Is eLearning on Tablets really Mobile Learning? [Chime in]


The only thing better than Blogging is the comments one gets below a post. Comments I believe is the real killer app of Blogs and some times comments are so insightful than they trigger ideas for new posts.

Here’s one such comment I received in my is it time to remove the “e” and “m” from Learning? post:

One of the issues I still cannot get answered is whether “elearning” on tablets should be “mlearning”? submitted by Alfred Low

What an excellent question!

In this post I want to give you my take on this question, but I look forward to you agreeing or disagreeing with me, and chiming in with your own vote and comment below.

The easiest way to answer this question would be to say Yes, after all the iPad as well as any other tablet, are mobile devices and mLearning is mostly about mobile devices. So why not, right?

However I think this would be a myopic way of looking at the most exciting computing era in history, mobile, and would therefore set the bar way too low, make us a little too comfortable, and hinder innovation.

So I’m going to say No, eLearning on Tablets is NOT really mLearning!

Here we are fully immersed in the most amazing computing shift in history, armed with mobile devices that set Learning free and all we can do is convert traditional desktop eLearning for consumption on the iPad, but with nothing to show for in the way of being uniquely mobile?

Unacceptable! It’s time to set the bar higher!

Mobile and by extension mobile learning is about a new mindset, a new attitude, is almost about unlearning everything we know, and inventing new ways of doing things and having fun along the way.

So here’s what I propose as a way to judge whether a learning experience is innovative enough to qualify as real mLearning.

Ask yourself this question, is this learning experience UNIQUELY MOBILE?

In other words:

  • Is the experience re-imagined for touch or is it just a conversion from something that was intended for the precision of the tip of the arrow of a cursor?
  • Does something special happen when I rotate my device from landscape to portrait and vice versa? In other words, when in landscape view, do I get additional resources when I turn my device into Portrait mode? A great example of this is the YouTube app, it provides a unique experience in both Portrait and Landscape mode.
  • Is the content itself the navigation? In other words, can I swipe left and right to advance forward and backward, or do I have to use those next and previous buttons I used back in the 20th century?
  • Does this learning experience take advantage of at least one of the sensor superpowers built into these amazing mobile devices, for example the GPS or the accelerometer?
  • Does the location of the navigation change accordingly between devices to make the experience seamless for learners as they shift from device to device?
  • Does it look great not just on the iPad, but also on all other devices?
  • Is this learning experience uniquely mobile? If so, in what way?

My personal take is that if we cannot answer at least some of these questions with a sounding yes, I’m afraid we are just marching backwards into the future as the great Herbert Marshall McLuhan would say.

What do you think? Can you think of other questions you would ask yourself? Vote and comment below.

Is eLearning on Tablets really Mobile Learning?

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  • Hi RJ,
    I have read
    the questions at the end of your post several times and I never get tired 🙂 Brilliant! I do admire your vision
    and the way you analyze mobile experiences. You are indeed setting the bar very
    high for designers/developers who want to make a transition from eLearning to mLearning but these are all aspects that need careful
    attention if we really want to achieve that ultimate learning experience that can
    blow away mobile, connected, active learners (as opposed to passive content
    consumers) and really harness the potential of mobile for learning. This is by
    far one of my favourite posts and I´ll keep reading these questions over and
    over again, as I try to create “real” mLearning. Thank you so much for always sharing
    your revealing insights!

    • rjacquez

      Hi Mayra, you just made my day. Thank you for this awesome comment and for your ongoing support. I suppose these are the results of the daily brainstorm meetings, you and I have. Thank you for the inspiration you send my way every day, and I look forward to creating great things together with you!

  • Here is what I just asked u on twitter so that I can get some more characters in 🙂 If you google something on your mobile device while trying to solve a problem and get the answer. Is that Mobile learning? Because your not taking advantage of any unique mobile features, but I would say that experience is mobile learning without a doubt.

