4 ways to make IVR mobile learning services more user-friendly

February has been a busy travel month for the Panoply Digital team. My colleague Lauren Dawes was in Nigeria working with CIPE to roll out a training programme on using technology for advocacy, and you can read more about her trip here.

As for me, I was in Bangladesh with the Praekelt Foundation and Girl Effect Mobile in early February building on the work we did together last year around reaching adolescent girls through mobile platforms. It’s always great to be back – I’ve worked for many years in Bangladesh building mobile education services for low-tech platforms, including IVR (voice) and SMS platforms, as well as in other countries such as Tanzania and Rwanda, and so I’ve been musing recently on some of my learnings when developing an IVR mobile education service.

1: Aim for 3 – 5 minutes per lesson
Countless rounds of user testing with BBC Janala and other products I built for the British Council have shown that a good length is between 3 to 5 minutes. Any shorter and learners don’t feel they’re getting enough. Any longer and it’s difficult to maintain concentration.

2: Keep the user journey simple, with a simple IVR menu
In my experience, people using an IVR service are very likely using it because they don't have advanced phones, and they often have low levels of technical literacy as well as self-confidence. A complicated user journey is going to scare them off. Likewise, a complicated IVR menu with lots of different branches and options is going to confuse users – it’s hard enough learning through a new and unfamiliar platform without having lots of options to wade through before you can get to the content! Actually, I’ve seen this is particularly true for female users, who tend to be less technically literate and confident – user test your IVR menu and your user journey with women as well as men, and keep it as simple as possible.

3: Signpost and repeat
In line with keeping the user journey simple, a key component of this is signposting. Let the learner know what to expect if there are different, unknown elements. For example, if there is a quiz at the end of the IVR lesson, let the user know this before they listen to the lesson so that they can prepare and concentrate during the lesson, if they need to. Learning through audio alone is actually really tough and it’s easy to miss things, so giving users scaffolding and signposting can make this a little easier. Likewise, building in options to repeat things / lessons before they move on is extremely important – learners feel reassured, and not so worried about missing things if they know they have opportunities to listen again.

4: Be (a)ware of the voices
Again, going with the simple mantra: if you have too many different voices and voice artists who sound too similar, it can get very confusing for the user. Having clear-cut distinctions between a narrator (if you have one) and characters is important – firstly, by not having too many characters to begin with, but also making sure that your voice artists sound different enough from each other. One way to do is by alternating with male and female voices, but if you need only female voices, for example, making sure that they are quite different voices and distinguishable from each other is very important.

Of course, there are many more principles of creating IVR lessons – but they’re too long to list here all in one go. What do you think though? Any other ‘best practice’ tips to add?