Mobile web vs (non web-based) apps
Why appification is mostly the worse mobile learning strategy by
There are a lot of good things to be said about mobile apps: they are very simple to use, they don’t require hundreds of megabytes like desktop applications and they offer some features, such as location- based servicesinformation, that have been absent from desktop applications. However, when it comes to mobile learning, employing apps areis, in general,ly mostly a poor worse strategy than using the a mobile friendly web version of the content. There are a number of great apps out there for primary school children., the The choice gets rather thin when it comes to high school education, however. Apple has realized this and has started publishing textbooks in a proprietary format, which effectively amounts to the appification of learning content. While this means good news to many people who have been looking forward to interactive, multimedia eBooks, there are a number of serious drawbacks compared to mobile web solutions: they are not platform independent teachers (and learners) have very little or no control over the content and didactic use they often do not integrate (easily) with existing networks like Moodle
Formatted: Font: 14 pt Formatted: Centered Comment [EG1]: should this be „worst“?
Comment [EG2]: I wouldn’t call apps „strategies“. I might change this part to „apps are in general, relatively useless tools.“ Formatted: English (U.S.) Formatted: English (U.S.)
The following example is meant to demonstrate these problems. Probably the best mobile learning strategy for teachers who have been using eLearning in the past is the mobile integration with an existing LMS like Moodle. It provides the teacher with the possibility to choose her own materials and; view test results online, and allows the students to discuss the content online or to collaborate on projects. Moodle currently has only an iOS app working only with Moodle versions from 2.1 and above. Estimating rather generously that Moodle 2.1 is currently used by 10% of Moodle users and 15% of users of mobile devices in high schools, it becomes clear that only a few high school students currently are able to use mobile Moodle and that this in no way could be a viable mobile learning strategy in the classroom for the vast majority of teachers. At least not at present until apps for other major mobile OSs will be released. As it can be expected that there will be more different mobile OSs in the future (Windows 8, mobile versions of Linux) it is unclear when the point of widespread use will be reached. If the developers had chosen to create a mobile friendly version of Moodle instead, educators could already be working with it, now that smartphones use has reached almost 100% among students aged 15+. Extrapolating from current trends widespread tablet use could follow in less than three years. Platform independence For a variety of reasons, most “mobile” classrooms probably will use a BYOD (bring your own device) strategy. The most important of these reasons is financial. Most people already own devices (including mobile ones) that are faster and more up- to- date than the ones they find at the workplace or at school. IT departments everywhere are starting to become obsolete, with cloud computing and mobile computing on the rise. In fact, students at my school often prefer to access the internet via their mobile phones and 3G rather than with their laptops connected to the school’s network. In the long run it will become too costly to provide the technological infrastructure in-
house. Considering the current developments in IT proprietary, eLearning solutions are an absolute no-go, as costs are bound to soar and content will be restricted to one device. . If the majority of devices cannot be supported in a classroom, any mobile strategy is bound to fail. Apps are not platform independent and when employing them a teacher always has to make sure that they are available for iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, and whatever other mobile OS will become popular. OtherwiseElse they are simply useless in any BOYD setting. Adobe Flash has been the most popular eLearning platform precisely because it was platform independent and could be used with any OS just with a browser plugin. Content could be easily imported via xml, and data (e.g. results) could be as easily exported via SCORM to an LMS or embedded in any website using the embed code. That is why it was not only used for interactive multimedia learning apps, but also for some of the greatest web 2.0 services which have been used in constructivist learning: prezi, glogster, voki, vyew, voicethread, sliderocket, bubbl.us (mindmapping), just to name a few. Now that Flash is not supported on some mobile platforms, HTML(5) is the best option for creating platform- independent content. Control over content and didactics Most learning apps come with their own content and leave the teacher and learner little or no control over what to learn. This effectively means that teachers/learners often have to try out dozens of apps to see if they are useful for them or not. Apart of from that being a waste of time, learners often lose interest in these apps after a short time, because they provide no new stimuli or information. What’s more, most people don’t want to use dozens of different specialized apps but rather a few generic ones which allow them to be more flexible. A simple example is online news. Instead of installing a dozen of different apps from a dozen of different newspapers, it is much more convenient to use a newsreader (RSS), which allows aggregating all sources in one place. Another example is flashcards. There are hundreds, if not thousands of flashcards apps out there. They are easy and convenient for a limited amount of standard learning content (e.g. learning the alphabet or numbers). However, when it comes to broader topics (e.g. animals) a teacher might want to choose the items to study, as there are hundreds of possible items. When it comes to very specific topics (e.g. parts of an engine) there might be no flashcards at all. The ideal would be the support of an open format, which allows the import of selected and possibly even self-created content. It is easy to create flashcards, and students would actually befit benefit from creating their own flashcards (collaboratively), as this would help them learn better (constructivist learning). Networking: Unless a teacher can successfully connect all mobile devices (currently mostly smartphones) in the classroom to a network like Moodle to distribute and upload content to, it is very cumbersome to work with these devices. Neither test or learning games results, nor content created exclusively for one device, can be shared easily. Apps are most useful in connection with the web. In fact, many of the really successful apps are little more than web clients. Among those are Facebook, Twitter and other social media services Dropbox, Box (file management and sharing) Evernote, Sprinpad (note taking)
Google apps (Search, Maps, Docs, Gmail, Calendar) Flipboard, Pulse, Feedly and other RSS readers Clients for different information services such as Yelp, AccuWeather, Wikipedia (weather, movie reviews, travel information, etc.)