    • rjacquez

      Hi Reuben, thanks for your comment and for proposing a very interesting question. The short answer to your questions on whether looking something up on google that help us find an answer and learn something along the way is Yes. The longer answer (still Yes) is where I respectfully disagree with you, where you say that this experience does not take advantage of any uniquely mobile feature. I actually think it absolutely does. Let’s take the Google App for iPhone as an example, clearly Google has thought a lot about what makes a uniquely mobile experience, you can use your current location (gps) to find information relevant to where you are. You can type your question or better yet, click the microphone for a voice search (another mobile feature). The app also has ‘Goggles’ built in, so that you can use your camera, point at any object and do a search based on a phone taken via the camera built into your phone. Then, once you get the search results, you can switch over to ‘images’ which you can then navigate by swiping left and right (another uniquely mobile feature). So while this whole process may seem fairly passive, I actually think it’s a brilliant display of how Google harnesses everything that makes mobile great to make our lives better while on-the-go. In my opinion there’s much for us to learn from this and other mobile experiences and start thinking about how we can do the same in our own industry. thanks.

  • Jim Brooks

    Just as a program of, “Read the book, take the test online, upload your paper,” isn’t really elearning, neither is running desk-bound learning applications on a laptop mlearning.
    Can I take my tablet to significant place markers and learn something new? Will my tablet use my surroundings to push different content or questions?
    Think of a hyperlinked tour of any museum in the country taht used location and context to customize your session. Now, think of doing the same thing in your city park or courthouse.
    We are rolling up on 125 years since the invention of the legal pad. Imagine how that freed clerks and writers from the boundariesand limitations of looseleaf. Now take the exponential leap to a tool that not only knows what I’m studying and where I am but has the potential to see what I see and comment on it.
    Our grandchildren will have no more idea of mice and modems than of telephone “lines” and “rings.” Set our tablets free!

  • I did vote “Yes” to your question but it’s with the mindset that the learning was designed for mobile. While tablets usually do a fairly good job of playing back most desktop designed interfaces, that is not what I would call mLearning. As you so well articulated RJ, a mobile application will take advantage of the technology in the device. I’m at the beginning stages of building a new mLearning native application. The content for this app is solidified and the structure has been documented. Now I’m designing the interface and gestures (including the optional use of the accelerometer) that will make this a true mLearning app.

    • rjacquez

      Hi Phil, as always I appreciate your vote, comments and ongoing support. I see your point on why you and other people are voting yes. As I said on Twitter a few minutes ago, I think the bar is very low right now as to what people consider mLearning to be. It was my intention with this post to encourage people to question the status quo and offer at least some initial questions they can use to gauge whether or not something is innovative enough to be considered uniquely mobile. The goal with this exercise is to start thinking creatively in learning design, and quickly realize the huge potential we now have in front of us because of this mobile revolution. Thank you my friend and I look forward to hearing more about your upcoming app.

  • You do indeed set the bar very high. Can’t argue with that.

    You incline towards uniquely mobile. Innovative.

    I prefer useful, insanely useful. Getting texts, even crummy ones, delivered to students on the go, well, not perfect, but a step along the way, and useful. Serving up reminders about how to help an employee cope with an issue, part of a blend, again, not all that unique or innovative, but oh so useful.

    I’ll even be crazier about this. Mobile to me should be as unobtrusive as possible. I practice my Mandarin on the go. I listen to a podcast about a perspective mentioned earlier in a class or by a customer. I upload comments about the podcast while I wait for a train and get feedback from my coach on the way home.

    What I want from mobile is a life of learning and performance support that is more natural, less fuss and muss, more neat.

    Mobile is a member of the cast, not necessarily the star. Don’t want to ooooo and ahhhhhh as I glance at my devices. I want to smile appreciatively, scarcely notice, just get on with it.

  • Theophilus Van Rensburg Lindzt

    Hi RJ…thanks for being such a champion for learning. I deliberately omitted the M, as I think we are talking more of innovative approaches to learning that acknowledges the promise and possibilities that mobile devices brought. In our work in rural South African schools, we found, that any tool that is capable of being used in the hands of a student for learning inside and outside formal learning environments, can be considered mobile learning – even a pencil. It seems to us that it is more about what the best tool is for the desired learning outcome – that said, some tools are becoming museum pieces and their clumsiness and size are hindering anywhere, anytime learning.

