Mobile learning solutions and e-learning platforms share many similar features. But when it comes to the instructional design of their content and their intended use, that's where their paths diverge.
M-learning, or mobile learning, is a type of learning designed to be accessible from a smartphone or tablet anywhere, at anytime. E-learning is a type of learning designed to be stationary, accessible from a desktop or laptop.
Those are the broad definitions, but there's a lot more that differentiates mobile learning from e-learning outside of their intended solutions and platforms.
Differences in M-Learning and E-Learning Design
Mobile learning doesn't have to be designed for smartphone or tablet use exclusively. Some m-learning programs can be accessed from stationary platforms as well, like desktops and laptops. What really differentiates mobile learning from e-learning is the overall intention of the design.
M-learning solutions and apps are designed to remain installed on your device indefinitely, to be opened at your convenience.
This is very different from the way e-learning is designed. With e-learning, there is often a course or a certification that must be completed. It is designed for a finite period of engagement, typically longer than 30 minutes.
Everything about mobile learning is designed to be smaller and simpler than e-learning. Most m-learning programs are styled like typical apps: large buttons, less text, blocks of color, high contrast...
This style naturally followed the invention of the smartphone, because it's easier to see on a smaller screen, but it has become ubiquitous in the tech world. The design is also meant to be more approachable and user-friendly, offering a low-commitment way to learn.
You don't open a mobile learning app to delve into an hour-long lesson or course in one sitting. You pop in and learn a little at a time.
Similarities in M-Learning and E-Learning Design
The introduction of mobile learning changed the look and feel of learning-based programs. The simple and accessible look and design is now being mimicked by e-learning developers too, so that e-learning and m-learning are beginning to look more and more alike.
Tablets represent the physical manifestation of that middle ground. Some are fully mobile, and others are only semi-mobile, reliant upon wifi. Tablets use apps, but also have a larger screen to accommodate a more complex and text-based design. They represent how the line between e-learning and m-learning is getting fuzzy.
But those aren't the only recent design similarities. Both mobile learning and e-learning often incorporate social media sharing and posting, personalization of your account, and competition via leaderboards, top scores, or comparison charts.
However, these features originated with, and are better suited for, mobile design. In addition, both kinds of learning often offer the ability to track your progress, or display progress to your supervisor.
Also, any good e-learning or m-learning program should be completely intuitive. Little instruction should be necessary to use these programs.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Both
Mobile learning allows access to information at a moments notice, from any location. It also allows for passive learning, which is excellent for memorization, keeping updated, or location-specific instruction.
However, it's not great for big ideas and concepts. To understand something on a deep level, you need to commit time and mental energy to it. This is what e-learning is designed for.
Mobile learning, by its nature, enables distraction. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. A little distraction can be good for absorbing dry, uninspiring information. It keeps your level of interest sustainable over time, and ongoing engagement keeps ideas fresh in your mind.
Both m-learning and e-learning are great for certain things. The trick, for educators and employers, is knowing which to choose and how to best utilize each.