How to choose between web and native apps for mobile learning?

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Web apps

Web apps refer to applications or web sites that are created using web development languages such as HTML5 and JavaScript delivered via a browser. Since every mobile device comes with a pre-installed browser, web apps are easy to create and deliver for a large audience. Eventually, updating is also faster and easier because these apps can cater to a whole lot of devices, which include not just mobile phones but desktops as well. A common example of a web app is mobile websites of newspapers.

Native apps

Native apps are essentially bundled programs which are created keeping a particular type of device in mind. A native app must be installed to the end-user’s device. Examples of native apps are those which we install from the Apple Store or Android’s Play Store.

A lot of organizations are resorting to device agnosticism as a simple solution to adopt mobile learning. But for many others who really want to go that extra mile in using the mobile platform as a truly engaging tool, the eternal question remains – How to choose between web and native apps for learning?

How to choose between web and native apps for mobile learning

Let us consider two scenarios to understand the implications of each:

Scenario I: Web instead of native

Web apps are platform independent which is the main reason they are attractive options for early adopters of mobile learning and to cater to a larger audience. Moreover, since there is no intermediate platform such as an app store, delivery, maintenance and updating of content is almost instantaneous.

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A continuous growth in HTML5 features has further driven the preference for web apps. Plus, CSS3 modules allow the specification to be completed and approved more quickly, because segments are completed and approved in chunks. Thus, creating impressive looking, rich applications which have integrated audio, video and animations with minimum of scrolling is easily possible.

With an average development time of one to two* weeks and expense around USD 10,000*, web apps are a cost-effective way to blend mobile learning with your existing learning strategy. However, it must be borne in mind that expectations vis-à-vis system security and experience cannot be very high when delivering over the browser as web apps cannot use device’s features like camera, accelerometer, magnetometer, etc.

Scenario II: Native instead of web

The main advantage of native applications is their performance. Since native apps are compiled into machine code, these apps can deliver a much better user experience by allowing for multi-touch support, access to the latest APIs and integrating device features like camera, accelerometer and magnetometer. These apps must be made available via app store or an enterprise solution.

When writing for different OS, the logic may be the same, but the language, APIs and the development process of each necessitates the need to rewrite the codes.Of course, this comes at a cost in terms of time, money and expertise as average development time is 12 to 16 weeks* or more and average expense is at least USD 75,000*. Organizations that want to integrate mobile devices actively into their learning programs and have the resources certainly prefer native apps as the ROI pays out in the long term. By delivering excellent user experience and high system security, native apps have the potential to create highly engaging mobile learning content.

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The ultimate decision is reached by weighing the trade off between resources and richness of the mLearning experience that you want to deliver. Of course, while keeping in mind your target audience too.


The blog post has references to Mayra Aixa Villar’s articles and publication. Mayra Aixa Villar is a renouned Instructional Designer in the eLearning and Mobile Learning space. She is ASTD´s Published Author and a featured contributing writer for Learning Solutions Magazine. Marya’s works can be found at, and

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