Solving the 'iPad Problem'

Apple image on the back of an iPad

As consumers, learners and others go increasingly mobile, the glaring weakness in many eLearning platforms becomes more obvious. Most eLearning authors embed much of their learning experience in Flash movies-- which are incompatible with Apple’s mobile devices. The iPad-- and to a lesser extent the iPhone-- have come to dominate their markets and consumers want their media (and learning) delivered to their Apple devices.

In order to have their eLearning compatible across all devices, many producers are turning to the HTML5 stack of technologies. You’ve no doubt heard of HTML5-- it’s been proclaimed as everything from the savior of the web to a remedy for a clogged kitchen sink. In reality it’s a needed upgrade to the technology used to “mark up” the purpose of content displayed in browsers. The “magic” of HTML5 is not in the HTML5 markup itself, but in the Javascript APIs (Application Programming Interface) that are associated with it.

HTML5 is increasingly compatible with all of the major browsers. Even Microsoft has announced that future versions of the Internet Explorer browser will be increasingly HTML5 compatible. Mobile browsers, as a rule, tend to be even more HTML5 friendly than their traditional counterparts. Mobile offers another option for distribution: using a platform like PhoneGap (now called Cordova), you can distribute an HTML5 learning application as an “app.” That app can be distributed through the Apple or Google App stores.

Here I’ve listed just a few features of HTML5 that can be leveraged to make comprehensive and truly cross-platform learning applications:

Canvas

Imagine a drawing surface in the browser that, through Javascript, can be used to create 2D or 3D interactive drawings. HTML5 has such a feature and it’s called the canvas. Similar to the stage in Flash, the canvas allows developers to create everything from data visualizations to simulations to complex games. The drawing API is fairly easy to learn and the interaction is coded with traditional Javascript events that many developers are already familiar with.

LocalStorage

A traditional weakness of HTML has been that it is stateless-- it has no ability to “remember” information from one session to another. With the introduction of the LocalStorage object to the HTML5 milieu, you can now store information during a web session. The information is stored as a small key-value pair text file in the browser’s designated storage area. The stored key-value pair can only be accessed by the domain that stored it, making LocalStorage a secure form of information storage.

Audio and Video

Gone are the days of proprietary audio and video formats. With HTML5 audio and video plays in the browser window itself-- without the necessity of a plug-in like Flash or Quicktime. The advantage is that your audio or video will load more quickly -- and you’ll have complete control over your media with the convenient Javascript API.

If you are transitioning from Flash to HTML5, you’ll be happy to know that Javascript follows the same ECMA standard as Actionscript. The syntax is identical and, if you know Flash’s Actionscript, you’ll find you can start coding in Javascript almost immediately.

While there are an increasing number of tools that output HTML5, nothing can replace learning to hand code. If you hand code the HTML5 and associated Javascript, you will have complete control over your application. Your application will only be limited by your imagination. Your journey starts with learning HTML5 and Javascript. Good luck.

Mark Lassoff is the founder and president of LearnToProgram.tv. His company produces courses that are educating thousands of software,web and mobile developers online, in the corporate classroom and in secondary schools across the country. Previous to founding LearnToProgram, Mark started several companies in the Austin, Texas area and continues to promote entrepreneurship and computer science. He is an in-demand speaker and has traveled the world to teach programming techniques and technologies. Mark also authors two monthly magazine columns. He lives in Connecticut, in a 150 year old converted textile mill.

Image Source: The D34n on Flickr.