Mobile Content Strategies: How to move legacy content to mobile using a device-independent model

by WorkLearnMobile

One of the biggest challenges facing early mobile learning adopters is how to migrate non-mobile content to mobile. A recent Brandonhall research report looking at top learning organizations found that Content creation and Migration were among the top obstacles these organizations were trying to solve.

“Between content creation and content migration, content is the number one challenge!”

In this article, Mayra Aixa Villar introduces a “device independent” model for thinking about content migration that can be used as the basis for future content strategies in mobile learning projects:

Mobile devices are not just ancillary mediums to access specific content when you are on the go. They are quickly becoming main information and communication tools that allow us to carry out multiple tasks in various contexts.  Such versatility along with the vast heterogeneity among today´s devices demand new approaches to design content that can successfully adapt to these different environments.

However, most designers tend to focus too much on screen sizes and different platform requirements. These are all valid and important considerations, but they may impose some constraints upon the design of more effective device-agnostic experiences. The key aspects to create products that can cater to the end users´ real needs on and beyond the desktop are: the users themselves, their needs and the content in context.

These are the aspects that I always keep in mind when I embark on a new mobile learning project. I think that initial discussions about devices characteristics should be switched into a more practical approach for creating rich user-content interactions regardless of layouts, sizes and platforms. Thus, every time we start a mobile learning project, the main question should not be focused on how to display existing content on different devices. We must:

  • Query about the users
  • Challenge the relevance of the content
  • Evaluate how it serves different purposes in different contexts

In other words, we need a comprehensive strategy for cataloging, evaluating and rebuilding the content.

In this context, a content inventory helps us to carefully review existing materials from different sources in order to answer some of the following questions:

  • How much and what type of legacy content exists?
  • Are these content items Flash-based courses, print manuals, training videos, etc.?
  • How much of the original content should be retained?
  • Are there any information gaps to address?

Having a complete list of all the resources available will allow us to focus on what content should be edited, deleted or created. Here are some of the guiding criteria to analyze and select content: 

  • What type of information, resources or support do the end users need?
  • When and where do they need this information?
  • How and where do they want to access this information?
  • How can you provide access to updated resources in a more agile manner?

The answers to all these questions will provide us with new perspectives to effectively restructure our content into discrete, malleable information chunks. These chunks can then be combined in different ways and delivered across different platforms without spoiling the user experience at the end. As you can see, it is not about sizes and operative systems; it is about relevant and flexible content.

Flexible and presentation-independent content components constitute what author Karen McGrane calls “adaptive content”: “Adaptive content is content that is flexible, so it can adapt to different screen sizes, and can be presented in different formats as appropriate for the device.” According to McGrane, some components of adaptive content are:

  • Presentation-independent content that hasn´t been styled and formatted for a single display. Instead, it has been prepared to adapt itself to its container.
  • Meaningful metadata that will allow platforms to filter or highlight the content and decide which content to display.
  • Usable CMS interfaces that can help us create well-structured and metadata-enhanced content.

So, the key is to review, annotate and structure our content in such a way that can be adaptable and reusable according to the end users’ needs and performance context, not according to the screen sizes and platforms. If necessary, we may even create different versions of our content, i.e. different content packages for different uses and environments.

Structured and device – independent presentation models: Some examples

Text design: We need to start redesigning our text and focus on the information that really matters. What is the primary message that we need to get across? More importantly, what are the pieces of information that end users will be looking for? How can we make those pieces of information stand out, in order to facilitate users´ tasks? Here’s a depiction of  how to improve the readability as well as the findibility of our content by taking into account the user´s needs, not the device that is going to display it.


Flexible content blocks: Information architecture, i.e. the grouping and hierarchical organization of content elements, also plays an important role in the process of restructuring our content for different environments. A more meaningful organization and labelling of content items are the foundation of reusable and adaptable content.

Progressive disclosure as navigation pattern: it consists of different steps that users can take in order to reveal more information as they need it. The most relevant information is displayed and then, users can perform an action to explore additional content. This prevents information overload and allows users to uncover secondary content only if they need it.


All in all, a thorough content strategy is the first step to guarantee not only the usability but also the usefulness of our content. In this way, we can move from static legacy content to device-independent presentation models and improve our content to give the end user the best possible experience anywhere.


McGrane, Karen (2012) Content Strategy for Mobile, New York: A book Apart
Villar, Mayra A. (2013) Developing a Mobile Learning Strategy USA: ASTD

About Author:

Mayra Aixa Villar is an Instructional Designer at CROnos CCS. She is an ASTD´s Published Author, a featured writer for Learning Solutions Magazine and writes frequently on her personal blog “Creative Design of Learning Experiences”.

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