What is the difference between e-learning and m-learning?

If you think e-learning and m-learning are basically one and the same thing, you’re completely wrong.

These two modes of learning might rely on technological innovation, but in many aspects they are different . As an instructional designer, you should be aware of them and have full understanding of  benefits brought by the two formats.

Is m-learning nothing more than a derivation of e-learning? Are these two in total opposition?

Here’s all you need to know about key differences, between e-learning and m-learning, which  will help you design better educational experiences.


M-learning is based on the use of mobile technologies in developing learning experiences. M-learning can take many different shapes, but the common denominator is that learners can access and engage with learning materials anytime and anywhere using mobile technologies, often connected to the internet.

M-learning fosters collaboration, effectively obliterating geographic boundaries. Advances in mobile technologies and cutting-edge devices, allow learners to access multimedia-rich learning environments, which help in knowledge acquisition and retention.

Here are some key things you should know about m-Learning design:

  • Portability – this is the first and most important requirement for m-learning. It simply needs to support learning in any place and at any time.
  • Individuality – m-learning is essentially an individual study. This means that learners should be able to retrieve learning materials without technology disrupting the process.
  • User experience – an m-learning tools needs to be user-friendly and adapted to specific technological limitations posed by mobile devices.

Now that you know design specifics of m-learning, you can fully appreciate its advantages and become more aware of its limitations.

The main advantages of m-learning are:

  • focus on sharing information on the go, without geographic or temporal limits;
  • creation of collaborative learning environments through the use of mobile device services like SMS or e-mail.

But no solution is perfect – so, here are its main disadvantages:

  • difficulty in establishing teacher-learner relationship;
  • limitations in teacher-induced student engagement and motivation;
  • challenge in creating accurate means of evaluation (constant access to information).


E-learning basically refers to a learner-centric style of instruction based on the delivery of teaching materials through electronic media – it can be the internet, but also audio/video tape, interactive TV and CD. We commonly think of e-learning as based on the internet and stationary technologies like laptops and desktop computers.

The main advantages of e-learning are:

  • Flexibility – instruction can be scheduled with a considerable amount of flexibility, accommodating professional and personal obligations of learners.
  • Cost-effective – e-learning reduces commuting costs since learners can access learning materials from home. Naturally, this also helps them to save time.
  • Variability – learners can choose materials to match their level of knowledge and join the course at any time.
  • Self-paced study – learners can study when they like and e-learning course structure allows them to work at their own pace. This is also what makes this kind of learning more engaging since learners take full responsibility of the process.

How about the disadvantages of e-learning?

  • E-learning puts a strain on the relationship between teacher and student, as well as student and other students (lack of face-to-face interaction);
  • Accurate level of technological know-how must be available to all teachers and students;
  • Possible technical limitations among different operation systems/device types;
  • Teachers might lack training and consequently be unable to make the most from the process;mSo, is M-learning in opposition to E-learning or do they support each other?

Now that you understand what e-learning and m-learning are really about, you’re ready to face these points that will help you to understand key differences between these two types of learning.

Technologies and media in use

While e-learning involves stationary technologies and basically ties teachers and learners to their desks, m-learning offers a degree of freedom in its use of mobile devices. That’s why the former favors laptops and desktop computer and the latter smartphones and tablets. E-learning doesn’t require constant connection to the internet; this is more the case with m-learning. because of this fact, many designers now make learning materials available offline. These need to be downloaded together with apps. But do nor fear, designers know how to create files that offer a seamless experience and don’t overburden your memory card.

Differences in design

One of the basic differences in e-learning and m-learning design is how it responds to different screen sizes. That’s why it’s relatively easier to design an e-learning course because designers aren’t limited by user experience on small touchscreens. In designing m-learning courses, designers not only pay attention to provide easy access to their learning materials, but also to fight for learner’s attention with countless other things happening when they’re out and about. This means that the use of space is completely different in e-learning and m-learning – the former also doesn’t depend so much on the context.

Time matters

While an e-learning course module can take anything from 20 to 45 minutes while learners are comfortably seated at their work stations, in m-learning only bite-seized information can work. This essentially means that in m-learning, learners are likely to pay attention and acquire new knowledge within a time span of 3 to 10 minutes. Naturally, longer forms of learning are impossible – nobody wants to stare at their miniscule screen for more than 10 minutes at a time.


In general, these two learning styles serve completely different purposes. E-learning is considered to be most effective for teaching specific skills or conveying detailed knowledge about a topic relevant to learners. In m-Learning, on the other hand, learning supports an on-going learning process – it’s a way to facilitate learner access to knowledge on the go. E-learning is time-bound and highly structured – a perfect environment for delivering learning materials that offer an in-depth view into a subject. If you’d like your learning materials to be context-relevant, available on demand in real-time situations, choose m-learning.

It’s clear that e-learning and m-learning cannot be treated as one and the same thing. If you’ve always thought that m-learning is nothing more than a continuation of e-learning on mobile, now you see that you were completely wrong.

E-learning and m-learning serve completely different purposes, offer different learning environments and bear different limitations.

Choosing the right format is the first step to creating engaging learning environments for your audience.




About the author: Carol Williams is a team member at Navel Oranges – a fruit shipping company from Florida . She develops her passion for e-learning and m-learning and combines this with her love for writing and tutoring.



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