Over the past several years, the popularity of both online and mobile learning has exploded. But the two forms are often conflated, despite how different they are.
Online learning is a broad term used to describe any learning delivered over the internet, whether synchronous or asynchronous. Mobile learning certainly falls into the general category of online learning, but it merits a more complete definition. Mobile learning is most effective when it is targeted to Last Mile Learning challenges, helping professionals master job-specific operational knowledge as close to the point and time of need as possible – in the flow of work, and in the flow of life.
What’s a better fit for your class, team, or workforce — online or mobile learning?
The best way to decide is by understanding the different capabilities, limitations, and design features of each method.
Read on to determine if mobile learning is right for your organization.
Type of Learning
The most meaningful difference between online and mobile learning is the type of information each method is designed to impart.
Online learning was initially devised to replace in-person instruction in an academic setting. It has since expanded to cover a wide range of content areas, delivery models, and modalities.
In many use cases, lessons are long and in-depth and may include discussions, tests, and papers.
Recent research on online learning programs yields inconclusive findings as to its effectiveness. One study showed that online students “made greater use of resources supporting planning, monitoring, and cognitive strategy use,” outperforming in-person students. Another recent survey of students at the same level studying the same subjects found that online students fell behind in-person students.
Mobile learning can be an effective complement to a range of online learning models and in some cases, a superior replacement. Well-designed and delivered mobile learning can adapt to the student or learner’s lifestyle and deliver highly engaging gamified approaches. Perhaps most critically, mobile learning doesn’t require learners to master large segments of new information all at once..
Portability and Mobility
To date, most online learning has been designed for desktop computers. While some forms of online learning have begun to offer mobile support, this often means nothing more than allowing content designed for the desktop to be played on a mobile device. When this is the case, the user experience invariably suffers.
Mobile learning is fundamentally different from content designed for a desktop screen. Every aspect of a mobile-first learning experience is designed for the smaller form factor. Content displays cleanly on the small screen, lessons are optimized for mobile browsers and operating systems, and the learning experience tends to be more interactive than video-based online learning.
Most fundamentally, mobile learning content is designed to be consumed during short moments of free time during the day.
That means not only that lessons are more easily digestible, leading to improved learning outcomes, but they’re easier to design, deploy, and manage on the backend too.
Online learning is usually designed for laptop or desktop computers. On the other hand, mobile learning is developed for small screens like smartphones and tablets. The continuing growth of screen size for mobile devices continues to enhance the m-learning experience.
Mobile learning takes full advantage of the sophisticated operating systems that smartphones and tablets run on. M-learning software is known for its speed, flexibility, and customizability.
Whether you’re using m-learning for business professionals, athletic teams, or traditional education, the smaller screen size allows for easy-to-digest, bite-sized learning modules that help your team better retain knowledge.
One minor drawback of the mobile learning approach is the constraints of smartphones and tablets compared to desktop and laptop computers.
Desktop and laptop computers can store large quantities of data. That enables learning programs to have rich, immersive, and high production value elements. But the gap is rapidly closing as smartphones and tablets gain computing power that rivals desktop environments.
Of course, it is not an either-or proposition. A recent study on the effect of mobile learning applications on students’ academic achievement found that integrating m-learning into traditional educational models promoted academic achievement and increased learners’ motivation.
Mobile apps’ lack of memory is made up for in their versatility. They can replace formal training sessions in business settings, speed up learning and increase retention in technical fields, or help athletic coaches maximize their time spent with players.
When planning out formal training sessions, professional seminars, traditional educational lessons, and take-home coaching assignments, time is everything. One significant difference in m-learning content is duration.
Much of the online learning being developed today is meant to supplement, or even entirely replace, traditional, in-person educational models. But m-learning is more often designed as quickly digestible ‘microlearning’ sessions.
Embarking on an online course means lessons folded into units embedded within modules. And multiple modules make up each course. That’s a great model if you’re trying to build a knowledge base for your team from the ground up.
But if you’re looking for a Last Mile Learning approach, where individual team members that already have strong foundational knowledge can receive customized, easy-to-digest training packages, m-learning is the way to go. Pass on crucial operational knowledge for peak performance in microlearning sessions of two to seven minutes each.
Adaptability and Customization
Another area in which mobile learning breaks ahead of its online counterpart is adaptability and customization. Mobile programs are highly adaptable and user-friendly. They have to be since they must fit entirely on different-sized screens and multiple devices. Major upgrades can be implemented for thousands of users simply by pushing an update to the mobile app.
Mobile learning apps are also designed with on-the-go cognition in mind. The mind operates in a different state, whether stationary or in motion. M-learning platforms like Learn to Win have numerous customizable options for instructors, managers, and coaches to help learners adapt to the program based on their specific needs.
You decide whether your m-learning experience needs to be more visually engaging or more text-focused, have more tests or less, and much more.
Online learning often requires full-time instructional design experts to create lessons. This is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. It also requires a combination of educational and programming expertise that is rare in most organizations.
Because it’s so expensive and time-consuming to build online learning modules in-house, many companies license off-the-shelf content from companies like LinkedIn Learning.
However, because this content is often generic and does not reflect the specific work environment your employees face, 80% of licensed content is never used.
At their best, mobile learning tools transform dense manuals, long videos, and lengthy chapters into easy-to-parse digital materials that speak precisely to the employee’s operating context.
The best mobile learning platforms make content creation simple. With tools like Learn to Win, anyone can build a lesson, even if they have no instructional design or programming expertise. As evidence, the company’s first power users were football coaches!
Traditional online programs promote passive educational styles. But mobile programs provide learners with quick hits of information that fully engage and prompt deeper appreciation of the material. Lesson creation doesn’t require any prior experience writing lesson plans, putting together courses, or teaching in front of a class.
From the college classroom to the professional board room, it’s easy to put together comprehensive educational programs for mobile.
Zooming in on Mobile-First Learning
If you think mobile learning might be the key to fine-tuning your teams’ performance, check out Learn to Win. Learn to Win is a mobile learning platform that removes the training bottlenecks in organizations. Businesses are constantly launching new products, adapting to competitor moves, and adjusting their operations. Learn to Win makes it easy for their training to keep up.
Learn to Win’s mobile training platform makes it fast and easy for anyone to build a lesson. You don’t have to be a tech wiz or a trained instructional designer. Our technology makes it easy for learners to master new concepts in bite-sized chunks – in the flow of work, and on any device.
Hundreds of customers have used Learn to Win to accelerate their training: Fast-food chains upleveling workers on drive-thru management, NFL teams training on playbooks and scouting reports, tech companies onboarding new engineers, pharmaceutical companies readying sales reps for new product releases, and Air Force pilots drilling on emergency procedures.