The Implications of HTML5

HTML 5 is a new standard for delivering e-learning, replacing Flash. What are the implications?
A lot of attention has been paid to the impact of HTML 5 on the e-learning market recently, with e-learning developers and other service providers, such as rapid authoring tool providers, quickly adapting to this seismic change in the market caused by HTML 5 emerging as the new defacto standard for e-learning content.

Why has HTML 5 emerged onto the market? What has happened to make large amounts of existing e-learning content potentially redundant? In short, it all really goes back to the disruption created in the mobile devices market caused by Apple.

Mobile Learning has long been a holy grail for e-learning, but until the mass arrival of Apple iPhones and iPads the reality on the ground was mobile learning (or hand held learning as it was sometimes called) was very limited indeed. While there was some limited success using handheld devices such as the Sony PSP and Nintendo’s DS handheld device, the mobile phone eco-system (controlled by the large network providers) remained largely closed to learning technology innovations.

The story of Apple’s disruption of the mobile phone market is well known as was its launch of iTunes and the subsequent disruption to the music market. However the launch of iTunes U by Apple, the world’s largest repository of free education content, is less well known. It has perhaps been overshadowed by all the noise around MOOCs.

There are now three large technology players seeking to dominate the global education market: Apple, Microsoft and Google. All three are forming partnerships and creating eco-systems in the quest for dominance.

Apple, with its new dominance in mobile devices (iPhones and iPads) and its strong position in e-learning content, was able to effectively set new standards for the e-learning industry who now clamoured to use its devices and eco-system to deliver mobile learning in a way that was previously fraught with barriers. Learners and chief executives alike overnight became Apple fans; the sleek shiny devices were cool ways to communicate, consume media and obviously learn through. Apple by also providing a huge library of education content soon had a strong market position in education and schools and colleges quickly introduced tablets into the classroom.

This rapid market dominance gave Apple the chance to set standards and one of the most important standards Apple chose was the use of HTML 5 instead of Adobe’s Flash as the plug in to bring interactive materials (not just e-learning materials) to life through its devices.nApple felt that Flash was not suitable for use on mobile devices due to its energy consumption requirements and other issues around security. Some commentators also felt there may have been competitive forces at work as well.

Why is this important? Well, Flash has been the dominant development tool for e-learning for the last 10 years or more, and large libraries of e-learning courses would obviously no longer be deliverable through iPads and iPhones. With tablets and soon the hybrid “phablet” coming to overhaul the sales of PCs and laptops the implications of this shift in device usage is very significant indeed.

Such was the attraction of Apple devices to their owners that the concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) emerged, with employees and learners wishing to use their own device at work or in education. This further enhanced Apple’s strength in the market.

The e-learning industry is delighted to have the opportunity to deliver learning through mobile devices and now will argue that e-learning projects should commence with a mobile learning first strategy. Learning now needs to be deliverable on PCs, Tablets, Phablets and Smart Phones (as well as up and coming smart TVs) and the skill of the learning designer to support engaging interactions across varying screen sizes with differing learning input functions (touch, swipe, type, click etc..) is crucial. Skills in HTML 5 and Learning Design across multiple devices will now be highly prized. The e-learning industry is relishing this opportunity.

How the large legacy of many hours of existing e-learning materials created in Flash is migrated, updated, or retired is another issue all together. Offers to convert existing materials from Flash to HTML 5 are emerging. New browsers using Flash Cloud are also proving useful.   Authoring tools now support “create once but publish in differing format” functionality to allow new materials to be created to support organisations with multiple format requirements, but backward compatibility to update older courses is not on offer from these vendors.

It is important to remember that materials designed for a laptop and key board/mouse driven interaction are not ideal for delivery through a smartphone, and may be compromised if delivered through a tablet, so backward compatibility conversions may not be an option. Adobe has now recognised that the Flash format is no longer an option for further development and while HTML5 is an emerging standard, it is the immediate future for e-learning course materials.

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