  • Hi RJ Jacquez,
    Definitely you have set good benchmark. I work for mlearning company, we have created a mobile engagement platform DRONA Mobile and our focus is to engage users effectively. Its not yet all about showcasing e-learning on tablets, one has to consider various aspects & features of device as well as user behavior. One cannot just compress the images or change the orientation in landscape or portrait mode. Lot of factors come to effect before creating a mlearning course, including image resizing for various devices and modes, easy & inline navigation, security and even high distraction level of users, battery charge.

  • Does the learner care how it’s delivered? Why do we need to specify if it’s mlearning or elearning or just learning? The fact it’s a form of learning should be enough. There is a fashion to over-specify what we’re delivering to meet metrics of our own design. If we suggest that ‘this’ % of a learning path is m, e, etc we meet the perceptions of our sponsors.

    Why set criteria? If I listen to podcasts on my tablet that I’ve D/L it doesn’t matter if the screen rotates if I listen on the train. Does it matter if I clip to Evernote or pin on Pinterest via my tablet, PC, ipad, mobile? The fact I can and then use any of these channels to learn is enough.

    Focusing on outputs over outcomes takes us away from the big picture too often. Ultimately, our sponsors want us to meet and exceed outcomes, and focusing on outputs does us no favours.

  • At first I voted that Yes, they are are the same. But then an analogy popped into my head.

    Remember when we were predominantly an ILT profession and eLearning came along? We used to have similar conversations about taking a speaker’s bullet-ridden ppt presentation, placing it as-is on a website and calling it eLearning.

    To me, eLearning is eLearning precisely because it takes into account everything about the method by which it is delivered – including the ability to skip around, re-viewing things, bookmarking, etc. We learned to include audio and video, avatars, stories. We also learned the importance of graphic/audio design to compensate for earners taking the course without the engagement of a speaker’s dynamic personality (in a perfect world the speaker would be engaging…).

    So, after much reflection, I’m leaning towards the idea that mLearning is as similar to eLearning as eLearning is similar to ILT.

    What was the math way of writing that? mLearning:eLearning = eLearning:ILT

  • Excellent, insightful post and thanks for raising the bar!

    I agree that while the device obviously plays a factor as the delivery method, and mobility is a definite step forward; mLearning is about more than the portability of learning. It’s about a tool or application designed and *optimized* to deliver learning in an interactive and engaging manner, on the learner’s preferred device, according to the learner’s preferred style as indicated by their choice of device.

    I also loved Tricia’s analogy about slapping a powerpoint presentations onto a website and calling it eLearning. So in a sense, mLearning is about the adaptability of the learning, maybe even moreso than the mobility. Thinking about your question on whether it’s time to remove the “e” and “m” — I can even see replacing both with an “a.”

    I came over from @rdelorenzo’s response post where I also noted that the learner’s choice of a particular device could indicate an affinity toward that device and an expectation of being able to use that device’s features in the way to which they’ve become accustomed. So I appreciate your criteria set because what it essentially says to me is that in mLearning, interaction with the mobile device is as important a factor as interaction with the learning content.

    – Danny

  • Amit Garg

    R J, great post!
    I think tablet learning is very different from mleanring and I see your point that we’re setting the bar too low and that’s the reason more people on the poll say ‘yes’. IMO the two types of devices are very different in the contexts in which they’re (and can be used) and that changes everything. In a post I wrote not so long ago about tablet learning being different from elearning or mlearning.
    Here’s link –


  • Shalini Talluri

    Great Blog.

  • paul bond

    I say no. I put tablets in the same category as laptops – more portable than mobile. You only have it with you if you plan on using it, or if you happen to be transporting it from one place to another. So elearning on a tablet is a planned event. People take their phones with them wherever they go, however. That’s a mobile device. That allows learning to happen whenever the need/opportunity/curiosity arises.

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