eLearning vs mLearning

Posted by Ed Gipple on Apr 18, 2012 4:15:00 PM

Terminology for computer-assisted training has gone through several revisions and variations on the terms are still widely varied. Historically, there have been two components to the terminology:


eLearning Terminology Cloud
  • Variations on the adjective: computer, web, internet, technology, distributed
  • Variations on the subject: training, learning, education, instruction

Combine those two parts together into whatever term you prefer to describe such computer-assisted instructional courseware! However, the most sustained recent trend has been “eLearning” and is one we think is apt and, at least, desirable in brevity.

As mobile devices become more capable, especially as mobile devices like tablets (iPad != all tablets) become more accepted and widely used, the initial challenge was seen as converting existing eLearning applications to work on those mobile devices, resulting in ‘mobile learning’, or “mLearning”.

However, there are substantial differences with those devices, including their connectivity, their size, and how they are used in general. After some false-starts, it is now understood mobile users do not expect to sit through a half-hour lesson on their device…especially as, being mobile, they may not have a reliable internet connection for that long.

So mLearning is starting to diverge from eLearning not only in specific meaning, but in approach and design as well. Mobile devices are packed with features and mLearning offers opportunities to provide offline ‘App’-like content that can access the range hardware, like GPS features and camera options. In sum, mLearning can be considered much more effective in a contextual setting.

For example, students on a field trip could use a guide App to snap pictures of a flower to learn more about it and how such vegetation thrives in the surrounding geographic region.
Whereas an eLearning piece may be better suited for pre-trip introductory and preparatory information, and for post-trip knowledge review and interactive assessments…perhaps even referencing the data the student collected on the trip!

mLearning can certainly be a converted eLearning piece – there’s nothing in these terms that requires specific functionality…but in your training initiatives, consider the advantages of each platform – the workstation vs. the mobile device – and understand how educational material is best suited for the strengths and uses of each platform.