Friday, June 22, 2012

Mobile Learning Development

It will be interesting to see the mobile learning developments promoted at the mlearn conference this week. My colleague Steve Lowenthal has been attending and I will be very interested in his report back.
The mobile learning landscape is beginning to settle down as it becomes mainstream and the hype dies down.  The stance taken by Apple and the huge growth in iPads has meant that Adobe Flash is no longer a comprehensive elearning development platform for delivery across all devices. HTML 5 helps solves this cross-device compatibility issue by providing a standard (which includes video, audio and a canvas object) that is understood by most new browsers, smartphones and tablets.
As a consequence it is important that authoring platforms deliver to multi-platforms which probably means delivering to Flash and HTML 5. The big authoring tool providers recognise this and have been rapidly developing this functionality.
Authoring tools and HTML  publishing options
Most authoring tool companies have responded by developing an approach to deliver HTML 5 content for multiple mobile devices. This is increasingly a common feature of all authoring tools.
Some of the big players like Adobe, Captivate and Brainshark all have options for delivering content to mobile devices. AdobeCaptivate 6 has some nice features to publish content out to html 5 for iPads, Adobe products also increasingly support Phonegap Build which allows you to republish content as native apps for all major devices.
Articulate Storyline delivers html 5 content to its iPad player (see Kineo’s review) and Brainshark delivers content and interactive questions to any mobile device via its app (see Kineo’s review).
Thus you don’t need necessarily need separate authoring tools for mobile and desktop content, though you need to check whether the platform you use will produce reformatted versions for phones. Also another nice feature is that some HTML 5 mobile versions can also act as accessible content versions for use with screen readers.
The downside is that with HTML the browsers call the shots in how they render the content, a particular problem with older browsers.  So you will need to ensure their HTML5-based framework is device-independent and can handle orientation changes when it’s put up against different screen sizes and device specifications. It also needs to know which media format should run on the device being used and/or which browser to use on that device. Another option if you don’t want to use a proprietary authoring tool is to create your own framework which is where JQuery Mobile comes in.
JQuery Mobile
JQuery mobile   is a HTML 5-based UI system compatible with most of the popular mobile devices, as well as a desktop browser. It is lightweight, easy to use and is based on the well known, popular and solid jQuery and jQuery  UI fundamentals.  The platform is currently used by sites such as Ikea Sweden, Stanford University, Sony and many others. Big mobile learning users of JQuery mobile include the Khan Academy which uses JQuery mobile for their mobile app.
The way jQuery Mobile structures the pages and navigation makes it seem like a native app.
Although jQuery mobile is a UI system and not specifically designed to be a mLearning development platform, its features can be used to create learning content such as:
  1. Text and images
  2. Interactive hot spots, drop down, carousels
  3. Quizzes
  4. A canvas element for advanced animation
  5. Pop-ups for tips and feedback

You can also incorporate the audio and video features of native HTML5.
Some of the nice features of building mobile content in jQuery mobile include:
  •  It looks and feels like an app.
  • Accessed from a url so you don’t need to submit to an app store.
  • The html 5 can reformat automatically and look good on all devices whether phone, iPad or desktop , thus you just have one version.  
  • You can also launch content direct from your LMS and track.

We have been building our framework at Kineo using JQuery Mobile as well as developing content with the major authoring tools. It is a really interesting area and I suspect we will see many new developments and advances in the coming months and years.