Mobile Mania – The Latest on M-Learning

Posted by

Mobile the final frontier.  These are the voyages of mobile learning.  To seek out new devices. To boldly go where no e-learning vendor has gone before, specifically LMS vendors who are now starting to get it. 

To, ah forget it you now the rest, but what you may not know is the latest on the mobile learning front.

The Saga

I already saw that mobile planet

Responsive – Talk to any LMS vendor (okay, a large swath of them) and they will tell you they have responsive for mobile. 

For those who do not know what responsive is – basically the courses, LMS, etc. will conform automatically to the device’s screen size.  A vendor can do this without having a native app.  Vendors seem enthralled to show this to folks, even if you tell them you know what it is. 


  • The screen and thus the LMS look either sharp or squished – I’ve seen both
  • The LMS appears in a mobile style – think of sites you have seen that are mobile enhanced and have a slightly or some times more prominent appearance.  For me, this is what I would like to always see.  Sadly, it is often not the case.

M-Learning supported.   Another ho-hum feature that every system can do.  If they are in the cloud, surprise (actually not) you can view them in your mobile web browser. 

Even if it is on-premise, and you can going through your browser to access it, if you can see it, then it supports mobile learning. 


  • If the system shows Flash, then those objects will not appear on your iOS screen.  I’ve heard a few vendors tell me you can see it with an alternative mobile browser.  Great, I’ll get right on that. Not.
  • The latest spin is that the system is HTML5 design/fully supported/blah blah.  Again, happy for you, but here’s the thing, learners couldn’t care less.  All they want to do is be able to access, take the course(s), etc.   If they can see it – surprise they will go. If not, surprise they won’t.

Native apps. On the rise and as previously noted it does not mean that the app is self-contained, rather it means that they have an app to access their system. 

How do they do it?  Well, via the mobile web browser, which is within the app or upon entering the app to access the platform, your mobile web browser opens up.


  • You want native apps.  The most common are iOS (Apple) and Android
  • If you are using a Microsoft Surface or Windows 8. device, finding a native app is going to be extremely difficult.  An overwhelmingly number of vendors do not support it.  Why? Have you seen the price for one? Yowsa.
  • Kindle Fire though – still quite small, but in my research I found more vendors supporting it than Windows 8.x

31137781_sMobile Devices with marketing.  Go take a vendor web site and specifically look for their mobile learning stuff.  More often than not, they show it with a smartphone. 

Who is taking a course or would want to on a smartphone?  The exceptions for right now are due to infrastructure, location (many countries in Africa and a few other countries/locales, but that is slowly changing), and some additional variables.

In the last two years, I have found only one person (in Australia) who said they take courses on a smartphone (I often ask my audiences).  One person. 


  • If you still want to push the smartphone fine, but show it on a tablet too
  • Believe it or not, there are still plenty of people who do not have a smartphone, but may have a tablet and yes, there are people who have neither
  • If a person could choose between taking a course either on a smartphone or a tablet, overwhelmingly they would say tablet (just a guess, here but again – one person)

I’ve never been to this mobile solar system

35519405_sOn/Off synch.  You want this and if the vendor doesn’t have it, tell them you want it.  For those who do not know what on/off synch, basically the learner is taking a course/assessment/whatever and loses internet connectivity.

When they get it (net connectivity) the data automatically pushes back to the LMS. 

Some vendors still think that most people have 3G or 4G and thus there is no reason for it.  Mobile device data shows otherwise.  More people are purchasing tablets that are Wi-Fi only over 3G/4G. 

Also, have any of these vendors seen the price of data for accessing sites?  I can’t speak for others, but there are places in my house that the net connection is poor than others.  And my home connection is 50mbs.


  • If they vendor has on/off synch, then their native app is self-contained.  I am still stunned on how many vendors have never heard the term on/off synch or self-contained native app.  Then again, I have run into vendors who do not know what responsive means, so there’s that.
  • As noted, you want on/off synch.  Recently I have heard from vendors that they are seeing a big upswing in the number of people requesting on/off synch.  I say, keep asking – it is the fastest way to get vendors off the fence on it.

xAPI.  In the foreseeable future, a necessity for mobile learning.  I don’t say for long term future, because I do believe that somewhere down the infinite world of compliance standards, something new will appear. 

Despite what you may have heard it is still a work in progress.  This would explain why some vendors are hesitant to jump right in. For a in-depth explanation of what xAPI is, please read my earlier post.  

  • It was created because SCORM is not ideal for mobile.  The term Tin Can is often used by vendors.
  • A vendor does not have to use xAPI for their m-learning standards.
  • It was super hot a couple of years ago, then last year sort of not so hot, now it is in the upswing once again.
  • Yes there are xAPI vendors.  Just in case you were wondering.

Mobile OS.  You might be shocked to learn (I know I was) that there are vendors out there whose native app does not support the latest mobile OS for your device.  I have found vendors who have told me for example, that they support up to iOS 7.1 or Android 4.0 and nothing further.


  • Ask whether they support the latest version of your mobile device OS.  Do not assume!
  • If they say yes, ask them what version (you might be surprised to learn that there are vendors who have no real clue what is the latest version, so just saying “yes” may be a misnomer)
  • If you are using whatever mobile OS and it is not the latest, no worries – just make sure they support it
  • For vendors who are behind with their native app – why?  To me, this is a red flag because it says they are not paying attention and staying current.  Who wants that in their learning platform, authoring tool, assessment tool, web conferencing, etc.?

