Last updated: 31.03.14

Taking e-learning mobile

The world may still only have a formative understanding of the internet and online forms of communication, but already mobile is transforming the way we see and interact with information online. 

As a result, all sectors are now spending time catering their services to smartphone and tablet users and this is equally true of learning. While most may assume that there is no difference between e-learning and m-learning, this growing trend for mobile suggests that there's actually more to the equation than meets the eye.

In fact, as one expert points out on, there are several areas of design and usability in which mobile platforms must fundamentally differentiate themselves from more general e-learning tools and sites.

Chris Ballman, director of education at association management firm SmithBucklin, explains that three of the biggest areas of discrepancy are in navigation, access and time.

The first is fairly self-explanatory for those who have ever connected to a website via their smartphone. It's hard to recreate the experience of a 17-24 inch screen on one that measures only three or four inches across. Control interfaces are also radically different. On a laptop, you have a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad, while smartphones make use exclusively of touchscreens.

Ensuring that a website or platform is as useable on a mobile phone as it is on a laptop or desktop usually entails developing two completely separate front ends for the site, and then ensuring that users are redirected to the right one based on their browser settings.

The latter two points are both reflections of the different way that we use mobiles compared to laptops. While most forego the relative portability of their netbook or laptop and tend to use it in a static environment, phone are used much more on the go, or utilised as a second screen while other objects, such as a television, hold some of our attention.

Because of these differences, m-learning is usually designed to be digested in much smaller portions - usually 3-5 minutes as opposed to 20 minutes or more for an e-learning module. Increasingly, e-learning platforms looking to make the most of mobile platforms will need to think about these mobile behaviours and how they will impact the design not just of websites but also of the content contained therein.