It’s  a year since I started Constellata and I have been using this anniversary to reflect further on the  growing area of mobile learning.

This is a fast changing area and there are no definitive answers, and my views are likely to change during my company’s second year of trading.

Smartphone or tablet?

There is overlap between the two types of device,  typically both have touchscreens, and most rely on common operating systems, the most popular being IOS (Apple for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) and Android (Google for a fast growing range of companies and devices).  Many App developers therefore try to develop for both to maximise their addressable markets, and to satisfy customers who own both types of device, as this allows them to buy the App once to install on all their personal devices.  Plus, although smartphones tend to be, well, phone sized and fairly predictable, tablets vary in size considerably.


Despite the overlap, the contexts in which consumers use the devices are likely to differ.  For instance, smartphones are useful for grabbing learning opportunities on the move, for short, fast paced learning sessions.  They are excellent for dictionary apps, and I am looking forward to using my new Collins Spanish dictionary when I go on holiday to Spain later this month.


But tablet devices offer a bigger canvas for extensive reading and rich media experiences.  There are now 25m iPads out there, and a growing user base of Android tablets, which should mean there is now a big enough market for language learning Apps that exploit their potential.


iPhone or Android?

iPhone (plus iPad and iPod Touch) remains the most straightforward platform for most publishers and developers. The devices and their operating systems are a known quantity, as is the Apple App store, which makes financial transactions straightforward.  Piracy is difficult. Small publishers and developers seem quite happy with working with Apple, who, unlike many retailers, pay their bills on time.  Some  object to Apple’s processes and its margins.


But the Android is likely to be the platform on many more devices.  When Android powered smartphones and tablets sell for below $100 a unit  we are likely to see an explosion in the number of users, and thus more opportunities for developers and publishers of language learning resources.


Flash or HTML 5/ JavaScript?

There is a fierce debate about what to do about Flash, which was the preferred platform for most interactive language learning materiall (there are some exceptions, e.g. English 360 and Vital English).  The problem is that website Flash games and activities will not work at all on iPhones or iPads, and do not always work properly on Android.


Developers are therefore moving to HTML5 and Javascript for new resources, particularly for websites that they want to be accessible on iPhones and iPads with a decent internet connection.  This leaves the problem about what to do about all existing Flash based materials, particularly for publishers who have up to 10 years worth of otherwise  perfectly usable learning resources.


The short answer to this is probably “wait and see” in the hope that new routines will emerge that will support the conversion of Flash to something else, or that Apple changes its position on Flash.


Will consumer overlap with education?

This is more a prediction than a question.  There has been little overlap between self-study resources and courseware used in educational establishments, except perhaps in dictionary publishing.  Already publishers such as HarperCollins, Pons and Pearson are licensing their resources to social media language learning websites such as Live Mocha! and Busuu.  Busuu has released some rather good language learning apps that enable learners to sychronise their learning profiles with the website.


In Germany, where the iPhone is popular, publishers are developing their App store products such as Cornelsen’s consumer Lextra brand and Klett’s Pons brand.

What should my organization do about all this?

Firstly,  existing websites need to be mobile friendly so that customers and other important stakeholders are able to find the information they need, especially contact information.  This can be very straightforward or difficult to do, depending on how the website is built.  This website is built in a public domain system called WordPress, which is very easy to make mobile friendly.  Content built in Flash needs to be moved off the front page, and key information needs to be taken out of Flash and rewritten in a format that will appear on mobile.


Organisations publishing print materials will need to format these materials in eReadable formats.     The most common is pdf, which is fine for many, but publishing materials in ePUB, offers a better reading experience, and enables the mobile reader to annotate and use an English language dictionary to look up words as they go along.


And some organizations may need to consider App development, which will be the subject of a future post on this blog..