Mobile Apps in Learning for SD- Why? Why Not?


During April 17 PUM, there was a discussion on potential proliferation of work in Mobile Apps area. A common understanding of terms and approaches is felt necessary (as in OER where all staff have a more homogeneous understanding of the term!).

The Vice President suggested that an online discussion should take place to foster improved and more coherent understanding of terms, procedures and implications of Mobile Apps development. This is the space for such a discussion.


Using mobile apps should be a decision that is related to many issues, including a contextual issue of how it is integrated to deliver teaching and learning. For example, the target audience of an intervention may have high access to smartphone, and if we are using MOOCs as a delivery option, mobile apps of the MOOC could be a great way to increase access as well as participation. Similarly, if we have a stand alone course that we want to be used by those who can use mobile to access the course rather than using the web, then we can use mobile app. Such an example could be our 2 hours OER course available online. However, I have not yet planned to use Mobile app, as we have to plan for both Android and IOS version of the course. The problem is to be mobile, we need to have difference versions and also keep it up-to-date to be be compatible with the new version of the OS that regularly go in for updates. While deciding to use mobile apps, it is important to remember Bate’s ACTIONS framework. In addition, I have proposed a framework called PICTURE in a COL publication in 2009 to view mobile technology use systematically. In essence, the decision to go for using mobile app has to be strategic for an organisation like COL. While it is a novelty to use mobile app, and it is a trend, it is also important to understand who takes the ownership and maintenance of the app.


Sangojita’s statement in the poll (posted by Balaji)

If you are working in India or Bangladesh, the penetration of android phones is so large that mobile app based learning is almost unavoidable. A properly designed app can be used for multiple purposes. Not only will it serve as a dissemination platform, but the same app can be used as a tool for Monitoring & Evaluation and conducting survey. The design of the app and its capabilities must be carefully reviewed. The best way is to pilot and then compare results in terms of reach increased, ease of use, time and effort saved, etc. Even without any dedicated customized app, I use Whats App group as a tool for monitoring the project closely and it helps me save time and energy. Also I get success stories instantly in the group.


As someone who actually develops mobile apps for education, I’m moving away from it now. The future is browser based and not app based. Cloud will be king soon. Google is in the process of killing the Android platform and launching the ubiquitous Chrome OS. MS is also going in the same direction with little visibility or success. Nevertheless, they are also moving in that direction.

Progressive web apps are the future for the following reasons:

  • Progressive - use progressive enhancement throughout.
  • Responsive - ensure it fits any form factor.
  • Connectivity independent - cache the app shell with service workers.
  • App-like - use app-style interactions to add cities and refresh the data.
  • Fresh - cache the latest data with service workers.
  • Safe - deploy the app to a host that support HTTPS.
  • Discoverable and installable - include a manifest making it easy for search engines to find our app.
  • Linkable - it’s the web!

Progressive web apps enable the development of the ultimate cross platform application. It wasn’t possible three years back but the W3C has cracked it now so that the browser can manipulate hardware. With these types of apps there is no need for multiple apps for multiple OS, they are cross platform, cross browser, always use the latest version, no installation needed, distribution is via URL, utilizes the power of the cloud, less bandwidth consumption… and the list goes on.

So… if any of you are planning to have an app strategy, my advice would be to drop the concept of apps and adopt the concept of progressive web apps. And BTW with progressive web apps, you just build one app for all devices (tablets, smartphones, smart watches, desktops, laptops etc.)

My two cents’ worth.


Very good points @ishansa to suggest the WebApp approach in stead of the Mobile App approach. It makes sense to do upgrades in the lines suggested by you. However, there may still be usefulness of a mobile strategy for non-smartphone delivery of courses and just-in-time learning. Thus, the basic question we should be asking is why do we need mobile and for whom the content is being planned? Can some of the communication needs in a course be taken care of by the emerging rich communications services? Can we also think of using WiFI phone calling, etc?