When you consider the success of services such as Twitter, Facebook and even Google+ you do have to wonder if the availability of these services on the mobile platform have had any contribution to their success?
There has to be something about been able to access a social network at a time and place to suit the user. While you queue for coffee, wait for a train or bus. Travelling as a passenger in a car, even sitting on the sofa for ten minutes waiting for the programme that you do want to watch start. Even just before a lesson or lecture starts
During these short periods of time it would be possible to do some useful activities on the VLE, however if you need to start the laptop or PC you’re not going to be doing that in those short periods of time.
Of course most VLEs work fine on something like the iPad platform, even without Flash (which can be an issue with some learning objects). The advantage of the iPad is that it can be quickly switched on and stuff can be done. However though as popular as the iPad is, it probably isn’t something that most learners have.
So the next question to ask, is your VLE available on a mobile platform? Will it work on the iPhone or iPod touch? Will it work within a mobile browser on an Android or other smartphone?
Even if it does work within the mobile browser, is it a good user experience? Or is it a frustrating experience?
What functionality is lost when the VLE is accessed through the mobile browser?
There have been some native mobile apps developed for some VLEs, notably Moodle and Blackboard. These native apps offer a much nicer experience for users. In a similar vein that Osfoora for Twitter for example on the iPhone is a much nicer experience than the Twitter mobile web experience. Though of course based on software which was originally designed for the desktop browser they don’t always offer a 100% mobile experience of the VLE.
What these apps do is using a native mobile interface allow the user to interact with the VLE rather than using the default web browser view. How this works depends on both the app and the VLE, but the concept is that it makes it easier and quicker for the learner to access their learning via a mobile device. However even with mobile apps some learners may still not find using the VLE on their mobile device a useful or engaging process. Part of the issue has to be that often VLE courses are designed around content rather than activity and most course content does not sit well within mobile devices. Reading lengthy Word documents or viewing Powerpoint presentations out of context are quite passive activities and are not really suited to viewing on a mobile screen.
VLE courses that have content that focuses on activities, such as quizzes, discussion forums, interactivity probably fair better when used on a mobile device.
Another thing to think about is using video and audio on the VLE for learners to access through their mobile device. We come back to Flash again and if you are using a service such as YouTube or Vimeo these also have an HTML5 or h.264 version that does work on those iOS devices that don’t have Flash.
Of course using the VLE through the mobile device is not an alternative to accessing the VLE through a computer, it is complementary, it’s about adding and enhancing the experience, not replacing it. No one would expect all learners to only access the VLE through a mobile device, but by failing to even consider the opportunities that are offered by learning via the VLE on a mobile device is missing a trick.
Access and using the VLE through a mobile device does require the teacher to think much more about what they want the learner to do and achieve whilst using it. It isn’t just about providing a nice mobile interface to the VLE, the actual activities and content also need to be thought about if learners are to learn.