It wasn’t too long ago that I determined how far I was running in my triathlon workouts by driving my SUV along the run route. Not exactly scientific but I needed to know an approximate distance. So it’s no surprise that as mobile devices improved in capabilities, I turned to the mobile app markets to find one to help me with my running metrics. For the last month, I have been using the Nike+ application on my iPhone 3GS. It has brought new life to my running workouts and given me analytics I have never known before. For instance, now I know that I have essentially two speeds when I am running: slow and slow.
Like any app I integrate into my daily life, I like to look at it from a mobile learning perspective. I can safely assume that with the power of Nike behind it, this app had a strong effort in interactive design, consideration of mobile device features and other requirements important to a mobile learning application. Let’s look at some of those features and see what kind of lessons we can take away applicable to mLearning.
First the app is very intuitive. I could step through the screens the first time I launched it and determine the basic functionality to monitor and record my run without the use of any manual or instructions. This is a great reminder that the interactive design of any application or course we develop should not make the learner work hard to find the information they need. With a mobile app, this can be especially true when you consider the context of the learning. For instance, with the Nike+ app, the audience might be running at the time they are using the app so you can’t have them doing a deep drill-down just to find important information. Always consider the environment your learners will be in and weigh factors such as lighting, ambient noise, job responsibilities and cultural circumstances. The app also leverages mobile app design standards so users instinctively know where functions are located.
The Nike+ app is empathetic. Good interactive design knows and understands the needs and desires of the targeted learners. The screen I spend the most time on is the one is up when I am running. When you look at the screen, you see how the screen has prioritized information. Your eyes go directly to the biggest type, which is the running time. That is what I want to keep track of most consistently. The button that starts and stops recording the workout is also big and easy to use. Again, the user interface designer was thinking of the runner needing to touch that while running. Other buttons and information are given less prominence because they present data or functions are not as critical. The app also gives verbal information and updates if I never want to look at the screen at all when I am running. All I need to do is hit the home button on my iPhone and I get a verbal update on the progress of my run. This function also helps make the app safer to use because I don’t have to look down and read the screen while I am running. The ideal situation for a runner is to be looking up and being attentive to traffic, other runners and the occasional neighborhood dog and not being focused on their mobile device. All of these interactive and interface designs are built in with the enduser in mind to make their experience positive and beneficial. This should be a priority no matter what the size, scope or type of mobile application you are building. You want to lose your target audience in a hurry? Create an app for them that is confusing and difficult. Not sure what your learner’s priorities are? Go out in the field and ask them.
Finally, the app should make a strong statement that strengthens your brand. Sure, Nike has one of the most recognizable brands in the world but that doesn’t mean they slap on the swoosh and develop an application that is flat and lifeless. The graphical user interface is clean and powerful. Bold red is the predominant color and reflects the aggressive and competitive nature of most runners. There are excellent added features such as a “PowerSong” button that the runner can press in the home stretch causing a favorite song to come on. There is audio encouragement from globally known runners that play at key times such as when a runner achieves a best time or distance. All of these features add to the total positive experience that, in result, strengthens the brand. There is not a single advertisement in the app to buy Nike shoes but the app will cause runners to have a strong preference to buy Nike the next time they are considering new running shoes. Whether you are building a mobile application for the public or for internal use, this is a great opportunity to build brand loyalty and perhaps even brand advocacy for your target audience. Mobile learning doesn’t have to be mobile mediocrity. Your brand is important and valuable, shouldn’t your mobile learning be important and valuable?
The Nike+ app shows that there are many mobile application design & development lessons that can be learned from everyday public retail apps. You can see and leverage all the smart strategy and thinking went into a successful and effective app and then determine if you can transfer some of that thinking over to your own mobile content delivery effort. It’s almost like putting Nike to work for you. The next time you are using your favorite mobile application, take a step back and see if there are good ideas used in it you can apply to your own mobile learning challenge. Just like it did with the Nike+ mobile app, those good ideas can get you up and running.
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