for mobile. Take a look at his gesture reference cards.

Fourth, what hardware will you use? You'll have several different types of media that you may want to use but will your hardware support it? Does your hardware support geolocation if you're trying to use that in your design? The phone camera can be quite a useful tool. There's the accelerometer as well as is near field communications using RFID technology. So two phones close to each other can share information with each other. iPhones don't support this but you can work around using bluetooth. Be careful to focus to on the primary task.
So how do you communicate your design?
Three important things to consider:

* Write you specs
* Diagram the structure of your app
* and be absolutely sure to wireframe

When you're writing specs for your app, you have several ways of doing it. You could write detailed requirements specs or you could even do user stories. There are definitely other things that you want to specify, such as personas, programming language that you prefer, web or native, task diagrams, your overall vision of the apps functionality, etc. Be sure to diagram the structure too. There are three general structures:

* Flat, no heirarchy
* Tabs
* Tree structure which has a fairly complex heirarchy

There are several wireframing tools available on the internet for this kind of stuff and well, you can just do Powerpoint, Word and maybe just pen and paper.

The other thing to thing to think of is visual design. What icons will you use? What will your touch target sizes look like? What metaphor will you use? For example the Compass app has a real world compass metaphor. If you do pick one metaphor, be sure to follow it all the way through.

Technology Decisions
Native apps of course are faster give you access to the phone's hardware, etc but the cost of programming is high and you get very platform specific and you've got to conform to the marketplace rules. The web on the other hand is portable, cost of development is lower and works on various platforms. Also it's easier to prototype this. The disadvantages however is that you're internet dependent and then you don't get the speed and hardware functionality of your native apps. You can of course create hybrid apps using stuff like Titanium. Do also be mindful that you need to use native languages to program for mobile platforms - so your programmers need to know the specific languages. There's quite a few mobile authoring tools out there as well, but be sure to check on native compatibility and the publishing structure there.