Online learning has achieved such popularity that they are now common even at brick-and-mortar schools that once offered face-to-face learning only. Now advancing technology is responsible for the rise of another kind of tech-savvy educational opportunity: mobile learning, or “m-learning.” Current and prospective online college students may wonder what distinguishes online learning from mobile learning and whether or not mobile learning is the right choice for them.

Online Learning vs. Mobile Learning

At its simplest, online learning or e-learning means that the education is conducted primarily or exclusively over the Internet. Students access lecture materials, turn in coursework, complete quizzes and participate in virtual classroom discussions, all online and usually with the use of a desktop or laptop computer.

Think of mobile learning as a subdivision of online learning. One specific characteristic separates mobile learning from e-learning: the use of a mobile device. As smartphones and tablets have evolved technologically and grown in popularity, they are increasingly being used to access the Internet in place of a desktop or laptop computer. With mobile learning, schools are taking the use of mobile devices to what some may see as the next logical extension. Rather than simply using their phones and tablets to browse the news or shop, students can consume course materials like assigned textbook readings and video lectures and create assignments and class discussions right from their tablets. In m-learning, the use of a tablet or other mobile device is a crucial part of the educational program.

The “Big Picture” Differences

Though the most obvious factor that separates mobile learning from online learning is the use of a mobile device, it shouldn’t be the only difference. After all, online students already can use a mobile device for taking an online college class in many situations, though personal computers are still recommended for most online college courses.

To make mobile learning truly successful, the course content must change as well as the device used to access it, according to Academic Impressions. For example, because screens are smaller, it is harder to read long documents or watch long videos, professors and any professionals involved in course planning should change the format of text documents and video lectures into smaller chunks that are easier for students to access and digest on a tablet or smartphone. Just as classroom practices had to undergo some adaptations to translate from a traditional on-campus class with face-to-face interaction to a virtual classroom in online learning, the change to mobile learning requires yet more adjustments.

Despite the challenges of making online curriculum accessible to mobile viewers to the point that courses can be legitimately considered mobile learning, experts believe that m-learning is here to stay. M-learning has increased in popularity so much during 2013 and since then that even schools that don’t currently offer mobile learning options may do so soon, according to Yahoo! Education. Mobile learning takes the flexibility of online courses to a new level of convenience.