Mobile Learning: Trending Up, Slow but Steady

As has been apparent for a couple years now, ‘mobile devices’ are finally entering a level of media maturity. Apple deserves a large part of the credit when it comes to pushing innovation into the wild. The iPhone pushed Google to commit to Android and forced Microsoft and other players to either improve their products or get out of the game. Apple did the same with the iPad, finally delivering a ‘handy’ portable device with the power of a desktop, and once again pushed the competition to either join in or cede the market.

While the preferred use of these mobile devices varies, they certainly have a growing role in eLearning…or more aptly termed, by default, to mLearning. However, with the variation among mobile devices, from size to operating system, there are a lot more factors to account for in mLearning development.

There are essentially two ways to deliver content to mobile devices – HTML or ‘Apps’. Apps have a few more barriers, from complexity to distribution…thus HTML (via a browser) is generally a preferred delivery method for learning courseware, especially with the current state and requirements of SCORM (though the TinCan project may change that).

For good or bad, HTML5 has all the ‘buzz’…but it has a way to go to deliver on the hype and promise. As of last year, the defined HTML5 specification is due to be delivered by the end of 2014, so a mere two years away. “Only” two years? Does that mean that HTML5 tools and deliverables are at a standstill until then?

Not a chance.

Despite the W3C delivering a spec by 2014, that will be just the first official version. But a ‘final’ specification may not be out until 2022! The web just won’t wait that long…

ABI Research predicts “2.1 Billion HTML5 Browsers on Mobile Devices by 2016”. Says Mark Beccue, “We expect HTML5 features in categories such as graphics, multimedia, user interactions, data storage, and others to be widely adopted sooner rather than later. A significant number of HTML5 features will be adopted in the mass market in the next three to five years.”

So despite the two to five year wait for a more refined spec and greater adoption, we’re seeing tools and requirements for HTML5 being pushed broadly now. There will remain some pain and mitigation to those expectations however, while the various web browser vendors work to implement the capabilities. Per our previous article, “Thoughts on Flash, HTML5, and video”, video is just one contentious aspect of browser growth and capabilities.

Tools like RapidIntake’s Unison, Trivantis’ Lectora, and the fabled Articulate Storyline promise to deliver to both the desktop and mobile devices, and do so via ‘HTML5’. How is that possible when the spec isn’t near completion and browser support is inconsistent? Well, because those tools probably don’t really publish content in ‘pure’ HTML5. However, good old HTML4 plus a little javascript, frameworks like JQuery, and fun ‘AJAX’ implementations, can well compensate where HTML5 cannot yet deliver. Such approaches still pale in comparison to the richness of a custom Flash experience but progress is being made! And certainly such approaches and tools can offer a solid eLearning, or mLearning, experience.

So the HTML5 specification continues to plod forward, tools continue to advance via whatever method they can to improve the development and delivery experience, and browsers continue to debate and integrate the features they feel most refined and useful.

As Learning Developers, our challenge has grown to not only design solid, effective courseware, but also to now design and develop a functional approach to deliver the courseware to a variety of devices. For some projects, Flash remains the best solution. However, for others – especially those that need to include Apple’s iOS devices – either a hybrid Flash/HTML solution needs to be designed, or a pure HTML (and, note, that’s not ‘pure HTML5’) solution will be the solution. In many cases, the project’s design and delivery needs to be highly customized, pulling and presenting the base information and learning content in completely different ways depending on the targeted device.

Fortunately the solutions are all possible now, regardless of the maturity of the entire ecosystem (technosystem?); and the challenges those design and delivery requirements bring sure keep the projects fun! Drop us a line if your eLearning courseware needs to target multiple devices; we’re happy to help you design a flexible solution.