Why Tablets will Win the mLearning Race Against Smart Phones?

The one strategy that everyone wants to get it right is mLearning? It is a space that is

The one strategy that everyone wants to get it right is mLearning? It is a space that is evolving so quickly that it is difficult to stay ahead of the curve and one has to be extremely cautious while making the choices. And one such choice is that of the device itself.

Wikipedia defines mLearning as any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies.

For a very long time mobile learning automatically meant learning on the mobile phones, and even now most companies consider smart phones while strategizing their m-learning. But in our opinion, the emergence of tablet devices, especially the iPads, has changed that assumption a bit.

While there is still some confusion whether tablets like the iPads and other Android-based ones should be treated as a separate category or not, there are certain sections where both tablets and mobile phones are talked about together in the mLearning space. The question is can we put equal emphasis on both? Or we need to analyze which device is more suitable for mLearning? Let us look at the facts:

  • Both the smart phone and tablets are doing very well in terms of penetration in their own categories but if we compare their user base figures, mobile phone users outnumber the tablet users in a way that they are not even close.
  • Mobile phones are now a personal device with every member of the family owning his/her own.
  • Content consumption on Smart Phones is ever increasing.

The above mentioned factors are definitely a big reason why most educators feel the need to capitalize on the wide reach this medium offers. But despite that we would say that tablets make for a better environment for mLearning. The lack of a good user interface can potentially negate the advantages it offers.

So let us compare Smart Phones and Tablets in terms of suitability for mLearning.


Smart Phones


Fundamental Nature of the device Primarily a phone and has a ton of goodies of course. But let’s not forget, it is a phone. Imagine taking a course and having an incoming call. More closer to usage like a laptop. Maybe a mail or a Skype contact may interrupt what you are doing. You could deal with it like you would deal with it on a laptop.
Screen size Definitely very small to go through anything longer than a few minutes at a time.  Hard to imagine going through an hour long course on a phone. Fundamentally different approach required to design content for Smart Phones The screen is bigger than the phone, and is closer to the kind of size we are used to with Laptops. The design thought process does not need to be entirely different from designing for the PC. Of course, designers have to rethink a few things including having a touch interface and no Flash and of course.
Variety of devices and screen sizes Given that the basic size is small, the sheer number of small variations in sizes make designing for smart phones incredibly tough. Tablets will probably end up in two sizes. Full sized tablets like the iPad and mini-devices. Perhaps it would emerge that the full-sized devices may be better for mLearning and we could standardize the size of a course much more easily.
Battery life The Battery life is much lower in phones and you expect to preserve the battery for making and receiving calls as well. Smart Phones with their displays need to be charged frequently. Tablets are not that much better but definitely you can expect to run the device much longer before you need to re-charge as compared to a phone.
Designing Interactions Again, screen size is the main reason why the Smart Phones are less suitable for any sort of interactivity. You could have just 4-5 buttons on screen without cluttering it all up. You could have a few buttons and controls as compared to what you may need to design in a course. This is a challenge for designers to design an engaging and interactive course. Intelligent design will ensure that almost nothing is lost as compared to what you can provide to a user on a laptop and desktop. Almost all interactions are feasible keeping in mind designing for touch screen devices.
Processor and Memory Phones today are much more powerful than what used to be available just a few years ago. But still, it is not sufficient for really heavy duty processing and data storage needs. Tablets have greater processors, and memory storage than phones now and these devices are already jostling with laptops for their place in your homes (secondary computing needs) and your travel bags already. So you can expect to do more and store more on your tablets.

Owing to these factors, developing courses that run well across all Smart Phones can be very expensive and time taking. Tablets are much more logical as consumption devices for things such as full mLearning courses (hour long onwards) than tablets.

This is not to say that Tablets don’t have their own set of challenges, perhaps the inability to run Flash courses will be the biggest among them but again that’s a limitation shared by Apple’s version of the tablets and smart phones.

So yeah tablets definitely have an edge over smart phones in terms of user experience and make better sense if mLearning has to be sustained long term.

Let’s not forget – mLearning became a ‘must have offering’ to provide before the emergence of the tablet device. So at that time – phones were the only real ‘mobile’ handheld devices. With devices like the iPad and the various Android-based tablets, perhaps it is time to take a call and say – there may be some specific subjects or types of courses that may be suitable for smart phones but mLearning is best viewed on a tablet.

We would love to know your point of view. Please share your views in the comments section.

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