Why the iPad and iPhone not supporting Adobe Flash is a Great thing for mLearning

There’s no other Industry in the world that was more affected by Apple refusing to embrace Adobe Flash in their iOS devices like the eLearning Industry.

I don’t have the exact numbers but I would venture to say that more than 98% of all eLearning was/is based on Adobe Flash (i.e. the learner needs to have the Flash Player installed) and thus making it an interesting challenge for our Industry to make the transition to mobile learning (mLearning), especially because of the market share that Apple commands with the iPad and the iPhone.

When I worked at Adobe, the question I most frequently heard from my customers was: how can we make our existing eLearning projects play on the iPad?

I have been and continue to be a big fan of Flash from my days when I worked at Macromedia and more recently at Adobe and was pretty ticked off when Apple posted Steve Job’s Thoughts on Flash.

However for a while now, I have been thinking that in some strange way this move by Apple turned out to be a great thing for all of us in eLearning and more specifically as we transition to mLearning.

Let me explain.

The way I see it, if Apple had embraced Flash on iOS devices, all of us in eLearning would have been in a very comfortable situation and would have simply kept doing what we were doing publishing to Flash and called it a day.

But what about the experience for mobile users?

By doing so, I believe we not only would have defeated the purpose and uniqueness of mobile but we would be doing a disservice to our learners on mobile, too.

Why? because the Mobile experience is drastically different in virtually every way to the Desktop experience and as such, learning on mobile should too be different from how we consume learning on the desktop.

This is why I strongly believe the lack of Flash on iOS devices is a blessing in disguise, because it forces us to find new ways of developing learning experiences for mobile users, as well as to embrace new technologies, such as HTML5 and new principles, such as Responsive Web Design and thinking mobile-first.

Can we make a successful transition from eLearning to mLearning without Adobe Flash? Absolutely we can.

We just need to think outside the eLearning box and embrace new ways of thinking about engaging mobile learners. We need to stop thinking that we all we need to do is convert our desktop eLearning to HTML5 and we are done. We need to get out of our comfort zone and explore mobile applications and learn about what these apps do well and apply these principles to our mLearning design. We need to explore other industries such as web design and new movements around it such as Responsive web design and learn how these principles are being used to develop once and deploy the same content across desktops, smartphone and Tablets without plug-ins.

So there you have it. I invite you to stop dwelling on whether or not Flash will ever work on iOS devices (in my opinion it never will) and start brainstorming on how we can deliver better learning experiences to our mobile learners. Because the mobile revolution is real and we are at a point of no return!

Do you agree?

  • RJ, an interesting read, but I find the comment “I don’t have the exact numbers but I would venture to say that more than 98% of all eLearning was/is based on Adobe Flash” astounding. Perhaps talking about multimedia based eLearning content, but the suggestion that delivery is significantly flash-based I believe (respectfully) is completely incorrect.

    • rjacquez

      Hi Philip, thanks for stopping by and for your comment. I meant to say that most eLearning required the learner to have the Flash player installed for proper playback.

  • RJ, thanks for sharing the thought.  While a forced-shift of technology could lend itself an opportunity that developer would learn to adapt a better paradigm, it does not warrant that everyone gets what mobile development means.  With all the fanfare and respect for Mr. Jobs, I see behind the reality distortion field that there is an intention of fragment the application market.  We are now back to the dark ages of writing applications for multiple devices, and standard like HTML 5 (still not finalized) is renders vastly different from one browser to another, one device to another.  Flash renders and behaves consistently across device, which allows designers and developers focus on the content instead of the common deliminator of all medium.

    • rjacquez

      Hi Tianzhen, I thank you for your comment and hear what you saying, however I think that in many ways mobile means ‘simpler’ and we may not have to wait for HTML5 to come up to par with Flash in order to provide excellent mobile experiences. As I wrote above in my reply to a comment “I feel that most developers will feel the need to approach mLearning with all the bells and whistles they did eLearning and this may not be a good approach. We need to be content with a simpler design in my opinion.” 
      What are your thoughts on that?

      • RJ, you are quite correct that without the bells and whistles, HTML is leaner and easier to author, especially when it comes with a lot of text and text formatting.  With Flex/Flash, such magnitude of text and formatting would require resident genius with TLF expertise.

        However, HTML also comes with its own growing pain, and the difficulties could quickly rise when the interactivity is getting more complicated, or even simple things such as 3D spinning a molecule would have been easier to develop in Flash/Flex as they are visual-oriented.

