By Nicole Legault

If you’re developing a course that'll be published to HTML5 output, you might be curious about what HTML5 is and how it relates to your e-learning projects. This article will identify the most important things you need to know about HTML5 for e-learning before you get started on your next project.

1. What Is HTML5 Code?

Let’s start at the beginning! HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is the main language used to create web pages. It’s been around since the early 1990s, and it’s constantly evolving to meet the new requirements of the growing Internet audience. HTML standards are maintained by an organization called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). 

HTML code is presented to you as web pages viewed through a web browser. So, what’s the difference between HTML and HTML5? HTML5 is simply the latest version of the HTML standards. This iteration brings some exciting new capabilities, such as the ability to embed audio and video directly in the HTML code. (Used to be you needed a third-party application, such as Flash, to view videos within your browser.) 

Now, since you can embed audio and video directly in the HTML5 code, you can run content on mobile devices, such as tablets and mobile phones, without relying on third-party plug-ins or applications. This is a critical hurdle cleared, since many people want to view e-learning content on a mobile device rather than on a desktop system.

2. What's the Role of Web Browsers?

HTML code is viewed through browsers, which are downloaded for free. Web browsers read and transform HTML code into visible web pages. A few of the most commonly used browsers are Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.

One big challenge e-learning developers face is that various web browsers are implementing the HTML5 standard at different rates. As a result, HTML5 output looks and behaves differently across the various browsers. Some web browsers display HTML5 a lot better than others. The good news is that all major browsers have committed to improving their support for HTML5, and it could become fully supported across all browsers someday.

(Read more about HTML5 and browsers: What You Need to Know About HTML5 for Web Browsers)

3. Where Do Mobile Devices Fit In?

Now, in addition to using different browsers, learners are accessing content through varied devices, from Mac computers to Android devices and Windows tablets. These tools have different operating systems, browsers, bandwidth capabilities, page orientations, screen sizes, image resolutions … you get the picture. As such, they all render HTML5 differently. 

So, even if you’re using a mobile device such as an iPad, the e-learning course published to HTML5 is still displayed inside a web browser. Certain mobile devices have mobile browsers that are more compatible with HTML5 than others.This means both the learner’s specific device and the specific browser on the device will impact how your e-learning content looks.

(Read more about HTML5 and devices: What You Need to Know About HTML5 for Mobile Devices)

4. Why Would I Use HTML5 for E-Learning?

Why publish to HTML5 if you have to deal with the headaches of cross-browser and cross-device differences? Over the past decade, most e-learning has been published to Flash. Publishing to Flash is pretty simple, because as long as learners can download and install the latest version of the Flash player, your content will behave consistently for everyone.

However, now that fewer mobile devices support Flash, learners need to be able to access e-learning using non-Flash compatible tools. Historically, there haven’t been many alternatives for presenting e-learning content that can be tracked in a Learning Management System (LMS). Now, since HTML5 can also work with the various LMS specifications (AICC, SCORM, TinCan API), it's becoming a viable alternative.

At the moment, because virtually all desktops and laptops still run Flash, HTML5 is primarily used for mobile learning (also known as “m-learning”). Most people don’t want to restrict themselves to the current limitations of HTML5 unless they need to for mobile device purposes. However, organizations that don’t use Flash may need to develop HTML5 for desktop.

(Read more about the shift to HTML5 in the e-learning industry: Why the Shift to HTML5 for Online Training?)


The key things you need to remember when creating HTML5 content with Articulate tools:

You’re creating content that'll be viewed through a third-party tool (a web browser) using a third-party language (HTML5) on a third-party mobile device, all of which are evolving on a daily basis. We try to provide the best HTML5 output possible, but some aspects of the HTML5 delivery will depend on how browsers and devices have implemented HTML5. 

While HTML5 is gaining traction in the e-learning industry, it’s not yet standard. At this point, it's mainly used to deliver mobile e-learning to devices that are not Flash-compatible. As of early 2014, it's not widely used for desktop e-learning.

HTML5 content will look and behave differently across various browsers and devices. This makes it critical to perform thorough cross-browser and cross-device testing. Until there's 100% parity across all devices and browsers, testing needs to be a standard part of the development process.