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Understanding The Difference Between eLearning and mLearning

It is almost a given that any training course in 2021 should be mobile-friendly, as modern workers commonly access content from any device they have at the moment of need: desktops (usually at the office), laptops or tablets at home or in co-working spaces or smartphones (when moving between places). 

However, many eLearning developers still think desktop-first when creating their courses; mobile is just an afterthought considered at the end of the process.

Also read: Embracing a Mobile Mindset for Learning and Development

Creating courses with mobile first in mind is VERY different than creating courses for desktop only. Learning in mobile is a completely different experience than learning in a computer, sitting at your desk. As a designer or learning leader in your company, you should know everything about both formats so that you can create effective instructional content appropriate for each.

We find online  tons of articles that talk about the differences between eLearning and mLearning, so we've created this blog post to save you time doing your research. Here, we list down four of the main differences you should know. 


Making sense of the concepts

The “e” in eLearning is “electronic.” So eLearning is any form of learning that is delivered using electronic devices like the computer via channels like the Internet. However, learning can also be delivered via the Intranet/Extranet networks.

The “m” in mLearning is “mobile.” So mLearning is any form of knowledge that is given using hand-held and portable devices.

Also read: Road Map to Success: Mobile Learning Essentials

The Overarching Difference: The Purpose

When should you choose one over the other?

eLearning gets the nod when you have to teach specific skills or impart in-depth knowledge on a subject to your audience. You choose mLearning to support an ongoing learning process where the learner needs quick access to bits of information, usually on the go.

For instance, if you have to teach someone how to operate a machine or make them learn by heart the HR policies of an organization, choose eLearning. The eLearning keywords are: structured, formal, and time-bound.

If you want your learners to have handy a list of to-do’s while they are in the store, create an mLearning nugget that they can carry around in their pockets or call up as and when they need it. The mLearning keywords are: on-demand, just-in-time, and context-aware.

Tip: Don’t assume that every program needs mobile-accessible content. If you have an effective eLearning program today, don’t abandon it! Mobile can be a great supplement for your existing coursework — offering employees a chance to study and strengthen their understanding of curriculum on the move.

Where to Find 'EM: The Medium of Delivery

If it is eLearning, think computers and laptops. That is eLearning tethers the learner to his or her desk. You don't need to worry so much about bandwidth concerns and having a blast stashing audios, videos, and hi-res images into the course. 

If it is mLearning, think smartphones or/and tablets. The keywords are: on-the-go, portability, and ready accessibility. The challenge for the course designers is to create lessons that download in a jiffy and run without hiccups.The user experience must intuitive and VERY fast. 

If you are ready to start a mLearning program read this guide: Four Ways to Create an Effective mLearning Strategy

Not Lookalikes: The Design

If it is eLearning, it will usually be on a computer or a laptop. So what do you see? Large screens. This means that you have the screen real estate, and you have also managed to pin down the learner to his seat.

If you are a designer, you can let loose your creativity when you design an eLearning course. If you can create an enticing layout peppered with the right amount of drama and tension, be assured that your learner will sit through the end of the course.

On the other hand, when talking about mLearning, what do you see? Small screens and learners peeking at them while they wait at the doctor’s office, in the subway, or as they catch up with their friends at the coffee shop. You neither have the screen real estate nor are you assured of the learners’ undivided attention (how can you when the smartphone is always blinking, flashing, and beeping).

So mLearning units have to fit content within a small space, and there is usually no more than one idea in one screen. mLearning units have simple screens with simple navigation. Designing for mLearning units is challenging; it goes beyond “shrinking eLearning".

The golden rule: to create successful mLearning designs, understanding context is crucial, says Paul Clothier, an expert in mobile learning content solutions.


Keeping an Eye on Time: The Duration

Adult corporate learners don’t have all the time in the world. The smartphone users amongst them have even less time. So if you are creating an eLearning course, keep it to between 20 minutes and 30 minutes max. On the other hand, chunk your mLearning courses into bite-sized pieces of 3-15 minutes duration. You can use videos, but they should not be more than 3 minutes long. After all, you wouldn’t want to clog bandwidth.

Also read: 5 Essential Mobile Learning Design Rules You Should Be Following

 If each module is under 15 minutes, it can be considered perfect for mLearning.


Contrary to what the uninitiated makes it out to be, eLearning and mLearning are not competing against each other. Both can feature in a blended learning program where mLearning would supplement eLearning courses. As you may have realized, eLearning and mLearning are more different than similar. So, neither can wholly take over the functions of the other.


 responsive ebook



Floro, Nick. Mobile Learning. October 2011.

UNESCO. Touch and Mobile Technologies for the Classroom session 4

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