device-agnostic-code

Learning technologies have been evolving, and newer techniques are now available to design, develop, and deploy interactive online content. Knowledge workers have multiple devices with numerous operating systems. They use personal computers, which typically run on Apple or Windows, and tablets and smart phones, which run on the Android, iOS, or Blackberry environments.  

With so many options available to access web-based training, developers are challenged to create multi-platform content. And the number of new platforms is now so great that a new term “device agnostic content” has emerged. 

So, what is device-agnostic content and how do we build the same? For the purpose of this post, device-agnostic content is learning content accessible by knowledge workers without any special apps or software across different browsers and operating systems. This means that whether the knowledge worker is on a smart phone, tablet, or desktop, the content will dynamically adjust to the demands of the browser and screen size.

Building device-agnostic content 

HTML5 offers the flexibility to develop device-agnostic content. The web app model, using HTML5, can be leveraged effectively to achieve content standardization, rapid content authoring, and reduced cost in developing online content.  

To extend the reach of legacy applications, flash-based online content also can be converted to HTML5 and made device-agnostic. Unfortunately, there are limitations to the technique and not all types of flash-based learning content can become device agnostic.

What is HTML5? 

Wikipedia defines HTML5 as “a markup language used for structuring and presenting content for the World Wide Web and a core technology of the Internet. It is the fifth revision of the HTML standard.” Version 5 comes with a number of features like drag-and-drop, multimedia, and audio and video playback, as well as APIs.  

Using HTML5, developers can theoretically build content once and then run it everywhere. HTML5 works on tablets, smart phones, laptops, and desktops—with easy cross-platform deployment. In addition, focused learning nuggets could be built to run on a browser or as a mobile application. And HTML5 offers features like offline storage, so it can handle data even when the app is no longer connected to the Internet. It also has geo-location, which gives it the ability to detect the location of the user. Finally, HTML5 gives the developer rich media support with easy to implement audio and video elements.

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HTML 5 limitations 

As good as HTML5 is, there are limitations. For example, the performance is slower than native apps. HTML5 is low on data security and encryption compared to native apps, too. The user experience, including look-and-feel and multimedia, is not as seamless as native apps either. Indeed, most of the devices’ features are out of reach, such as camera and accelerometer. Finally, even though the language supports IE 9, users with earlier IE versions have limited support.  

There are workarounds for browser support like fall back methods but the range of what can be supported is finite. Thus, HTML5 is not the magic bullet that can solve all the issues relating to deploying device agnostic content. As a result, developers need to be careful in selecting when to use it. 

Proper use of HTML5 

Considering that content developed in HTML5 is accessible over the Internet across multiple devices, it has a wider reach and deeper penetration than Flash-based authoring or native app-based mobile learning. In addition, it takes a shorter amount of time to develop content in HTML5 than it does with native apps.  

However, HTML5 currently falls short in building engaging instructional interactivities. This includes those presented through branching logic, scenarios, role plays, high-visual interactivities, multi-layer audio, video synch, and others. The constraints can be overcome to certain degree with use of custom coding. 

Overall, HTML5 has limitations when compared to native app. This involves design of high-end visual simulations, supporting multi-level branching and timeline-based video, as well as audio synchronization with the narrators or avatars. Even with these issues, however, HTML5 is still probably the easiest way to develop cost effective device-agnostic content.