Is it Time to Remove the ‘e’ and ‘m’ from Learning? Yes and No

This is becoming a question I get asked frequently, and I also see it asked quite a bit to other people. I happen to think this is a very valid question, especially as people begin to participate in conferences and conversations on the topic of using mobile for learning.

To me there are good arguments for answering yes and no. Let me explain.

The Answer is Yes

I think we can easily make an argument for simplifying how we refer to learning based on different definitions and the usage of technology and devices that goes along with the experience. The questions here is why not call it Learning, instead of e-Learning (electronic), m-Learning (mobile) t-Learning (Tablet), u-Learning (ubiquitous), etc. After all, our ultimate goal as learning professionals is to design learning experiences for learners by any means necessary, no?

For those frequent readers of this blog, you may have noticed that whenever possible I use phrases like “designing learning experiences” and “the next generation of learning” in an attempt to gradually steer the conversation toward thinking about designing learning for the new multiscreen world we live in, where the desktop is just one of many screens.

The Answer is No

However, I still see lots of benefits of keeping some of these specific references separate, especially eLearning and mLearning. I think mobile learning is in its nascent stage, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s going to be possible with mobile. Most learning professionals are still struggling to see the big deal about using mobile devices for delivering learning experiences to their learners.

I think there’s quite a bit of confusion out regarding the differences between eLearning and mobile learning and why people should care about mLearning.

Case in point, I was looking at the winners in this year’s Reader’s Choice Awards for the 2012 “Best of Elearning!Awards” and because of my focus on mobile authoring, I noticed the winner in the best mobile authoring solution category and couldn’t help to think just how misinformed we are in mLearning when we vote Adobe Captivate as the best tool in this category. Don’t get me wrong, Captivate is an excellente eLearning development tool, but to even consider it in this category, because of a new feature called HTML5 export, just means we have a long ways to go in understanding what mLearning really is and the types of tools that are required to create truly amazing mobile experience that delight users.

I’m also very optimistic because I realized there’s much work to be done in mobile learning to make sure that as an Industry, we don’t miss this amazing opportunity we have in front of us, and don’t simply dismiss mobile as merely an extension of eLearning, and something we can simply check off by converting our existing desktop eLearning to HTML5.

For mobile learning to be a success, what we need is a revolution, a new way of thinking, and not simply an evolution of eLearning.

Keeping eLearning separate from mLearning at this point will help us educate newcomers to mLearning about the differences between developing for the desktop and the fact that there is an ever-growing number of mobile devices out there that connected learns want to use to Learn.

What do you think, is it time to remove the ‘e’ and ‘m’ from Learning?

Is it Time to Remove the 'e' and 'm' from Learning?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


  • As a teacher I think it doesn’t matter how (e) or where (m) you learn, it’s only important that you learn. So the answer is “yes”, remove it.
    Nevertheless I did a lot of work this summer holidays to renew our school website and our Moodle LMS to make it “mobile” because it is important in my thoughts to give our students the possibility to learn how and where they want 😉


  • TechCommGeekMom

    I think at this point, it’s still too early to take the m- and e- and others off the -Learning. Granted, in the sum of things, it’s all learning, but it’s amazing to know how many people don’t know what these are or how they function. When one is very deep into it, we forget that so many don’t realize the options of any kind of digital learning out there, or what it entails, and how e-learning and m-learning are different. In time, it won’t matter, but for now, we still have to educate the masses as to what the differences and similarities among these different kinds of learning are.

  • I don’t think you can take the “m” or “e” off yet because you still need to distinguish the type of learning you are going through. Most mLearning I’ve seen isn’t really learing – it’s JII (just in-time information). As you know, developing something for the mobile device is very different than developing for the desktop. I think once we can create a web application that configures itself to the device its being viewed on and works on desktop as well as tablet and smartphone, then I would call that a WLA (Web Learning App or just Learning App). However, very few training products reconfigure themselves for everything.

  • The distinction is only important to people who make and/or buy these educational products. The student does not care. I do agree that mLearning is in early days but soon, I think, the term will be obsolete. One of the issues I still cannot get answered is whether “elearning” on tablets should be “mlearning”?

    • rjacquez

      Hi Alfred, what a fascinating question you included in your comment. It inspired me to provide my own personal take in an upcoming post. Btw, I don’t believe that eLearning on Tablets is mLearning and will share why. Thanks.

