The Mobile LMS Dilemma: Responsive Or App?
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2 Approaches To Mobile LMS To Compare And Choose The Best For You

There was a time when our lives were ruled by desktop PCs and laptops, when the idea of using technology on-the-go was still too nascent and learning anytime, anywhere (via technology) was probably just a thought! We have come a long way ever since with the mass adoption of tablets, phablets, smartphones, and myriad other handheld devices. People now own more than one mobile device and seamlessly shift from one to another depending on their requirement, location, and time of the day.

Just as technology has witnessed a revolution, learning too has changed, especially eLearning. The world has become increasingly mobile and the workforce (and in turn their learning) is experiencing a revolution like never before. The number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the 5 billion mark by 2019. According to a Strategy Analytics’ report, the global mobile workforce is set to increase from 1.45 billion in 2016, accounting for 38.8% of the global workforce, to 1.87 billion in 2022, accounting for 42.5% of the global workforce.

Bottomline: Mobile is the present as well as the future of learning and a mobile LMS is now a must-have for everyone.

When talking about mobile, it's important to consider the delivery aspect of mLearning as its content. And in most cases, the former is a Learning Management System (LMS) that brings about easy management of learning/training/performance support. There are 2 main strategies (not mutually exclusive) to be considered that provide ease of use to all LMS stakeholders, mainly learners.

These are:

1. Responsive Design

Back in the day when an LMS was viewed on the desktop or at best a laptop, the term ‘responsive’ perhaps did not crop up too often in discussions between L&D professionals. The term ‘responsive web design’ (RWD) was coined by Ethan Marcotte, a web designer, in an article in May 2010. Taking the cue from the RWD definition, a responsive LMS is described as a platform that delivers learning on devices with varied screen sizes with continuity, tracking and reporting across these devices. This means that a responsive LMS allows users to access the learning module on any device of their choice, seamlessly switch between devices—picking up from where they left with consistency without any loss of information or tracking. In other words, a smartphone/any mobile device screen is generally smaller than a PC screen, and it is tough to fit everything onto it. A responsive design framework takes all these points into consideration and ensures a graceful degradation or a progressive enhancement of onscreen content and layout elements depending on the device. Here are 9 Reasons To Invest In A Responsive Design LMS by Christopher Pappas.

2. App-Based Approach

While the responsive design is all about providing the same content and functions, albeit, perfectly sized to fit onto the mobile device, apps take the game a notch up. Apps, especially native ones, make the best use of the power and ubiquity of mobile device and the huge flexibility and try to provide a rich experience and efficiency. Apps add to the enhancements and conveniences of the existing functionality. Then, of course, this approach includes the generic web apps that work on any smart device (without downloads) and there are platform-specific ‘native’ downloadable apps for Android, Apple, Windows, and Blackberry. Native apps provide the advantage of touch and swiping technology and make good use of the innate capabilities of the device like location awareness, phone, camera, and texting. With native apps, LMS vendors need to specifically create the design, develop, test, and maintain.

While both the responsive LMSs as well as app-based ones work fine, it is good to know their salient features to understand them better.

A responsive LMS is a vital aspect of a successful learning program. As mentioned earlier, it is all about a seamless, flexible learning experience on any device, anytime. Businesses need to make efforts to provide a total mobile User Experience for their employees. Learners can focus better on their learning by experiencing the same User Interface on all devices and avoid too many technical inconveniences. Since responsive design makes it possible for learners to access the same course anytime, anywhere, it could impact employee productivity in a positive way. Also, every single employee can access the LMS since it is available on any device, with no exception.

As mentioned earlier, the 2 are not exclusive and for app-based LMSs too, the idea of any time, anywhere learning is very much true. It also provides the option of bite-sized learning content which can be viewed as and when needed. Also, just like user engagement is improved with mobile apps, learner engagement is also enhanced. The app-based approach allows searching and browsing social learning content, people and discussions for just in time performance support. Content can be downloaded to the device for offline consumption later. The biggest advantages of apps are that they can access all the functionality of the chosen device easily and that they are more likely to run without error on the device.

Responsive LMS Or Mobile LMS App?

Just as the 2 approaches have their pros, they have their cons too. But when it comes to business, the right development approach is critical to delivering the right experience. This holds true even while choosing whether you want to responsive LMS or an app-based one. However, the decision can be somewhat perplexing. Some may argue that the average user is already using up to 30 apps a month, there may come a point of overload from a user’s perspective. But then let’s face it, there is nothing like too many apps (especially one that offers a great learning experience).

The decision of choosing which approach you want, though, should be driven by compelling business needs and understanding what your company really wants, instead of opting for something because "everyone is doing it".

Ask yourself some questions before you decide:

  1. What kind of learning needs do my employees have?
  2. What kind of devices do they use?
  3. How many employees work from within the office premises, how many are on the field, and how many are working remotely?
  4. What features of the mobile platform can I take advantage of that would improve the learner experience?
  5. What is the expected cost savings or Return On Investment that I get when I choose either approach?

In short, the decision to select between a responsive LMS and a mobile LMS app depends upon what your requirements are. Also, the fact remains that as within mobile apps and responsive LMSs, there is a lot of scope for development. However, there is no one better than the other, it is just a matter of needs. The point is that both approaches are a route to becoming mobile and are here to stay. Responsive design eschews the obstacles in using an LMS from any mobile device and is the easiest way to service an increasingly mobile workforce. Apps can leverage the best features of the mobile device and replicate the standard LMS capabilities to provide a great User Experience.

No single mobile strategy can be termed as the only "right" choice because it depends on your target audience and what they expect from the training and performance support. So, then, what if you can do both: opt for a responsive LMS as well as choose an app? Why not? After all, who said you have to restrict yourself to choosing only one of them? To really ensure all bases are covered and your company is truly mobile in terms of learning, you can do both the responsive design as well as the mobile app. A hybrid approach (a combination of responsive and app) is just fine if it works well for you. Both a responsive LMS and an LMS app serve different purposes, and you need to take a call on the best strategy for your learner group.

It’s not tough to decide whether you want to opt for one of them or seek a combination of both. All you need to do is figure out what makes the most sense and invest accordingly.

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