Should mLearning be given the importance it seeks? Is mLearning a passing fad or a revolution in learning technology? Are mobile learning strategies just “me too” approaches or a long term vision? These were some questions that were widely debated in the eLearning community until sometime back. However, we are well past that phase now in the mLearning evolution cycle. mLearning is very much here and it is here to stay.

Considering the dynamic nature of technology, new trends and innovations keep us developers on our toes. So, some of the next fundamental questions looming in front of us are – Can we be content with just repackaging eLearning on a mobile device? How can we use the specifics of this new medium to the advantage of the learning experience? How can we enhance the user experience on mobile devices?

User experience on mobile devices is something that still has a lot of room for development. And in the absence of a single right approach, two forms of development and delivery are being discussed, that is, Native apps and Web based apps.

Here is a comparison between native and web apps to give you a clearer picture about them:

Native Apps

HTML 5/ web based apps
They are specifically designed to run on a device’s operating system and machine firmware, and typically needs to be adapted for different devices. In the case of a web app, all or some parts of the software are downloaded from the web, each time it is run. It can usually be accessed from all web-capable mobile devices.
They are very good in terms of user experience, are very swift, fast and can do lot more. The speed and user experience lag behind as compared to Native apps and some amount of performance will have to be sacrificed.
Example: You can compare the difference in the performance of a native vs web app by checking this demo on the native apps as well as a web app on these links: Native app for iPadNative app for Android(Both native apps are connected to our LMS so they need a username and password to login. The username and password is freecourse/freecourse) Example: You can compare the difference in the performance of a native vs web app by checking this demo on the native apps as well as a web app on these links: Web app(You can save a shortcut of the demo on the home screen of your mobile device  to launch the course like an app)
They are relatively simple to develop for a single platform. Although, they have to be developed separately for each mobile device. They do not have cross platform compatibility. They can be made to work for all devices since they run on the web. However achieving cross-browser compatibility can be challenging.
Developing, testing, and supporting multiple device platforms can be costly. They are easy to deploy on multiple devices.
They require a unique programming language. They use basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript knowledge.
They are distributed by app stores and one has to be dependent on Apple or Google for their approvals. Updating the app also becomes difficult owing to this. They are distributed through open source and features can easily be added or updated.
User may or may not require internet connection depending upon the structure of app. User will need active data connection at all times
Native apps are more secure. Web apps are less secure as they need to connect to the network frequently.

So while both have their pros and cons, decision on the correct approach will depend on the need of each project. Some questions that you can answer before deciding on the mobile learning development strategy would be:

  • What level of user interactivity does your course needs to achieve?

If game level responsiveness is critical, then it is more suited for native app development.

  • What is the nature of the functions the course needs to perform?

For simple tasks like displaying information, the performance of a web based app is good enough.

  • Will your learner need to access the course where internet connectivity is not present? 

Web apps will need internet connectivity to work and thus may not be suitable if your learners do not have internet on their devices.

  • What is the gamut of devices you need to build the course for?

Native apps need to be adapted for each device and even within iOS and Android, there are multiple resolutions and configurations. So making a native app for multiple devices might be very expensive.

  • What are the skill sets of your mobile learning development team?

Native apps require specialized knowledge of the device’s OS and programming language. Thus, to develop an app for varied devices, the resources should be proficient in those many languages.

In conclusion, we can say the choice should be made by keeping in mind the objectives of the course and the requirements of the learners. The discussion on Web based apps vs Native apps is not about superiority, but suitability.