So…How Do You Build eLearning For iPads?

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Now that we have thought about what we can do with our existing courseware let’s think about building some new eLearning and what’s all the fuss about HTML5. Not surprisingly, there is a plethora of rapid authoring tools available today that do this. A good starting point is our blog post – 5 Rapid Authoring Tools to Publish Courses For Your iPads – where we talk about some of the authoring tools that can be used to develop HTML5 courses for iPads.

Naturally, Apple have their own – the iBook Author, an eBook authoring application. It easily creates books with pictures, videos, 3D and interactive objects using simple drag and drop functions and predesigned templates. But like all good things, there’s a catch – iBooks Author runs only on the Mac with OS X 10.6.6 and later. Surprised?

There are many more tools and they all do what you want them to do, but as Judy Unrein puts it in her blog post “Publishes to HTML5? Buyer, Beware”, – Any authoring tool and any output is only good if it serves your design, which serves the learning/business need. Flawless publishing to HTML5 doesn’t do you any good if the tool isn’t capable of creating – and publishing – the interactivity you’ve designed.

So what’s the fuss about HTML5?

HTML5 is being touted as the future of the mobile web and essential for any web-based mLearning – but is it really? Is it ready to the extent we believe it to be? And if HTML5 is key to delivering eLearning on the iPad, but unless your organisation is adopting the iPad as the ‘preferred’ device, HTML5 may not be the best option for developing your eLearning. Flash still delivers the best eLearning experience for desktops and other tablets (there are quite a few out there too!) learning. Oh, and not all browsers are ready for HTML5 and if you are still using IE 6, 7, & 8, it’s not good news, I am afraid! HTML5 works best with IE10 and browsers like Maxthon, Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

Apps for iPads – Native or Web-based?

So, on to the next hot topic of going mobile are – Apps. Everyone seems to swear by them and there’s an app for everything, so why can’t we have an eLearning app too? Of course we can, but first let’s just try and understand the difference between the two. A native app is software written for mobile devices for performing a specific task, e.g. a game, calendar, music player, etc. and runs on the device’s operating system. This means you have to build different apps for different phones e.g. the iPhone, Blackberry, Samsung SIII etc. The web-based app however, is one in which all or some parts of the software are downloaded from the web each time it is run and it is usually accessed from a web-capable mobile device.

Now let’s talk about Native Apps. They can be one of the best options for eLearning on iPads, as they provide a great user experience and use device capabilities, but they come with a hefty price tag! Another major constraint in using native apps is their dependence on a specific OS and device they need to be built for. Web-apps, however, are built in standards-based technologies such as HTML5, CSS3 etc. and are not device or OS dependent. With no special translations, conversions or re-programming, a web app can run on pretty much any platform with a modern, standards-compliant web browser.

So how and where do we use them? Let’s keep this simple. Where your users need to access information, materials, eLearning in low connectivity areas, off line or need to use the devices’ native capabilities (like camera) to perform specific tasks a native app is the answer. But where you need to support a wide range of devices and platforms, and don’t need either offline access or device specific features the Web app is ideal.

Of course it doesn’t end here and as with technology there is always another option. So we have “Cross platform development tools” – the genre of tools providing a middle ground between native apps and mobile web, producing apps that work on most devices and OS. They may work very well, but there are other issues to tackle – lack of support for all features of platforms, slower performance than native apps being common issues, all of which compromises the user experience. While cross platform tools continue to evolve, they will eventually meet almost all our development needs.

Want to explore this some more? Join me and my colleague, Amit Garg, for a session on “Designing eLearning for iPads” at Learning Technologies 2013 on Tuesday 29th Jan, 12:30 PM in Seminar Theatre 3, where we will be talking about the key factors for designing eLearning for iPads and “mEnabling” your existing eLearning. Or if you would like to chat with me or Amit personally, book a slot by emailing and come across to stand #55.

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