        Knowing the last-mile for each solutions would help us craft the design and solutions to the problems.  I see Flash/Flex as a well-rounded solution that may be a bit difficult for simple things, but powerful as it has more capability.  HTML has lower learning curve, but could quickly get exponentially difficult when the design is beyond simple.

  • Agree that its a blessing in disguise and if we need to unlearn and design innovatively while doing mlearning. But as you rightly pointed out:

    ” When I worked at Adobe, the question I most frequently heard from my customers was: how can we make our existing eLearning projects play on the iPad?” 

    Thats the case with most of the eLearning developers. It will take some time for the  enterprises to shun this expectation. At the moment answering that question from the client is partly the reason people are looking at converting their existing eLearning to HTML5

    • rjacquez

      Hi eNyota, thanks for your comment. It’s no easy task to ‘unlearn’ old habits but I do believe it’s necessary to do so in order to innovate from here on out. I think one of the biggest challenges will be embracing a ‘simpler’ design for mobile. I feel that most developers will feel the need to approach mLearning with all the bells and whistles they did eLearning and this may not be a good approach. We need to be content with a simpler design in my opinion. What are your thoughts on that?


        Firstly, glad to know that you are offering training and
        consulting services as well. I saw the alert pop-up on your site. Wish you all
        the best with this!


        I completely agree with what you said. We need a simpler
        design thought process for mobile. What we see is that right now clients are
        torn between wanting to embrace the mLearning and what they need to do about
        their existing user base that is not on mobile devices.


        Budgets are a constraint as well as always. So clients are
        grappling with two options:


        Option 1: Build for the maximum number of users and
        platforms and create a variant for mobile devices keeping in mind the merits of
        the device.


        Option 2: Build once and publish for all devices which is a
        challenge from a design perspective as well as from a technical specs
        perspective (because the devices and standards are also changing).


        Option 1 is the ideal option but requires a major shift in
        mind set. In option 2, there are some compromises but most organizations are
        attempting this.


        I see what you are saying about simplicity and agree with
        it. But are organizations ready to embrace simplicity or are they still trying
        to replicate what they have achieved in eLearning for the PC on mobile devices?
        What has been your experience when you talk to industry insiders?

  • Hi RJ – this is exactly the same conclusion we have drawn. Our e-learning designers and developers have embraced HTML5 and responsive design principles and we are developing cross-browser, platform independent e-learning. 

    • rjacquez

      Hi Aurion, thank you for your comment and I’m very happy to hear that you designers and developers are embracing HTML5 and Responsive design. I happen to think this is how we should be developing moving forward vs. native apps. Best of luck and let me know how things go.

  • No doubt the transition away from Flash is hard, and obviously still ongoing. Nevertheless, I completely agree that it has been a blessing in disguise. It is less about the specific merits Flash has and more about the fact that an industry that has been a whole lot of the same things for too many years is suddenly being forced to think differently. A paradigm shift was needed, with or without the rise of iDevices.

    The result, as you suggested in your post, will be better mobile learning experiences that really play to the strengths of our devices.

    • rjacquez

      Well said, Steve. In fact that was exactly my point, namely that it isn’t necessarily about Flash, but rather that we needed something major to happen, something that would force us to think different and something that would yield a paradigm shift.  And what happened with Flash just happened to make us stop, do a soft-rest and in many ways took us back to the drawing board and that’s a great thing in my opinion.

  • Well what about being productive as well? I`m sure we have all developed at least some sort of HTML5 eLearning content but to get it replace our current ways we need fast reliable tools/workflows to actually support the mass market. We are doing selective HTML5 projects based on customer demands but the rest is either AIR apps or traditional flash. Maybe I’m just too ignorant of new progresses in HTML5 tooling!!

    • rjacquez

      Hi Amir, I totally hear you and in fact I think HTML5 may never be up to par with the capabilities of Flash, so long as Adobe continues to offer new innovations around this technology. I’m with you on that. Where I respectfully disagree is in thinking that we need to find a technology that we can use to fully replace Flash in order to develop effective learning experiences for mobile. I happen to believe that one of the biggest challenges ahead for our Industry is “embracing simplicity” as we move to mLearning. Most of the conversations I have with clients always lead to “but why can’t I bring over all the bells and whistles from my eLearning courses over to mobile?” It’s not easy to convince people that perhaps we don’t need all this and that we need to be content with simpler mobile experiences. Thanks.

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