Designing for digital learners in the 21st Century

ELTjam began reviewing digital learning products seven years ago. Since then, so much has changed in the way we use the internet and the different devices used to connect to it.

The annual Media Literacy report and the first Online Nation Report from Ofcom were released this month. Together they provide a snapshot into emerging and continuing trends of online behaviour.

While some of these trends are unsurprising (in 2018 we were connected more than ever!), there are some insightful findings into how people use digital tools. The reports also uncover online attitudes in different contexts across the UK – and this has some real implications for us as learning experience designers.

The ongoing rise of mobile and the decline of desktop

We now live more of our lives online than ever. Adults in 2018 spent approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes online a day. As mobile use has increased, the time spent connected while out and about has risen with an average of 2.9 hours spent online on-the-go. That means an estimated 75% of total connected time is spent on a phone or a tablet.

The reports also found that in an average day, adults are likely to do around 14 different activities on their devices. Some complex tasks, such as learning and research, are still done on desktop. However, the trend also indicates that more and more people are switching to using mobiles as their only device.

As mobile learning is moving from nice to have to a must have, the design challenge is also changing. We need to create valuable and complete learning experiences that can be done on the go by learners using their mobiles. We must also take into account that they are also having their attention divided by notifications and a busy external environment.

Research consistently shows that focussed attention in tasks is an essential pillar for learning, and that multitasking usually results in reduced performance. This shows that we not only need to capture the attention of mobile audiences, but also encourage them to invest the effort needed to learn and retain the material.

Many internet users only use sites, apps and content they already know

People reading their mobile phones on the train

The current explosion of online services means it can be difficult to choose new content. While adults are doing a wider range of activities online, many internet users still show a preference for using sites and apps they have used before. Entertainment is particularly affected, with 60% of adults saying they seek content that is familiar to them.

The report also states that 35% of total time spent online in the UK is on sites owned by Google or Facebook.

One way to leverage users’ familiarity of these existing platforms is by integrating learning into the experience. Accent Rosie does just this; it is a chatbot that helps learners practise English listening skills while using Facebook Messenger.

Video is king

Children and young adults spend much more time online than they ever did watching television. So it comes as no surprise that video is the main pastime for most people online. It accounts for 70% of all internet use – though this could either viewing, or creating video content.

To give you an idea of the scale, nine out of ten UK internet users went on YouTube at least once a month for 27 minutes per day, on average. In addition, 57% of people said they had viewed ‘How to’ or tutorial videos online on social media sites, which encompasses educational content.

Of course, video is nothing new in education. But a look at the type of video accessed by users across the survey shows that social media and user-generated video on mobile is the most popular.

Does this shift in video consumption and creation have an impact on the type of video and content we produce? And will this shift to ‘on-the-fly’ content creation (a selfie video response for example) impact our assessment of learners and what we expect them to produce.

Read our top tips for creating pro videos on your mobile phone.

Being up to date with trends and how people are using digital tools is important for grasping the wider context that your product sits in. As a result, reports like this one can really help guide our working practice. An essential part of the learner experience design approach used at ELTjam is understanding learners and their needs, before we start designing and building.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like to read more about the future of the internet.