12 Terms mLearning Designers Should Know

Written by Gauri Reyes | Nov 25, 2014 9:39:03 PM

This article is a follow up to the Mindflash post “Terms eLearning Designers Should Know”. The original post discussed the terms: eLearning, Asynchronous, Synchronous, vILT, Blended Learning, Learning Management System (LMS), Learning Content Management System (LCMS), AICC, and Tin Can API.

Spotlight on Mobility

Granted, each of the twelve terms in the collection below is applicable to the eLearning industry as a whole, not just mLearning. And some are applicable to the learning industry in general, whether “e” or not. However, I grouped these particular terms together because each has a specific application to mLearning, a subset of eLearning. As the sheer number of mobile devices in use proliferates and technology continues to advance over the next decade, mLearning will grow in prominence.


First of all, mLearning is really a subset of eLearning. eLearning describes learning coupled with the digital transfer of information over computer networks. mLearning is the portion of eLearning where the digital transfer occurs over mobile devices. mLearning is also about the mobility of a learner, who has the freedom to take learning anywhere. Mobile devices include Smartphones, tablets, wearable devices—any portable tool or device. (Note: “tLearning”, or tablet learning, is a subset of mLearning, related to using the tablet as the mobile device tool of choice.)

Informal Learning

Formal learning is traditional and instructor-directed, such as learning through a formal mLearning course. Especially with the advent of tablets with large screen sizes, and the proliferation of larger screen size phones (iPhone 4 < iPhone 5 < iPhone 6, in terms of screen size), formal mLearning courses on devices can be quite user-friendly.

On the other hand informal learning is experiential, self-directed, or impromptu. Examples of informal learning include web searches, conversations, mentoring, job shadowing, reading books and articles, or watching video. Many of the unique advantages of device-enabled learning are well-suited to informal learning techniques.

Device-Agnostic Learning

Device-agnostic content is learning content accessible without any special apps or software and across multiple devices.  Device-agnostic content dynamically adjusts to the browser and the screen size of the device the learner happens to be using. Device-agnostic content also allows learners to start learning on one device and finish learning on another device, enhancing the ability of the learner to be mobile and learn in his location of choice.

SCORM and Tin Can API (xAPI)

SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) is the most widely used eLearning standard. It is a way of packaging and presenting content on eLearning platforms so that the content communicates well with the LMS. But informal learning, which typically happens outside of a SCORM-compliant course, cannot be easily tracked.

Enter the Tin Can API (a.k.a Experience API, xAPI), an eLearning “software specification that allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences.” (Wikipedia) The value-add of this API is that it enables the ability to track informal learning data.


HTML5 is the fifth revision of the HTML standards. Most importantly, this revision is the language used for structuring and presenting content for the World Wide Web and is updated to allow developers to build content that can be run everywhere simultaneously. Features offered via HTML5 include geo-location (ability to detect the user’s location), offline storage (to handle offline viewing and use), and rich media support (easy to integrate audio and video).

Social Learning

Humans are social creatures. As we move from face-to-face, classroom-based learning towards online learning, the challenge is to keep the multi-way social conversations that enhance learning experiences alive. Learning by observation, imitation, and modeling are all key tenets of social learning theory. Social learning can be taken in new directions with the embedded technology in devices today, such as video, audio, texting/microsharing, and the ability to contribute to online communities of all kinds.

Interactive Multimedia

Interactive multimedia allows learners to interact with eLearning or mLearning, and receive a response of some kind. Interactions could include screen touch (i.e., navigation), gestures (i.e., facial recognition during eLearning), text entry (i.e., responding to a survey or quiz), or social collaboration via microsharing tools or other social media tools.


Microlearning generally involves dissecting learning into “microscopic” learning bursts (typically 2-10 minutes each). Supporters say microlearning mimics brain processing capabilities, combating learner boredom, disengagement, and poor retention. mLearning is well-suited to microlearning because it is easily spliced with web technologies, can be deployed on multiple devices, and can be pushed down to or pulled down by users.

Performance Support

On average, learners forget 70% of the content we teach them within 24-48 hours of formal training.  Performance support, a type of informal learning, is a way to extend formal training to the job at the point of need. When a learner is about to perform a task previously covered in training, the performance support system serves targeted task-based information that ensures that learning is applied. Performance support systems can be high tech (i.e., the relevant video tutorial is displayed on a mobile device) or low tech (i.e., printed job aids can be carried to the job site for reference at the point of need). But, mobile devices provide unique performance support capabilities.

Accessibility, 508c-Compliance

Section 508c is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which sets technical standards for creating inclusive electronic communications and information technologies. From a learning perspective, all organizations wishing to be inclusive must create 508c-compliant learning experiences to accommodate diverse learners, including those with cognitive and learning disabilities, impairment of hearing and vision and motor skills, and to accommodate users with older software/hardware with suboptimal performance.


Storyboards are visual course content outlines. They are the development plans for creating learning experiences and include learning objectives, course content, visual elements, branching (learning paths), target audience, activity durations, and every other element that the savvy instructional designer meticulously plans in advance. “Storyboarding” is an idea borrowed from creative industries, such as animation, film, video, and fiction writing. But, whether you document your learning plans in a visual manner or in prose, create learning plans to ensure a sticky learning experience.

Educational Animations

Educational animations are visual depictions that convey learning content, often using the animation to demonstrate how a learning concept evolves over time. Of course, educational animations can be used in all types of learning, not just mLearning. But, the visual format lends itself well to device-based learning. Educational animations can include infographics, animated infographics, Sketchnotes and Sketchplanations, and video animation (à la GoAnimate and PowToon). Thoughtful switches between voice, text, animation, video, graphics communication elements aids in increasing learner engagement.

Your Turn…

Industry professionals tend to define commonly used terms in slightly different ways to suit the needs of their own projects or interests. The key to ramping up on industry terms is to understand the most common ways that industry professional use terms, and then to internalize and adapt the terms to the projects that you create. In this case, I’ve collected general learning terms that are particularly applicable to mLearning.

What terms do you find applicable to your projects, and which additional terms belong in this collection?

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.