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Mobile access to learning platforms

It is great time for E-learning platforms. Both for solutions that allow you to host your own distance learning platform and for available cloud education services full of content prepared by specialists from universities all around the world. What happens if we wanted to have access to all those materials having only a smartphone or a tablet? Is it comfortable to use those services from a mobile browser? Is there a dedicated app that gives access to all services of a given platform?

E-learning platforms that shall be in the spotlight are:

  • Moodle (open-source platform, which can run on your own server)
  • Canvas by Instructure (same as above, plus we can create courses hosted by the authors of the platform and use the courses published by others)
  • Coursera (offers courses in various fields, more than 70 partner universities e.g. Stanford and Yale University)

 

Moodle

Moodle is probably the most popular open platform for distance learning. Has been implemented by a number of universities and institutes as a fundamental tool for e-learning. Recently, developers have released a dedicated mobile application called Moodle Mobile.

Despite their quite considerable experience with the application available through a web browser on your computer, access to the course content from a mobile device is not as easy. In a mobile browser on your phone or tablet, you will get a smaller version of what usually appears on the monitor screen. The lack of responsive solutions gives a cramped web page which requires zooming and swiping the screen horizontally and vertically to get to the main content of the course. Navigation is also unchanged so we need to be quite accurate when clicking on the tiny and densely spaced text links.

Moodle Mobile is available from the Google store is much better, though there are still reasons to complain. To gain access to your courses, you need to ensure that your Moodle administrator enabled mobile access to your platform. The application is useless otherwise.

The interface works quite slow even on high-end hardware with a 4-core processor 1.4 GHz on board. The menu with a list of courses is unfolding and collapsing slowly, with a noticeable lag. The content of the courses, both static and one requiring interaction look similar to the one on the browser, though it is much easier to navigate and does not require a pinprick accuracy with our thumb. The downside to this is how the content itself is displayed. A window of an unidentified browser pops up and presents us with a single-column mobile version of the text content, glossary, quiz or forum. The content in the form of documents such as .pdf or .doc files, or video content requires downloading to the phone or tablet and requires a specific application to open these files.

mobile access1

Canvas

Canvas, created by a young company Instructure, has definitely shown how modern application for distance education should look like. Browser version is intuitive and eye-catching, it gives a lot of possibilities, such as easy integration of course content with resources on Youtube, or Wikipedia. Their dedicated app has recently received its second version and visually makes a fairly positive impression though is not devoid of several drawbacks.

mobile access 2

Navigation works quickly and without any slowdowns. However, in order to get to some of the functions you will need to experiment a little because there are no tips or tutorial that would show you where to look for them. Definitely not intuitive.

The application allows you to access to the course material in a similar manner to Moodle Mobile. Pages and quizzes run in the application without a pop-up browser box. The files are downloaded to the device and, if we have the appropriate application, opened. Summary screen is showing a useful overview of your progress in the course. There you can check how many points we received in all available modules. Home screen collects all notifications, tasks and messages in a practical, available-on-swipe way.

The downside of this application is switching between domains, which is helpful when we participate in courses offered by more than one institution. In Canvas we have to log out and log in, Moodle allows you to switch between previously added domains without continuous re-logging.

If we have any influence over content’s accessibility it’s good to avoid using Flash technology (some embedded video players), because users of Android and iOS will not be able to use it.

Coursera

Coursera is slightly different from the other two systems, because it is not an application which can run on your own server. However, it is a smoothly running tool with plenty of content available for free for anyone who wants to learn. More than 70 universities and institutions are sharing the knowledge by publishing courses which can be found in the many specialist curricula. In the browser on your computer, the whole thing looks and works flawlessly. On the phone we get virtually the same version of the page, but this is a bit easier than Moodle, because we can click on the link and do not need to aim more specifically in the text. Still - no responsive design.

Coursera does not have an official application, but there are several unofficial apps, that respond to the growing demand for mobile learning. One of them Coursera Companion comes in two versions: free (with ads) and paid. Due to guidelines and course templates the content of each course fully available from the application level. Content, quizzes and videos – all is well within reach and sends you to the browser only when you click on the link to the external page. It is great to see a built-in video player, which is based on HTML 5 and should work on any device without having to open another application. It automatically plays subtitles and allows you to lock the rotation of the screen when you change the screen orientation (great for learners who like to learn before sleep). As an independent application it is very good and it one can hope that when the official app will be released, it is be at least as functional as this one.

There are still some educational platforms available, however, either they did not have their own mobile applications (e.g. edX) or are only content sources without the structure of the course and teacher interaction (eg. Khan Academy). It's worth to give it a try and see whether it is possible to learn from the screen of your phone.