So, You Want to Build an App…

Rapid Tools for mLearning Still Have a Long Way to Go for Learning Professionals

Mobile Development Comments (4)

In the past decade, we have seen a ton of rapid development tools for learning on the desktop. If I would like to create an eLearning or software simulation, or even a simple game, I can crack open a WYSIWYG editor and go to town. With that, the role of a person who creates training has changed. In many organizations, an instructional designer may not only own the content creation, but they also may do the development. The are many great tools for this type of rapid or iterative workflow. Lectora, Articulate, Captivate and Camtasia are a few of the tools I have used over the years for creating Web-based training. Many organizations have built workflows around this model because they need to save cost in development and time to create learning modules quickly. Picture that for a second… ADDIE (a non-rapid, linear process) being used to produce rapid products designed to be made iteratively. Makes you go, “Hmm…” 😉 But, I digress.

Now, sometime into the dominance of rapid as a development model for creating eLearning, along comes mobile. Organizations are reeling not only because they need to figure out how mobile fits into their strategy for delivering training, but they also have to make it part of their development processes. So, as a result, the model is changing a bit for now. In our analysis via conversations with clients, people at conferences and contacts who have been in the industry for a while, we have observed that most instructional designers or training professionals do not have the tools and skills to produce mobile apps by themselves as of 2012.

That said, there are some rapid development tools now emerging for mobile. I just got an invitation from AppGyver to participate in their beta, for example. I will keep you posted on what I think as a I try it out. You may have had an opportunity to test the MIT App Inventor product when it became available (It’s now an MIT project). I believe rapid development tools – a tool that creates an app with no coding needed – are around the corner, but I do not see a clear winner yet. Though many rapid eLearning tools have thrown their hats in the ring, they really aren’t all that mobile minded yet. None of them really allow you to take advantage of device specific hardware or features or have a clear output path to apps. JQuery Mobile + PhoneGap Build is close, but it is still outside the comfort zone of many rapid tool users because of a somewhat clunky overall workflow.

So, if apps are a stretch at this point… What about mobile Web? This may be the sweet spot for a lot of organizations. Tools like Trivantis’s Lectora, for example, will produce HTML5, which means your smartphone can access it on a browser and take advantage of a few new features afforded by the emerging standard. Tools that produce a SWF are not going to work on Apple’s iOS platform, or really any mobile platform for that matter, now that Adobe has end-of-life the Flash plugin for in-the-browser experiences on mobile. I am sure many companies are scrambling to address this recent development.

The disadvantage of going mobile Web is that you are not accessing the built-in features of the device, such as sensors, the camera or other useful features. That said, there are tools such as PhoneGap that will allow you to make an app out of your Web code. So, this means you could start with the mobile Web in mind and maybe port it to an app distribution later should the need arise. Adobe recently purchased PhoneGap’s Developer, Nitobi and has now made it part of Dreamweaver (I imagine integrating other Adobe products with PhoneGap is right around the corner). Still, with this path, we are back to needing someone who can code to take it from mobile Web to an app. Not as easy as cranking out something in Captivate, to be sure.

A question we at Float seem to ask nearly all of our contacts is, “Why do you think you need an app again?” Many can’t articulate that answer. When building learning for mobile devices, there are other options, too. Consider how videos work on mobile devices. Creating engaging training videos to play on a mobile device really works well. There are a ton of other ways to leverage mobile devices to learn. Think about photos, PDFs, SMS and more. The possibilities are pretty open. Again, these aren’t options coming out of a rapid tool, but could be addressed down the road when vendors target mobile as a primary end platform.

In my opinion, it is good to step back and look at all the possibilities before building a strategy to crank out all of your training as apps. When you do find the right training that would make a great app, then do it right. There are no shortcuts or easy buttons. Even if the tool was there, the content will need to be reshaped to work as an app. mLearning is simply not eLearning. Learners will not tolerate a half-hour page-turner on our mobile devices. Not that we should accept that as an eLearning either.

Bad learning is bad learning no matter how you deliver it. No software product will protect you from that.

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Jeff Tillett

Jeff Tillett has been working with computers and Internet technologies for nearly twenty years starting as a Graphic Designer and Web Developer. A survivor of the Internet boom, Jeff assisted many startups to successfully build business and ecommerce ventures. His first involvement in instructional design was as a developer for a distance learning Internet start-up. There Jeff and his team crafted a custom LMS as well as all of the content that went in it. Discovering he had a passion and knack for learning design, Jeff has worked for a number of companies as an Interactive Learning Developer and Instructional Designer including T-Mobile USA and Microsoft. At T-Mobile, Jeff lead a group known as the Innovation Team that advocated and piloted emerging learning technologies for the organization. There he built expertise in mobile delivery and design and bring that knowledge to Float as a Mobile Learning Strategist.

» Mobile Development » So, You Want to Build...
On February 2, 2012
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4 Responses to So, You Want to Build an App…

  1. […] create an eLearning or software simulation, or even a simple game, I can crack open a WYSIWYG…Via Rate this: Share this:StumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. Max says:

    You say ‘JQuery Mobile + PhoneGap Build is a close one, but it is still outside the comfort zone of many rapid tool users due to a somewhat clunky overall workflow.’ I’d check out Application Craft (

    It’s a complete IDE with UI and Code editing and incorporates both Phonegap and jQuerymobile. Bit like a cloud based Visual Basic for mobile and desktop apps.

    You should also look at the Phonegap case study :

    • Jeff Tillett says:

      Great comments Max. I will take a look at Application Craft. I love the fact that a lot of new tools are cloud based. It will be fun to see how this all plays out.


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