Looking for a Mobile LMS? Know the difference between Responsive and Mobile-First

Posted on March 10, 2016

If you are not involved in website or app development, the terms "responsive" and "mobile first" are probably not high on your list of daily considerations. When you are creating a new mobile learning course, however, it is worth spending a little bit of time understanding the difference as it will help you make a better decision on which platform or learning management system to use.

Responsive vs Mobile First learning

Responsive is a technical term used to describe a website or application, as well as being a design approach. A responsive website is one that adapts depending on a user's device or screen size. A user visiting a website using a mobile device will see the same website as a user on a desktop computer, but the website will be displayed differently so that it fits the device. The core functionality, structure, and features remain the same.

You can see a responsive website in action by adjusting the size of your browser. This website will "respond" to the change in the size of the window, and will alter how the content is displayed. When building a website or application that is responsive, designers have to adopt a responsive design approach so that all devices are considered and catered for.

Mobile first is not a technical term, but, like responsive design, it is a term used to describe a design approach. The difference between the two may seem subtle at first glance, but they can result in very different designs. With a responsive design approach the website or application is usually built for a desktop device first. This design is then scaled down for smaller devices.

With a mobile first approach, the website or application is designed to work on a mobile. It may then be scaled up to work on larger devices, or it might not. The most important thing, though, is that the design and all of the features and functions are built for mobile users.


Responsive Mobile First Strategy Illustration created by Stéphanie Walter

Which Is Better?

Advocates of responsive mobile learning solutions say that it allows users to choose their device, i.e. they can use a mobile phone or their laptop, depending on where they are or what they are doing.

This is true, but mobile phone use is increasing, while desktop and laptop use is decreasing. People are comfortable using their mobiles and are increasingly choosing them over other devices. They even use their mobiles for things that were traditionally always done on a desktop computer or laptop, such as shopping.

It is therefore important to look at the benefits of a mobile first approach:

  • Focus is on content With mobile first there is a much greater focus on content which fits well with the micro learning experience

  • Less cluttered The design will be less cluttered and will work faster and more intuitively than a design created for desktop and adapted to mobile

  • Everything will work Features and functions may not work on mobile in the same way they work on desktop.

The way to give the best possible user experience on your mobile learning course is to take a mobile first approach to the design.

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