M-Learning: Where’s the app for that?

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As I write on my iPad, thoughts swirl abound. With all these vendors talking about their solution and its capabilities on mobile devices, it should be easy to find an app for that.

Regardless if the vendor is m-learning specific, content authoring tool, LMS, web conferencing or a hybrid.  It shouldn’t matter.

If your telling me your solution is mobile ready, then all I should need to do is go iTunes or Android and find your app.  Simple, right?

Ahh, here’s the rub. It isn’t.


Nowadays more and more vendors (thankfully) are seeing the benefit of mobile devices. While many still are stuck in the smartphone first approach, there are those who support tablets too.

Thus they can advertise they offer mobile learning. Perhaps they even have a mobile learning feature within their system. Even better.

So, if is the case, why can’t I find your app? Oh, right, you don’t have one.  There is actually a vendor who has a mobile app available on iTunes, Upside Learning.  Sure, it is for their specific mobile learning platform (and I’m glad they do it), but they have one.  They offer other apps too, but you have to visit their site.

emTrain? Yep, an app. But wait, it is only tells me about the latest news from them, which is great to know, since when I think LMSs – I think news!

Element K? Yep, an app. But if you can’t recall your activation code, well, then it is about as wonderful as the EmTrain app – worthless.

SumTotal? Yes, they have an app. It works for their Total LMS (Enterprise) and for their Geo Learning Maestro.

Blackboard Learn? Yes, an app.

That’s it. Nobody else in this side of the plate has an app. We are talking 338 LMSs in the worldwide marketplace (commercial systems) and 4 have an app you can download on the iTunes store to use with their product – sorry emTrain yours doesn’t count.

The #1 selling tablet in the world, iPad and its new iPad2 and there are 4 vendors.

Trust me, there are more than that, that identify their solution as working on the iPad, let alone on a smartphone such as an iPhone.

Outstart, who purchased Hot Lava, a mobile learning company, and who advertises in large size on their web site about mobile learning, doesn’t have an app. They are happy to tell you however, that their product works with over 500 different devices.

Content Authoring Tools

Zero.  Rapid Intake is still in beta testing for the app, but as of right now, the total number of vendors is Zero.

Wait, you have a SaaS based version, so I can be anywhere and work on it. Uh, oh. I can’t get Internet access at the airport or at my hotel, it went down. No worries, I have all night to scream and thank you for making my night a living hell.

Despite what the RCAT vendors might think, not everyone has a laptop or desktop.

Mobile Learning Tools

  • iPad/iPad2 – 24 apps, of which 3 are companies with some form of a platform – CellCast, vMobiLearn
  • iPhone – 73 apps, and StudyWiz mobile elocker as the only one I saw that had a platform tied to it

Quiz Assessment Tools

If you type in Quiz, or Assessment – you get a whopping ZERO for the iPad.  If you type in “test” you see 972 apps, for the iPhone – 5,060 apps.

This is wonderful, but who is going to spend that much time trying to find your app.  If you are a quiz assessment tool or solution, then you should be listed under quiz or assessment. Or quiz assessment.

Questionmark has an iPad and iPhone app, but for whatever reason, if you type in “quiz” or “assessment”, they do not show up.

Web Conferencing

Ahh. Here is where you expect the numbers to really shoot up. I mean, virtually all new tablets hitting the market these days, has a camera and a vid/web cam.  Better yet, even without the cam, you can still hear audio on tablets and see a web chat room, with your net access.

This is why, only 4 vendors offer an iPad or iPhone app for download.

iPad/iPad 2 Vendors

  • WebEx
  • Saba Centra
  • GoToMeeting
  • Netviewer Meet Mobile


  • WebEx
  • Adobe Connect
  • Fuze
  • Leader Technologies – Audio Conferencing
  • Arkadin Mobile – Audio Conferencing
  • Netviewer

When you search with “conferencing”, 14 apps for the iPad, of which 4 are utility or productivity apps.

  • iPhone – new ones include Free Conferencing, BT Engage Meeting & Conference Plus

So where is everyone else?  Android? Uh, not likely.

I feel bad for those folks who are going with a Windows7, Palm or RIM OS and need apps. If they are rare, like finding a T-Rex fossil in your backyard, you are out of luck.

How Do We Solve it?

The way to solve this issue for m-learning tools, systems, etc., is realize that people who are using tablets and smartphones for that matter, use apps. They prefer it.

What they do not prefer is just clicking on their browser and surfing to your site, to enjoy their mobile experience.

But what about cost?

iPad and iPhone apps, and other mobile device apps can run the gambit, it depends on the complexity, features, capabilities and development overall. That said:

  • YouTube, Mashable and other sites provide guides and how-to, to create your own. You download the SDK development kit and build – the only cost you pay is the developer costs – around $10o to have it in the Apple store.  For other OS tablet systems, such as Android, you download a SDK for it, create it and pay nominal costs
  • There are sites online that will enable you to create an app for free. They are extremely basic, and no pizazz but they do exist
  • Companies in the market will create it for you. The complexity level varies, and so do costs. The range for these vendors are from $99 to over $5,000, and in some cases higher. However for a small size vendor, you can have an app for less than $700 and that includes a 3 year contract and unlimited users (and honestly, not bad looking either, although not to the level of some intense complex apps)
  • You can hire a developer or a company for very complex apps; pricing at the end of the day can go as high as +250K

There are a lot of apps out there

Now that you have your app, time to awaken to reality.  Not everyone knows who you are, so they are not going to search by your name.

