Reader’s letter

We’re ready to ditch our Thinkific setup and build our own Learning Management System to help us deliver the best experience for our 15,000+ users. While we’re confident that an app would improve engagement, desktop usage clearly surpasses mobile in our industry. 

We simply don’t have the budget to build both a browser-based LMS and a mobile-based LMS from day one. App builders, while cost-effective, don’t keep up with the changes we make on the browser app, and we’ve found that they result in a disparity between the browser and mobile. So I am curious to hear your thoughts on app alternatives that we can implement during the initial phase (with the intent on building a proper app later)?

Plume’s answer

Typically businesses want to build a mobile app for their elearning to help drive engagement, improve the accessibility of their content, open up to third-world countries, enable offline access, and to support micro-learning delivery methods. But many of these benefits are not exclusive to mobile apps and can be achieved through alternative means, which I’ll get onto shortly.

You’re right to have looked at historic usage data to help prioritise your development efforts, however be careful with how you interpret that data. If your current LMS’ website is poorly optimised for mobile, users won’t use it out of frustration, which will naturally bring mobile usage down. To the contrary, if you have a really great mobile user experience, mobile device share would likely increase. So take your own data with a pinch of salt and take a moment to understand how your competitors have approached device priorities.

Now if you’re sure that desktop is still king, but want to drive mobile engagement without the investment of a full mobile app, you have a couple of options available to you.

A kick-ass app-like mobile site

Mobile browsers have come a long way, and many of the benefits you thought were exclusive to apps are now available in-browser, including notifications, fast loading and sleek app-like user experiences. When designing a mobile version of your LMS, we often take a mobile-first approach, meaning that we design with mobile in mind as the priority device and then later work out how this experience expands to desktop. This means that we can end up with interfaces that look and feel like apps, and not like an afterthought.

Progressive web apps (PWA)

Used by global brands like Starbucks, Microsoft and Vimeo, Progressive Web Apps (PWA) bridges the gap between mobile apps and browser-based apps. PWAs are installable on iPhone and Android devices via the browser, bypassing the AppStore or Play Store altogether. This means no content restrictions, no approval process, and no fees for in-app purchases of your courses or memberships.

Why avoid LMS app-builders?

While an LMS app builder might look tempting at first, long-term they don’t work due to their inflexibility and their inability to keep up with the changes on your browser-based LMS. For example, if you decide to add gamification or a messenger to your browser LMS, your mobile LMS often won’t support such features, leading to a confusing disparity between the two. They may be suitable for an MVP, but rarely have the longevity you’d expect.