  • Paolo Leva

    I think that the ‘e’ still has a meaning and should be kept, as it marks all learning supported by computer technology. The ‘m’ is instead only a subset of the ‘e’, or rather it marks a trend (everything is becoming mobile) more than a different technology or conception, and I don’t find it as necessary.

  • Greg Sweet

    I think it’s time for the designations to go. Most people I talk to don’t differentiate between mobile, desktop, etc., for anything else so why are we still doing it for learning?

    I deal mostly in the synchronous learning space and we see this same discussion come up for courses delivered via WebEx, Connect, etc.: are they virtual learning, instructor-led virtual classes, webinars, webexes, virtual classrooms!?! I truly don’t think the learner cares, and in fact often get questions from learners like “Will I need to travel to that training or will it be online?” Note they don’t care how it’s online, just whether it is or not.

    To that end the only distinction we find necessary is whether an instructor will be present or not.

  • Many people think that because they are publishing to HMTL5 in Captivate, their course is guaranteed to work on mobile. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and I agree that we have a long way to go in understanding what developing a learning experience on mobile is all about. I hear so much frustration from Captivate users trying to output to content for mobile devices wondering why their content doesn’t work on iPad, Kindle, Galaxy Tabs, iPhone, Android phones… etc. The plethora of devices, mobile browsers, and HTML5 support for those browsers runs the gamut. Let alone the fact that the HTML5 standard has not been finalized yet. I’m curious RJ… what do you recommend as a tool to develop and deliver for mobile?

  • Unfortunately, the “e” and the “m” are more apt monikers than the learning part when you think about the semantics of the service offered. “Learning” as a package moniker is a inaccurate term. I get that it’s out there, and that people know what it is already… but from a service provider’s perspective, thinking about “learning as a service” is kind of a twisted model. That’s kind of like selling “breathing”. Just say’in:)

  • Damien Bruyndonckx

    Hello RJ,
    To Me, I think it is too early to replace the “e” with the “m”.
    First of all, in my understanding, eLearning is learning (and teaching) using electronic means. That’s exactly what we do when doing mLearning. My definition of eLearning is very wide and includes teaching activities that do not even involve an Internet connection or the use of an LMS. To make it short, I think that mLearning falls under the eLearning umbrella, and so, the “e” or the “m” is not that important.

    Another factor has to do with my geographical situation. What you call a “state” in America, we call it a “country” in Europe. All these Countries have different languages, different cultures and sometimes different currencies. Consequently, Europe is a mosaic of smaller markets as compare tho the single big market that is the US. I think this is one of the many reasons why Europe is a bit behind as compared to the US when it comes to eLearning and mLearning. Smaller markets means smaller companies, smaller money, smaller number of employees / students to train,… Also a European company that has to produce eLearning courses must probably localize some or all of its eLearning content, which slow things down and increases the cost of eLearning. Consequently, Europe is embracing eLearning just now, so it is too early for the next revolution.

    In my country and in my school, I need to be very careful when I propose new eLearning / mLearning concepts as some of my colleagues and students are not ready for this shift. Going too fast will give them reasons not to believe in e or mLearning. I just don’t want them to throw the baby with the water of the bath! (do you also have this expression in English?).

    As for myself, I’ll keep reading your blog and document on eLearning an mLearning and… I’ll be there when Europe will be ready!!!!

    Regards from sunny Belgium!

  • karthika

    The e and m is used only to distinguish the type of learning. As far as everything else is concerened it really does not matter as at the end of the day its ‘Learning’

    As far as mLearning is concerned it has a long way to go to make its mark,its still in the initial stages.

  • Sami M. Leppanen

    I think it is a good point to state that learning is learning no matter which channel or media enables it. As such there is no separate m-learning or e-learning… just learning.

    However there are many unique use cases and features that are almost exclusive to learning via handheld devices. If we would effectively and fully utilise location/ global positioning information, context awareness, content creation and upload possibilities etc. to support unique and rich learning experiences then it might make sense to separate the type of learning. For the content creators it makes sense to identify the used channel due to it’s unique feature set and use cases. But for the learners it should be just learning… If we could extend the same learning experience over multiple channels I’m pretty sure we would see clear increase in customer value (i.e. the perceived value for the learner when using technology enabled learning)

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes