Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

28 August 2012

The Tablet Proposition

Clark @ 6:49 am

RJ Jacquez asks the question “is elearning on tablets really mlearning“.  And, of course, the answer is no, elearning on tablets is just elearning, and mlearning is something different.  But it got me to thinking about where tablets do fit in the mlearning picture, in ways that go beyond what I’ve said in the past.

I wasn’t going to bother to say why I answered no before I get to the point of my post, but then I noticed that more than half of the respondents say it is, (quelle horreur), so I’ll get that out of the way first.  If your mobile solution isn’t doing something unique because of where (or when) you are, if it’s not doing something unique to the context, it’s not mlearning.  Using a tablet like a laptop is not mlearning. If you’re using it to solve problems in your location, to access information  you need here and now, it’s mobile, whether pocketable or not.  That’s what mlearning is, and it’s mostly about performance support, or contextualized learning augmentation, it’s not about just info access in convenience.

Which actually segues nicely into my main point. So let’s ask, when would you want a tablet instead of a pocketable when you’re on the go?  I think the answer is pretty clear: when you need more information or interactivity than a pocketable can handle, and you’re not as concerned about space.

Taking the first situation: there are times when a pocketable device just can’t cope with the amount of screen real estate you need.  If you need a rich interaction to establish information: numerous related fields or a broad picture of context, you’re going to be hard pressed to use a pocketable device.  You can do it if you need to, with some complicated interface design, but if you’ve the leeway, a tablet’s better.

And that leeway is the second point: if it’s not running around from cars to planes, but instead either on a floor you’re traversing in a more leisurely or systematic way, or in a relatively confined space, a tablet is going to work out fine.  The obvious places in use are hospitals or airplane cockpits, but this is true of factory floors, restaurants, and more.

There is a caveat: if large amounts of text need to be captured, neither a pocketable nor a tablet are going to be particularly great.  Handwriting capture is still problematic, and touchscreen keyboards aren’t industrial strength text entry solutions.  Audio capture is a possibility, but the transcription may need editing. So, if it’s keyboard input, use something with a real keyboard: netbook or laptop.

So, that’s my pragmatic take on when tablets take over from pocketables.  I take tablets to meetings and when seated for longer periods of time, but it’s packed when I’m hopping from car to plane, on a short shopping trip, etc.  It’s about tradeoffs, and your tradeoff, if you’re targeting one device, will be mobility versus information.  Well, and text.

The point is to be systematic and strategic about your choice of devices. Opportunism is ok, but unexamined decisions can bite you.  Make sense?


  1. [...] his latest blog post, Clark Quinn describes where tablets fit in the mLearning picture and in which situations tablets appear to be [...]

    Pingback by E-Learning Software Blog | iSpring » Blog Archive » This Week’s Updates on Using iPad for E-Learning — 31 August 2012 @ 5:14 am

  2. “There is a caveat: if large amounts of text need to be captured, neither a pocketable nor a tablet are going to be particularly great.  Handwriting capture is still problematic, and touchscreen keyboards aren’t industrial strength text entry solutions.  Audio capture is a possibility, but the transcription may need editing. So, if it’s keyboard input, use something with a real keyboard: netbook or laptop.”

    This usually means text heavy users. Folks who can visually design do not need a keyboard for learning anything. What they would love would be bigger tablet like maybe 17 by 15 inches.


    Comment by Thom gillespie — 3 September 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  3. “…performance support, or contextualized learning augmentation…” suggests that the real learning is expected to happen somewhere else and mlearning is just an add-on to that experience. If that’s the case, it’s a pretty limited view of the potential of mobility and surely “mlearning” is actually a misnomer!
    I don’t see why it’s not possible to design a viable learning experience designed specifically for mobile devices. Screen size is just one of many constraints to work around – it poses some imitations, but it doesn’t actually prevent some useful and creative design.

    Comment by Instructional designer — 4 September 2012 @ 12:37 pm

  4. I commented on one of RJ’s earlier posts about applying the mobile label to iPad.

    “My feel is that you’re correct but the argument seems to be splitting hairs at the expense of the real priority in defining mobile. For example, my laptop is mobile by definition as well, depending on how wide you want to cast the net. The device, or even the form factor, shouldn’t be the primary defining variable in the mobile discussion.

    What should be primary? Two things: context and use case. These two factors seem to be buried behind all of the technology talk and I think these are the keys to success or failure in a mobile implementation. Devices are easy to identify or label. But they don’t matter a lick if we don’t identify the problems we’re solving, how we’re solving them, and what other potential problems we might be creating in the process.”

    As one would expect, you’re right on the money, Clark. The most common conversations around technology tend to migrate towards the manifestation, acquisition, and possession of the technology — avoiding focus on the right questions. What do people accomplish using technology that would be harder or impossible without it?

    Comment by Steve — 4 September 2012 @ 7:18 pm

  5. Thom, would love to see a giant tablet! How about this? http://www.wacom.com/en/products/cintiq/cintiq24touch.aspx

    Instructional designer: not to say that you can’t do a course on a phone, just not the ideal use case in my opinion. Look at the pattern of usage of a pocketable, mostly: whip out, quick access, put away. Not long term engagement, in general.

    Steve, you’re spot on: it’s about the relationship with our brain and context more than the tech.

    Comment by Clark — 5 September 2012 @ 10:13 am

  6. mLearning for STEM learning experience with probeware and data visualization is more expensive compared to e-Learning with tablets. Do you have comments on that please?

    Comment by manotalaiver — 6 September 2012 @ 10:02 am

  7. Manotalaiver, not quite sure what you mean. It seems like you’re comparing apples and oranges. I’d expect that additional hardware (probeware) and complex software (visualization) could be expensive, but depending on what you’re doing, it might be really valuable. E.g. to go out and sample the pH of a local river. On the other hand, simulations of such things on devices isn’t cheap but scales well for some savings. As to elearning on tablets, I’d go more generic and compare elearning in general, and say what SRI found: that elearning is better than F2F, but as Barbara Means said, it’s more about the chance to rethink learning rather than the delivery channel. You can’t compare those two things out of context, it seems to me.

    Comment by Clark — 6 September 2012 @ 11:17 am

  8. [...] Quinn responded to R J’s question with a firm ‘NO’ in his post The Tablet Proposition and explained what works best when. He [...]

    Pingback by Some Thoughts On Tablet Learning - TheLMSApp — 28 October 2012 @ 9:42 am

  9. [...] Although many training and learning professionals are just now making the move to mLearning, there remains a fundamental lack of understanding about the affordances of this new paradigm. The knee-jerk reaction typically exhibited by learning organizations to support mLearning usually results in a haphazard effort to quickly convert their existing eLearning materials and courses to fit on a smaller screen. However, we contend that this is not mobile learning! This hasty approach should be dubbed “mobile eLearning” and is quite possibly the perfect recipe for ineffective learning. Similar discussions have also been brewing this year about learning on tablets. Read this blog post by RJ Jacquez and this one by Clark Quinn. [...]

    Pingback by Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative » Blog Archive » From ADL Team Member… Jason Haag: Mobile eLearning is not mobile learning — 6 November 2012 @ 6:02 am

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