You’ve decided that there’s a valid business case for getting your organisation’s training content onto your employees’ or customers’ mobile devices – whether tablets or smaller.
There are a number of ways you could approach this:
Much depends on where you’re starting from (eg. do you have existing materials you want to push out), what your plans are (eg. will you be wanting to keep these materials up-to-date), and how much you will be deploying (eg. will this be a one-off, or part of a major publishing operation).
These days, it’s common for websites to be designed so that they adapt automatically for various sized devices and screen formats. The key phrase to look out for is “Responsive Web Design” which includes a range of design and programming techniques that allow one website to be used on multiple devices.
The key thing to remember, is that, unless the site has been programmed to save all the content to the device, your users will need to be online to view the content.
The other thing to think about is whether you want payment for access to the content. If you do, then you’ll need to build some sort of back-end system that has a user management and authentication process. That’s not at all trivial.
If you don’t want payment, then you can put web-apps on the open internet. For a great example of what’s possible, see: http://www.asidemag.com/ – best viewed on an iPad.
PDF files are probably the easiest way to distribute content that is purely static (ie. no animations) text and graphics. On an iPad you can save them into your iBooks collection. They can be read offline; are searchable; easy to browse and can contain internal and external hyperlinks.
They’re also really easy to deploy; either as a download, or attached to an email.
Creating them can be as simple, or as complex as you wish. At its simplest, you can print to a pdf from any application that allows printing, including Word, Powerpoint, Keynote etc. Or you can do high-end work using desktop-publishing software in combination with tools like Adobe Acrobat.
The downside with a pdf, at least with the default iPad reader, is that you can’t use any of iBook’s note-taking, highlighting or dictionary functions. Also, the only way to enlarge text is to zoom in on the pages – as opposed to eBooks which reflow text when you enlarge it.
eBooks are as simple as PDF’s to deploy. They have a couple of advantages over pdf’s though:
On the DRM front, it’s worth noting that O’Reilly (one of the world’s largest technical publishers) does not use DRM on its eBooks, yet has still seen massive growth on sales of eBooks.
eBooks are not as easy to create as PDF’s. However they are not difficult, if you have a reasonable understanding of HTML and CSS.
eBooks have a standard format, known as ePub. An ePub file is basically a zip file but with a .epub extension to the filename. If you rename the file so it has a .zip extension, you’ll be able to unzip it and take a look inside, where you’ll find:
You can be quite creative with eBooks, as shown by the ePub Zen Garden site, but you don’t have total control of the layout, particularly where images are concerned, as the eBook software will shift things around to get the best fit on the page.
There are four main (free) tools around to help you create ePub files:
If your starting point is a Word doc or similar, and the pages are quite simple, then look at OpenOffice Writer. As long as your doc is nicely formatted (using styles) then the Writer2epub extension should have no problem turning it into an ePub file which can go straight into your eBook reader.
You’ll have limited control over the output, but it’s a simple process.
Once you’ve got the basic set of files, then Sigil can help you edit them, and tweak a lot of the formatting.
It’s best to keep eBooks as simple as possible, because not all eBook readers will support every HTML and CSS element. The more complex you make it, eg. with embedded media and imported CSS, the more testing you’re going to have to do on your target devices and reader applications.
By pure native application, I mean one that is crafted using the native coding system required by the device. You have a number of ways to build the app:
You then need to wrap it in some code which the mobile device will recognise as pure app code.
This has already been done for you.
PhoneGap lets you deploy to multiple platforms, and lets developers make use of the specific features of those platforms, eg. accelerometers or GPS. You will need to know a little bit about your target platform’s native code to get the best out of PhoneGap.
Alternatively, if you’re using iOS, and you’re just deploying content, then look at the Baker eBook Framework. It’s similar to ePub, in that you create all your content using multiple html files in a single folder. But the Baker Framework then provides the Objective-C code which transforms the pages into apps that can be sold through the App Store, with built-in navigation and page turn effects.
The Laker Compendium takes things to the next stage, by combing the Less Framework (for design), the Baker Framework V2 (for deployment), JQuery (for interactions like double-taps and swipes), and JPlayer (for playing rich media). It really is very simple to use, and quite beautiful to work with. It’s a great way of creating magazine-type apps. But it does rely on you having an Apple Developer Account if you want to actually have people using it.
The final option for creating content, particularly when it’s geared around learning, is to use an existing service that already has an approved app in the App Store. Examples include Xyleme’s Pastiche, Epic’s GoMo, and Upside Learning’s Upside2Go.
All of these offer tools to help you create content, quizzes and other interactions, and then to deploy them through an existing app.
Although these services provide a lot of capability, they do also limit what you can do. You’ll end up with quite a templated approach, which may become frustrating if your target audience develops faster than the service provider – a situation that is increasingly common with the rapid pace of technology adoption.
For a really good introduction to ePub files, and how to build them by hand, look at http://www.jedisaber.com/eBooks/
Posted: 02 January 2013