The contents of all of the above are just as well accessible via a browser and are completely deviceindependent and usually feature a variety of web 2.0 functions such as sharing and publishing. Accessing these services via app rather than a browser often results in a better user experience as the app versions are More user friendly Slightly faster More customizable
Many of these online services have a mobile version, which is often only slightly less user friendly than the mobile app. What makes these apps so great is not only their device independence and availability-anywhere, but also the ability to share and collaborate easily. It is easy to share files via Dropbox, notes via Evernote, news and movie recommendations via social networks, as well as creating collaborative documents or maps via Google Docs and Maps, respectively. By the way, all of these apps are free compared to many on-device-only apps (most prominently games and productivity tools): web content is harder to sell than software. Perhaps the best most obvious example of where a pure app approach fails is vocabulary trainers. Trainers that come with a built-in vocabulary only are pretty useless (except, perhaps, for a very basic level of foreign language learning). Of course teachers and learners really require topic related vocabulary, ideally created collaboratively by the learners themselves with the help of the teacher (selection and correction). This can be achieved with web 2.0 apps (Quizlet, Studystack, etc.) much better than mobile apps. There are, however, a number of mobile apps that support import from these services and serve as their web clients. The mobile app, thus, becomes part of an overall (constructivist) eLearning strategy, which could include: production (most of it at present offline on PCs or laptops) collaboration (on the web) consumption (mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets) feedback (results, discussions, etc.: LMS, social media)
Device-only apps are mostly intended for the consumption on the device (with the exception of productions tools, of course). The same is true for appified textbooks. In the age of collaborative and constructivist learning, that does not represent a 21st century didactic and learning strategy. The appification of textbooks and the resulting problems By offering interactive multimedia textbooks in a proprietary format, Apple is effectively trying to appify learning content for higher education. While this kind of textbook is very much welcome to most many eLearning inclined teachers and learners, it forces learners and schools to buy Apple hardware. With iAuthor, a free and easy- to- use authoring software for Apple’s proprietary format,
Apple lures teachers into creating valuable content for iPads, at the same time increasing the dependence on one device (not even allowing for consumptions ofn its own Mac PCs). While this aspect is worrying enough in itself, there are more downsides to these appified textbooks. Apple’s texbooks are incredibly memory hungry due to their embedded videos. The textbooks presented by Apple so far have typically 1GB or more, which is way too much for devices that have typically 16/32GB of memory. I very much enjoyed the experience of reading Al Gore’s Our Choice on the iPad, but I had to delete the app after reading due to a lack of space, even though it was only 200MB (an eBook version with embedded pictures would have had hardly more than 5MB). Streaming solutions would make much more sense, ideally with the option to download individual videos for offline use. There are already a number of mobile apps that show good practice in this respect and allow for easy offline use as well as the option to quickly remove bulky content when not required: e.g. Google Docs lets you select individual documents for offline use and editing as well as syncing when online. Springpad, a popluar notetaking app similar to Evernote, lets you savfe web content as bookmarks (online) or as notes (offline). Modern and user- friendly as mobile apps might seem with animations, videos and interactive tests, there is nothing really innovative here, nothing that hasn’t been on the web for at least the last six years or so. It is easy to create multimedia and interactive content with web 2.0 tools and LMSs like Moodle.