If I am going to use web conferencing the first time, I am not going to whack my head and say, “GoToMeeting”.  Rather, I am going to type in the keyword “web conferencing” and see what pulls up.

  • Keywords – #1 priority for any vendor. Just as keywords are important in search engines and some social media to find you, so are they for mobile devices.  When I typed in “mobile learning”, there were products listed above that did not appear. Nor even when I typed in “elearning or e-learning”.
  • Categories – where does your app fit? Education? Business? Productivity? – If you capture screens and can record them – productivity.  If you are a LMS vendor – business, unless your target market is education/academia – then education.

The same can be said for any solution that can be seen on a mobile device. Because the people looking may not search by keywords initially, rather they will search by category.  If you are not selling in the education market, why would you want to put your app under that category? I know if I am looking for an app for the B2B or B2C market for mobile learners, I am not going to search through education.

  • Have a native app – this is a huge problem with mobile learning vendors

When they offer their solution, they will say it works on a tablet, say the iPad. If they do not have an app specific for the iPad, they will use the app for the iPhone for the iPad.

What’s the big deal? Well, if you are not using a native app for the iPad/iPad2, then your solution can not utilize the features of the device. You cannot switch between Portrait & Landscape. You cannot, expand or decrease the size of the text, and so on.

What you get is the “smartphone” version, which really fails to offer the power of tablets and those capabilities. For example, you can create “HD” apps for the iPad. You can’t for the iPhone.

  • Enable offline/online synch – (exception web conferencing products)

Bottom Line

Mobile learning is the fastest growing area within e-learning. It is leaving social learning in the dust.

It is mobile aka on-the-go.

It is everywhere. Unless you are one of the many vendors in this space, who see it as a stationary experience.

In that case, grab your extension cord because you are going to need it.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Interesting point of view however I don’t think it is fair nor do I understand your need to criticize our industries decision not to listen to the “wise” words and direction of Apple to further invest in the continued Appification of the web. We don’t all wish to recreate what already works perfectly just so that we can have an app so Apple can make money off of us.

    For an app to be done it has to make sense from the company building it and how the users will benefit. Ask yourself, would you really take a full elearning course on a smartphone? If so why? Who would? Why would they? The lack of native elearning apps really shouldn’t surprise us, we all feel that full course delivery on a smartphone is less than ideal. Think about it, if i have a phone full of cool fun apps and some time to kill… do you really think i’m going to open that elearning app and take some courseware on my own time? No i’m going to play a game, work out a puzzle or some other playful activity. If i’m at work, then why would i kill my battery taking elearning on my smartphone when i can just use my work computer to take the elearning that my company wants me to take?

    We are all working to analyse and understand the benefit, the value and the fit for learning in your pocket. And when i say we i mean vendors and customers. Don’t get me wrong there is huge value and potential for mLearning, just don’t think it needs an app for that!

    Our company started designing native apps for playback of our published courses. Some early prototypes were shared with some of our partners and clients. What we found, the reality, content authoring tools are at the mercy of the gatekeeper to training, the LMS. Without the LMS using/embracing/integrating our App, there wasn’t a way to get the content out. LMS vendors know this and they want to own it, so the ball is in their court. As such we chose to work with LMS vendors to make sure our content works in their native apps. Some of them have Apps out now like OnPoint Digital and recently SumTotal/GeoLearning and others we are working with are on their way too.

    And then the iPad…. So if you have a perfectly functional SaaS authoring system why would you rebuild a minified feature less native app when users could login using the browser and have the full app? Where is the investment sense to rebuild an already functional app on all the major devices? There are so many restrictions, limitations and problems with native apps on any device when it comes to authoring systems. Building one doesn’t seem smart or strategic when the one in the browser works already (assuming your RCAT isn’t built in Flash). You say “what if i don’t have a An internet connection”, well then enjoy some peace and quiet. If you are in mission Critical, gotta build some elearning, but i don’t have a connection to the internet situation, you have some larger issues. I travel all over and I rarely experience a “No connection” situation outside of being at a large conference venue or a Bates type Motel. In those cases most of us are far too busy with the world around us to worry about anything more than keeping up with company communications.

    Here’s an example of native iPad fail and why it isn’t ready for full apps. Apple, the masters they are, can’t even do it right with their iWork iPad(note they have no iPhone versions) suite, fail, fail, fail on all three apps. yea they work but they support um 1% of their desktop version and for the most part are useless outside of simple text edits and have a really difficult user experience with file management. And they incorrectly convert and open a lot of PowerPoint files, poor font support and the autocorrect is horrible. Etc…

    Facebook has a great smartphone app, why because it is needed to address the user experience. but there isn’t an iPad version, why? As Mark said “there is, it’s called Safari”. The iPad for a web app doesn’t always require native when there is no value to the vendor or customer.