Warp activated – here I go.. Wheee

Courses specifically for a mobile device.  For me, this will be a major game changer and honestly, I as a mobile learning purist (there is such a thing), elated.  What it does and why you will want it:

  • Via your 3rd party authoring tool or through the built-in authoring tool in your LMS, you create a course for a mobile device
  • The course shows up in a mobile device and looks awesome – The BIG  KEY
  • It does not look awesome anywhere else. Which means it looks crummy or just average when you access via your desktop, laptop, anywhere else that is not on a mobile device.


  • I’ve talked to a few mobile learning authoring tool vendors who say their tool does that

However, if you dive further in, you will find that yeah it looks good on a mobile device, but it also looks the same and good via your desktop or laptop browser.  Hence, it is really isn’t pure mobile course appearance.

  • One vendor, Gomo Learning told me their device can output a true mobile appearance course (as dreamed upon).  I couldn’t verify because I ran out of time at LTUK15, but do plan on testing whether this is the case or not.
  • To me, course design specifically for a mobile device and more importantly for a tablet, is the next evolution of mobile courses.  If you take a mobile design course and it looks the same as the course via your desktop or laptop access, it is not a true mobile course.  I cannot stress that enough.

Instructor/Manager capabilities/views within an app.  Starting to appear more than not.  Still in the low stages.  Watch out as some vendors will pitch this, but again it is via the mobile web browser, so really it is a spin, rather than true reality.

For those who have on/off synch, having an instructor/manager views and capabilities is a must. 

I mean if you are doing F2F (ILT) wouldn’t it be awesome for that person to be able to do things even offline and then synch up to push out? 

If you are on the floor verifying that the person is successful or not at completing their tasks, and many of us know that a warehouse or on the floor isn’t always net accessible, that the manager can still push the information at some point when they get back to their desk?

Down the road expect more capabilities and features specifically for native self-contained apps.  I hope it will include admin functionality. 


  • Best with on/off synch capability
  • A few vendors offer the ability for learners/employees to digitally sign on the mobile device
  • Ideal with geolocation

Skinned app.  There are only a very small number of vendors who will skin/brand their native app to look like your corporate/organization/school etc. design.  This includes your name too.  

IMC for example does this and I think it rocks.  I mean who wants to have their native app say the name of the LMS vendor? Especially if your system itself doesn’t have their name anywhere (by the way you want this).  

If I am a LMS vendor I would have this capability, now rather than later.  The best way to get vendors to do it – is to request it.  Otherwise, many will sit there and do nothing. 


  • Think of it as a white label app.  Thus, you have it with your colors/design, heck even LMS logo i.e. Widget U. 
  • Learners will know it is their LMS name or company name and not vendor B.  Eliminates confusion when they access Widget Learning Community via VendorB app name.  Trust me, you have enough issues explaining a LMS to folks, this is the last thing you want.

Higher Education and mobile learning.  Simply put is stinks.  I just can’t understand why HE is so slow to maximize the possibilities with mobile learning, when the research data shows how many students use mobile devices. 

Perhaps it is the research articles by academia folks who use theory or some funky angle on mobile learning (not all folks mind you, but I found plenty of articles that follow this approach).


  • Forget theory and wake up to reality.  Students are using mobile devices. Accept it and utilize it.
  • Push gamification capabilities with mobile rather than just social.  There are plenty of social apps that students use daily, but it is rare for gamification apps. 
  • BTW, students and for that matter the rest of the human population are not fans of taking a course on a smartphone.  There are exceptions of course (due to accessibility, infrastructure and what not).  Still, tablet time.

Mobile Upload. Ability to take photos, shoot video, etc. and upload from the device right into your authoring tool or LMS.  Extremely rare with LMS vendors and rare with authoring tool vendors.  Seems to be a no-brainier for me, since sites such as Instagram and Vine are super hot in the consumer marketplace.


  • Upload directly from mobile device into the system or tool
  • Photos, videos, heck even e-books
  • Another area where e-learning and even m-learning vendors are behind the times

Bottom Line

This is the latest as it relates to mobile learning. That said, there are a few others that I left out simply due to article post length – so as not to write War and Peace, the m-learning version.

The keys to what is happening, what should be happening and what will be happening are there before you.

Remember, just because you do not need it now, doesn’t mean you may not want it in the future.

So get a seat on the m-learning ship.

And trust me, it isn’t going to stall.

At least not on a tablet.

E-Learning 24/7

p.s. For those interested in my Top 50 2015 LMS Report, I have provided a sample.




  1. Craig

    Great article, you state under native apps ‘you want native apps’. But for an organisation with a limited budget what is wrong with responsive design assuming it looks good on a mobile/tablet device?


    1. The LMS should not charge you for a native app. It is usually included in the system and by you not using it, you won’t get a discount. If you are asking on whether you should build your own native app: a. can be quite expensive and thus may not be worth it.

      Nothing wrong with just responsive, but I believe an LMS should not only have a native app but one that is self-contained for on/off synch. Otherwise, having a native app while nice and all, isn’t really that awesome since it isn’t any different than you going thru your mobile web browser. It’s all about the on/off synch with that native app.

Comments are closed.