Comment [EG3]: ?
Rapid “mobile” learning vs appification iAuthor used to create learning content can be considered a rapid eLearning (or rather mLearning) tool. Rapid eLearning has been around for a long time and some of the tools have been quite popular with teachers. Rapid eLearning tools make a lot of sense when it comes to content over technology. Most of these rapid eLearning tools are Flash-based due to the its easy inclusion of multimedia and interactive activities. Often these tools are not much more than PowerPoint presentations enriched with such multimedia elements and SCORM compliance. Since the exclusion of Flash on some mobile devices, these rapid eLearning tools are no longer a viable overall eLearning option. There are some HTML rapid authoring tools, like exe eXe Learning and Hot Potatoes, which have been enormously popular with teachers due to its their ease of use and integration with Moodle, and which still can be used with an eLearning strategy that includes mobile devices. Even though iAuthor promises teachers innovative rapid mLearning authoring, it can do little that can’t be done with a mobile website (e.g.) and traditional eLearning elements, such as video and interactive quizzes. As an example I would like to provide the following website, which is intended for English as a foreign language learners: https://sites.google.com/site/riannaslearningvideos/video-lessons/new-york
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These activities are truly cross-platform as they can be done on an iPad just as well as any other device and OS with a browser (mobile phone, PC, Laptop). Ideally, the mobile platform should be an LMS like Moodle (which is at present unfortunately not possible, as pointed out above), as this would provide the teacher with valuable diagnostic information, such as learning progress of individual learners as well as statistics about the whole group which might give hints towards skills that have not been acquired yet. The site could also include user- generated web 2.0 content, such as mindmaps, animations and videos as well as integration with social media. A Ttwitter widget could be included to provide a forum for discussion. Such (rapid) HTML(5) authoring has a number of advantages over mobile-only authoring: Platform-independence Freedom for learners to choose their own devices, brands, OS and screen-sizes Modularity: it is easy and quick to add or remove additional modules Faster to update than appified content and therefore more up-to-date Allows collaborative user participation in the form of discussions and creation (constructivist learning) Provides teachers with more choice in content selection and with learner feedback
In a nutshell, the best mobile strategy would not be a dedicated mobile solution like iAuthor, but a mobile friendly all-inclusive eLearning strategy. This would allow learners and teachers alike the maximum freedom of choice and not exclude low budget low-budget learners and schools. Admittedly, apps are more user-friendly and more polished than HTML websites. However, if appification effectively means exclusion of learners, then it should become clear that the strategy should be HTML5 over shiny apps.
The best BOYD mobile strategies Of course, when pursuing a mobile strategy, there is no way around apps. Ideally, only one app should be required by all participants: a browser. However, this is neither a necessary nor a desired requirement. On the contrary, there are a number of apps that are very useful in any eLearning strategy. All of the above- mentioned web clients are examples of such apps, for example, are, as they also allow a mobile opt- out for those students who do not own any mobile device (i.e. PCs and other devices can be used alternatively to participate) or who prefer a PC over a smartphone or tablet PC.
Such an all-inclusive eLearning strategy can still employ a number of apps: Generic tools (cameras, voice recorders, dictionaries, calculators, etc.) where neither brand/device nor specific app matter Mobile browser + mobile friendly website or LMS Mobile app + web 2.0 Mobile app + open formats (RSS, xml, epub, etc.)