    When a vendor in this space claims they are mobile it really means something different today than it did say 3+ years ago. It mostly translates to “we work on mobile browsers”, “we work with smaller resolutions” and “we don’t require Flash”. Which to be honest, thanks to Apple is really what customers are asking when they say do you work on Mobile devices.

    PS. Nice work on restyling your blog.

    1. 1. I agree that smartphones are not and have always stated – never will be, the solution to mobile learning. I also have stated numerous times in the past, the exact statement, “of why would you want to take a course” on a smartphone. They were listed because there are companies who have their systems – and advertise as such – as smartphone enabled, but not tablet.

      2. Initial projections by the end of the year, were 85 new tablets (on top of the 30 plus from 2010) in the market. However, numbers are indicating they will be higher. This article focuses on the iPad, but does mention Android and other OS. The Honeycomb 3.0 OS is a major competitor to iOS. Regardless, the apps can apply across all tablet OS

      3. Tablets are the fastest growing mobile market. It is projected alone that by the end of this year, over 20 million people will have and be using a tablet. I don’t know about you, but I think this is a pretty good size, especially since the consumer slate tablets (which these are), started really in 2010, although rugged tablets and some slates have been in existence for more than 3 years.

      4. With the exception to the iPad/iPad2 and right now Xoom (but it will change), all the other tablets accept Flash and HTML5. Regardless of what you think of HTML5, Adobe clearly sees that it is going to be big, because they offer and you can download an HTML5 extension kit for CS5. Today, you can already locate sites in HTML5, and any browser worth its weight has a sniffer (if you will) that can identify if the site is in HTML5 or Flash, and will switch, so that people can see it. Personally, I believe HTML5 is significantly better than Flash.

      5. No offense to Facebook, but I see no point to it. This is the same company, who believes – and would do it if they could get away with it – no privacy for the end users, so as long as it makes a buck for them.

      6. The 2nd most popular browser behind Safari, is Atomic. I use it and frankly it has more features than Safari. 360 is another new browser, that says you can view Flash on the iPad, because it has added an open source program within it. There is also Skyfire, which enables end users to view flash videos on the iPad and other mobile devices too.

      7. I am not a 100% lover of Apple, but I think they got it right with the iPad and its successor the iPad2. And the market agrees. That said, if I was to purchase an android device, I would wait until the summer, as vendors such as the new larger version of the Galaxy and Vizio appears.

      8. I respect your opinion, as a vendor, that you perceive I am criticizing the market. It is not criticizing it is identifying the possibilities.

      9. I have been in this industry since it began in the late 90’s, and have vendors as clients. I have seen great great products that failed to survive in the market – because they were so far ahead of the curve (Playback!). I hope that companies today, that are ahead of the curve, make it, because they see where the market needs to go. The funny thing here, is that even 5 months ago, there were vendors who told me, they were staying out the mobile learning space for tablets, because they didn’t see the value in it.

      10. IMO, the best mobile learning product I have seen is K-Tango made by CertPoint. It is a Point of Sale, extended enterprise mobile learning system. 100% mobile platform that is a standalone from their LMS. It is already in Europe and will launch in the U.S. soon. They have a native app for the iPad for it. It really is an incredible product. So, there are vendors out there who see it and get it, and they should be recognized for it as scuh.

    1. Yes, they have to. But, here is the catch, what they need to do is create apps for tablets, not smartphones. No one, wants to zing into a LMS and take a course or whatever on a smartphone.

      Key to success: offline/online synch for the LMS. As you know, people want self-contained, they do not want to go into an app and then have to click a link to go to the web site. A on/off switch if you will, would be the route to go, so I can download a few courses, take them on my own time and then synch the app with the LMS, when I have the ability to do so.

  2. I think there are vendors who are listening to what their clients (customers) want and these clients are not the end-users or learners.

    1. I agree. But if the vendor is an e-learning vendor, then the people using it are either current customers and thus end users or potential customers – i.e. end users. The term end users, would be anyone that uses a system. It is a general term, so a company buys a system – but the people – employees, customers or both, use the system – hence they are end users.

      Same thing with education/academia – end users.

      Yes, they are learners – but from a tech standpoint, anyone who uses any type of software solution, whether it be SaaS or desktop, regardless if it is e-learning or not, the tech companies internally call them end users. People who work with the solution at these companies (vendors) who work in customer service or tech support – end users.

      Even when I was a Training Director, internally to my staff I called them end users. Yes, they were learners – employees and customers, and it was stated publicly as such, but they used the solution – thus end users.

      BTW, when a vendor says “seats” that is a person, one password, one user name. You call them learners, they pitch learners – but as seats. As you can see the term “user name”. They do not say “learner name”.

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