by Chris Ballman | March 28, 2014

Chris BallmanAs associations look for new and dynamic ways to engage members and attendees, learning via mobile phone, known as mLearning, is gaining traction. This growing field allows organizations to enhance and extend their events and educational offerings beyond web-based offerings to attendees’ and members’ mobile devices.

Most people assume that eLearning (via computer) and mLearning are one and the same. If it works on a laptop, it should easily transfer to a phone or tablet, or so the logic goes. However, if you step back and think about those two devices, you will realize how differently we use them. And the differences in how we use laptops vs. phones and tablets affect how we deliver education through them.

Following is a look at three of the biggest differences between eLearning and mLearning.

For starters, consider picture size. Your laptop or desktop monitor is a large screen that allows you to see and navigate finer points with the ease of a few clicks with your mouse. Your phone or tablet is much smaller and requires larger landing spots for you to access hyperlinks due to using your finger as opposed to a mouse.  

Your laptop or monitor is able to hold more graphics and intricate layering, whereas your mobile phone is best when having to show specific larger-sized graphics. Think of the difference between a full-blown website vs. a mobile app as a comparison.

Essentially, eLearning is designed to be completed at your desk or static environment, normally during the workday, while mLearning can be accessed anywhere you use your mobile device, e.g., while waiting in line for coffee or commuting to work on the bus.

The time spent on each delivery method is different as well. An eLearning module usually is geared for up to a 20-minute completion time (it is not advisable to go beyond 20 minutes for any one topic, as you risk losing engagement from the learner); mLearning, however, is designed to be completed in small chunks, 3-5 minutes at a time, maximum.

While eLearning can be broader, mLearning needs to be laser-focused on the topic at hand. For example, if you needed to take a safety class in a particular area, the eLearning module will go over the information, including why it is important, in greater detail to ensure competency. An mLearning module, on the other hand, might provide a follow-up checklist as a reference guide in case you forgot a specific step while performing the safety procedure.

Neither eLearning nor mLearning is better than the other. As it stands, eLearning is great when you need to go more in-depth on a topic and have the time to dive deeper into the subject, while mLearning is perfect for bite-sized information on demand that you can access anywhere. It is important to utilize the correct method at the right time so your learners can get the correct information at the time they need it.

Chris Ballman is director of education & learning services at SmithBucklin, an association management and services company. He can be contacted at