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Mobile learning, e-learning, M-learning – What’s in a name?

I’m a software developer. One of the things that we often obsess about is naming things correctly. There’s a geek joke that goes, “two of the hardest things in software development are cache invalidation, naming things and off-by-one errors”.

So, what’s the difference between mobile learning, m-learning and e-learning?

I’ve worked in education on the web for almost my entire career to date, but only moved to formal e-learning within the last year or two. One of my initial questions was “What is e-learning and how does it differ from plain old-fashioned learning? And what on earth is m-learning? Do I need to treat them separately when I’m writing software”?

E-learning is…

In my opinion, e-learning is just another way to say “learning that you do on your computer”. At the start of the smartphone age we needed a way to differentiate phone optimised stuff from all the rest, so we created m-learning.

I took a trawl through Google this morning and most of the comparisons suggest m-learning is more personal, more fun, more to-the-point than e-learning. My gut reaction is, why not just make e-learning more fun and personal? Maybe we will do that, but for now, let’s look at what’s behind the word “mobile”.

Mobile learning is…

When we talk about mobile optimised websites we’re using mobile as an abbreviated way of saying that a website is:

  • Designed to work on multiple devices e.g. small screens or touch screens with limited network connectivity
  • Being used by someone in a mobile context

The latter sense is another way of saying that this person could be anywhere, on the beach, on the sofa, on the bus or at their desk. We can’t rely on them being in a situation that lets them focus completely on our content. The former means we can’t assume that they have the high-end computer that we use to develop the course on.

Make no assumptions

To me, mobile means make no assumptions. At the point you create the content you can’t know how or where or on what device the user is going to view it.

Mobile apps allow us to side-step some of these issues. We know what device the user has and we know how the content we produce will appear. We can (usually) work around the constraints by developing custom user interfaces.

What a mobile app doesn’t help with is content reuse. In fact, it makes it worse. You now have at least three different places for your content – the website and the Android and iOS apps.  You could take the approach of writing the content three times, making any necessary adjustments for each platform, but that’s a maintainability nightmare – you now have 3 places to update, and 3 places to make typos.

So how do you make sure the content you produce achieves its objectives in a world in which you can’t make assumptions?

We can help

Do you need to develop new learning products like mobile apps for your staff, or will a responsive-web based approach be enough?

How will your learning provision need to change in the age of Bring Your Own (Mobile) Device? And looking to the future, what do you need to start thinking about now so you can support your staff well in three years time?

We can provide expertise and information about the future direction of learning technology. Let us help you create the right content in a presentation-agnostic structure. Then let us apply our magic to make it work on every device. At a higher level, we can help you define a strategy for learning that includes mobile, simply get in touch.

Coming back round again to giving things the right names, can we agree to drop the prefixes? Can we just call it learning?

Got a learning problem to solve?

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