As mentioned above, the ideal case would be a mobile friendly LMS, which supports Web 2.0 integration. Unfortunately, at present no such (open source) solution exists. However, there are a number of alternatives. It is easy to publish almost all kinds of learning content on a blog and use any RSS reader (they exist for all platforms and devices) to consume it. If the content is published on a mobile friendly platform (e.g. Wordpress or Blogger) anybody can consume the content by using only a browser only. The combination of web 2.0 and mobile app is one made in heaven (or rather in the cloud). To give an example: audioboo, a podcasting service, lets people create and publish in a variety of ways: Offline creation (e.g. microphone and audacity) and upload Online creation via Flash interface (only microphone required) Mobile creation via app
Using audioboo for podcasts represents an optimal all-inclusive eLearning strategy, as it does not exclude any mobile OS or device, not even learners who do not even own a mobile device. This means it is no problem whatsoever to use audioboo in any (BYOD) classroom, with at present typically 90% smartphones,, that which come in with a variety of operating systems at zero additional costs. Plus, it allows students to comment on each other’s creations or to work on a collaborative project. Unfortunately, a lot of great web 2.0 services are based on Flash and do not integrate easily with mobile devices. In the case of audio or video only this is not a big problem as HTML5 provides <audio> and <video> tags (even though the story is a bit more complicated in real life, as different browsers support different formats). However, with more interactive services, such as glogster Glogster and caleméoCaleméo, things become more trickytrickier. Prezi, the popular presentation and animation service, is only half an exception: it provides a player app, which lets users view prezi Prezi content, but not create it. Again, at present, it is best to watch out for good HTML based web 2.0 services, such a Tumblr, Blogger, Google Docs, Google Maps, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. that provide either mobile friendly web versions or clients for the most common mobile operating systems. Last but not least, using open formats such as RSS (news feeds, video and audio podcats), KML (maps) and epub (eBooks). RSS news and epub can be read on any device and on any platform (even online in a browser using web services such as Google Reader, Feedly or Bookworms).
For the last ten years or so Adobe (former Macromedia) Flash has been the dominant eLearning platform due to its easy integration of multimedia and interactive content in a variety of ways ranging from complete eLearning courses, to rapid eLearning sequences and Web 2.0 constructivist learning. With the current mobile revolution and the exclusion of Flash from one of the dominant mobile OS, Flash is no longer a future-oriented option. Due to the lack of a quasi standard there are several options, the two most commonly employed ones are going mobile web or appification. There is currently a trend towards the appification of eLearning content, which has a number of serious drawbacks: Exclusion of learners with different or no such mobile devices High costs Not enough support for constructivist and collaborative learning Not enough control for teachers and learners over the content Not enough integration with LMSs and Social Media
The main thesis proposed here is that the use of HTML(5) and open standards such as epub are mostly the better mobile learning strategy and that an all-inclusive (mobile friendly) eLearning strategy is far superior to a mobile-only one. While apps are shiny and easy to use, they mostly exclude a larger number of learners. Learners also tend to become disinterested in (closed) apps, once the “novelty effects” wears thin. Both learners and teachers alike have little control over content and often have to spend a vast amount of time looking for and trying out different apps, often with frustrating results. Of course, there are a lot of great apps that are both closed and useful for mobile learning. Learning games immediately spring to mind. There are a lot of games that provide a fun way of learning for children, e.g. language and math games. Such games cannot, of course, be created by teachers or students. Still, it would be possible to create web 2.0-like authoring platforms to choose or create the content for such games. E.g. teachers or students provide the words – matching the current topic in the class - for a hangman game, or the kind of mathematical tasks for a math shooter game (shoot the correct solution). Teachers could then adaept the level of difficulty to the current curriculum. If apps are targeted for use in schools, they should at least be provided for all major mobile operating systems. Appification represents a great commercial strategy, as software is easier to sell than content, which doesn’t require the highly specialized work of a programmer. . While this is a perfectly legitimate strategy for companies, it should not be the preferred strategy for educators, educational institutions and educational authorities. A software- over- content strategy is too costly, both in terms of financial resources and human resources (the exclusion of learners). Instead of investing resources in devices and software, they should be investing those resources in (mobile friendly, possibly open) content and the development of HTML5 and web 2.0-like authoring tools that are easy enough to use for both teachers and students to foster true 21st century constructivist and collaborative digital learning. An ideal mobile learning strategy is an all-inclusive eLearning strategy that would provide the possibility of mobile opt-in (preference for mobile devices) and opt-out (preference for other
electronic devices, lack of mobile devices). It would prefer content over user-friendliness and focus on the following points: High quality content Open formats for import and export (epub, xml, html, etc.) Mobile friendly web resources (a great example is Wikipedia) Rapid (mobile) authoring tools which allows creation by teachers and students Educational games with (collaborative) content creation platforms (good example Quizlet for vocab quizzes). Mobile apps that function as web clients while still being user friendly (e.g. keeping track of reading assignments, tests, results, task management, etc. for learners) Social media integration for social learning LMS integration for teacher feedback
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The future of learning does not lie in bulky, memory hungry digital textbooks that are slow to update. These will eventually go the way their paper counterparts are going now: being archived away in libraries, not to be used again. The future of learning lies in more open, flexible, modular/less monolithic and collaborative forms.