For keen learners, the distinction between eLearning and mLearning is something they are not bothered about. Both are means of distance education, digital and both require an internet connection (intranet, too in case of eLearning). Learners just want to consume content and acquire knowledge however possible. In fact, with advancements in technology, the variance between the two has blurred somewhat. Nonetheless, the difference between the two is important for content developers and educators, and by implication, it acquires importance for the learners.
There are four key metrics around which the difference between the two lies. These are: a) The delivery channels b) The content designs c) The time frame, and d) The objective
A detailed look at these metrics will drive home the differences and that they are not the same. They have different dimensions that make them stand apart; it is not a case of both being merely learning online or using the internet to acquire information and knowledge. The following matrix captures the major points of departure:
|Medium of delivery/channel/devices||Desktop, PCs, Laptops Operating system: Windows/Mac/Linux||Hand-held devices—Mobile, Smartphone, iPad, tablets Operating system: Mobile device dependent-Android/iOS/Windows|
|Course Design||Large data size possible; media-rich; more formal; rigid||Limitations of size; lightweight; informal; flexible|
|Time and Space||Medium duration (say, half-hour courses) and Fixed/On-site||Short duration (say, up to 10 minutes), Anywhere/On-the-go/independent of time and location|
|Objectives||Specific subject/skill training with detailed and deep knowledge; fixed time||Need-based inputs for rapid information; microlearning, bite-size chunks; fast knowledge dissemination; 24X7 instantaneous|
The widespread adoption of mobiles has made mLearning quite popular. Newer mobile technologies have narrowed the difference, and user preference has gradually shifted in favor of mLearning. In addition, environment dynamics, economic disruption, remote working, etc., and changed attitudes, especially tech-savvy millennials having short attention spans, quick results, anytime anywhere access to information, etc., have moved the scales in favor mLearning. mLearning has become an extension of eLearning, with eLearning modules being modified and adapted to mobile devices to quickly grasp important need-based concepts.
It is not to say that eLearning is losing its importance. It has its place in the knowledge market. It provides detailed information and complete courses. Learners interested in comprehensive knowledge about a subject are better off doing an eLearning course. eLearning follows a structured format with time-bound classes aimed at in-depth information about topics of interest. Reputed institutions award certificates and degrees on satisfactory assessment, which adds value to the learner's credentials. eLearning platforms include MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), Video Streaming services, VILT (Virtual Instructor-Led Training), etc.
mLearning, on the other hand, is better suited for bite-sized, chunky, and nuggets of information. If the need is for instant information related to a specific task or for performance support, mLearning is better equipped for the purpose.
The difference between the two modes becomes starker when we consider content. Mobile devices typically have limitations of screen size, visibility, data storage, bandwidth, etc. Content has, therefore, to cope with the limitations of handheld devices. Large-sized data that a full training course entails, and adjuncts like complex imagery and graphics, multimedia use, video streaming, etc., requiring large data manipulation and downloading become a hindering factor in mLearning. Smaller displays restrict information to limited data per screen (usually single idea), large buttons, and easy navigation. Learning has to be optimized for small screens.
In eLearning, where content is delivered over desktops and laptops, the larger-sized monitors and processing capacities mean more information can be delivered in multiple ways. Large-sized courses, modules, and sessions can be accessed by the learner without much difficulty. High-definition audio, video, graphics, webinars, forums, discussion boards, streaming, screen sharing and whiteboards, rich media, etc., become feasible and convenient without much bandwidth concerns. Learning gets optimized for larger screens.
From the learner and educator perspective, another major differentiator between the two is the feedback. Feedback is important for course corrections, improvements, and tracking progress. In eLearning, feedback is delayed and can be provided only when the learner is logged into the system or course. In mLearning, feedback is instantaneous and can be given constantly as frequency and availability of mobile access is literally at one’s fingertips.
The above distinguishing features will clarify what constitutes eLearning and mLearning. The difference is essentially contextual, and ultimately choices of the learner prevail. But while understanding the difference is important for educators and content builders to deliver the appropriate type of content design to the user audience. It must be remembered that the two complement each other. It will not be out of place to say that mLearning is an offshoot of eLearning, albeit in a different format and delivery medium.
While eLearning courses enable in-depth knowledge, the same course, duly adapted and structured for mobile devices, can refresh the knowledge with quick key inputs as and when required. They can work in tandem and support each other as per user convenience, serving the cause of knowledge distribution.
In a choice between the two, the purpose and objective of learning will weigh the most. If the end is to provide comprehensive knowledge about a subject, eLearning is the way to go. E.g., certifications, Upskilling, degrees required per statutory compliance, say, in the health industry or fire safety services, are the domain of eLearning. If the objective is to address on-the-job concerns, access to quick need-based inputs to complete a job or to solve a work-related problem, then chunky nuggets via mLearning works better.
However, current technology has almost extinguished the distinction with state-of-the-art learning content management systems (LCMS), learning management systems (LMS), and cloud storage playing a major role in narrowing the gap between the two. Content can now be seamlessly adapted and optimized for multiple devices and screen sizes.
At Gyrus, our GyrusAim learning solution will enable your organization to provide unified learning to effectively manage your entire training needs irrespective of the purpose, be it classroom, virtual, electronic, or mobile learning. So, feel free to get in touch.