It is fair to assume that anyone who is familiar with the Internet knows what HTML is, but what is HTML5?

HTML5 is nothing but the latest specification for HTML put together by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), or simply put, the fifth generation of HTML specifications (therefore the five suffix). While earlier versions of these specifications existed, the most recent ones being HTML 4 and 4.01, so far it was not very common to use the version number alongside the word HTML. HTML5 is a new standard for HTML, XHTML, and the HTML DOM. HTML5 introduces and enhances a wide range of features including form controls, APIs, Multimedia, structure and enables more rich interactivities. Almost always, the term HTML5 refers to the HTML5 specification, CSS3 and JavaScript put together.

The combination of new HTML5 structure and semantics, including CSS3 and JavaScript, brings about a substantial difference in terms of richness and interactivity of the content and is commonly referred as the HTML5 stack, or just HTML5 in many cases.

HTML5 versus Adobe Flash: The Perceived War

Adobe Flash has been around forever and has gained the status of a de facto standard for the development of learning solutions over the years. While some may consider the requirement of a plugin for playing the content to be an external dependency, it has been available for just about every platform and every browser until recently, so the external dependency is not so much of a disadvantage. The resistance from Apple, or more so from Steve Jobs, in including support for Flash in the latest iOS tablets and smartphones is considered a letdown for the developers of learning solutions and interactive media content, which, in turn, is making HTML5 as the most viable alternative going forward.

So, is it true that HTML5 is being pushed ahead of Flash for this reason alone? Maybe, or maybe not. But that is not what we are here to discuss. It would be unfair to take the credit off Flash and give it to HTML5 as a better alternative. It would also be unfair to strip HTML5 of all its benefits in comparison to Flash. The way I see it, both have their merits and their respective tradeoffs. So, my intention in this article will be to focus on the benefits of HTML5 in building learning solutions, and it does not necessarily aim at proving that HTML5 is a better alternative to Flash. We will leave the fight between HTML5 and Flash as something to be dealt with among the hardcore fans of each.

Why HTML5?

As mentioned earlier, this writeup is not about why HTML5 as opposed to Flash. It is only about why HTML5.  However, I will still make some comparisons about various elements of HTML5 and Flash, only for the purpose of showcasing how to achieve something in HTML5. As matters stand today, HTML5 provides a host of features that revolutionize interactive content and therefore its application in learning solutions, especially in view of the support it offers for the current and next generation of browsers and connected devices, going above and beyond the horizon of interactive learning being limited to just computers.

With tablets and smartphones taking over a large part of computing on the go, there is a paradigm shift in how e-learning has been perceived so far, and how it now extends to include the somewhat recent buzzword that was “m-learning.” Therefore, the way forward for learning solutions is to not build separate delivery mechanisms or strategies around e-learning and m-learning; instead have a singular approach or strategy to encompass every method of interactive learning and make it device agnostic. And, this is where HTML5 has a role to play.

HTML5 in Learning Solutions

Use of HTML is not new in the world of learning solutions; simple page-turner courses have been built using HTML forever. However, HTML5 has the potential to take it to the next level by introducing extremely engaging interactive content for the learner. HTML5 makes it easy to integrate rich media into the content by way of the browser natively supporting canvases for drawing graphics on the fly, rendering vector graphics, and playing audio and video content. So, everything that you would look up to Flash for is readily available with an added advantage – no need of a plugin. Having said that, HTML5 is still an evolving standard and most browsers have a long way to go before they are ready and 100 percent HTML5 compliant. Some browsers are ahead of the game, but the good news is that they are all headed in the same direction to support HTML5 completely.

HTML5 introduces a host of new elements that make a strong case for use in learning solutions development, and all of these elements contribute to a more rich and interactive user interface.

  • Semantics: HTML5 introduced two types of semantic tags: text-level and structural. These semantic tags provide a structural presentation of content and make it more relevant for the users. While there is nothing new in JavaScript itself, these new semantically meaningful tags add tremendous power to JavaScript. It becomes quite easy to grab specific attributes from an object element using JavaScript. Tags like “progress” can be used to reflect the progress of a particular task and can be controlled. A common usage is the ability to display learner progress in a multi-topic learning object.
  • Multimedia: HTML5 can render streaming audio and video without any third party plugins such as Flash. Custom players can be built with controls that are fully programmable with JavaScript.
  • Graphics: Richness without having to rely on third party libraries and plugins. Images and markups that could take hours to manipulate are now available through one or two CSS properties. Elements like canvas change the complete perspective of interactivity and drawing. Canvas element creates a drawing surface that can be drawn with the help of DOM methods. A game-based two-dimensional learning module can be created easily using canvas and scalable vector graphics.
  • Device access: Access to device events like orientation, motion and acceleration becomes easy for developers. This allows for creating pages with responsive design and provides better legibility on screen and a comfortable reading experience on mobile devices.
  • Offline Storage: HTML5 offline storage API can be used to manage offline content. This allows learners to create annotations and bookmark content on their own device. All these can be synchronized with an LMS as soon as the device is online.

While most of these new elements provide distinct advantages for developers of learning solutions, HTML5 scores heavily in areas that have been the concern of businesses all these years. Firstly, since there is no plugin, there are no security issues to deal with. The robust and powerful framework provided by Flash has come at a price – the fear about this powerful tool having the ability to compromise on your computer’s security (despite a host of security measures that have been introduced in Flash over the last few versions). With HTML5, however, such concerns simply don’t exist as its interaction is limited to the browser and it has no access to any content or information on your computer directly.

There are other aspects too, starting with a corporate policy that prevents use of any plugins in a browser, to having specific development tools for content developers to license and use. HTML5 content, on the other hand, can be authored and distributed without the need for a specific development tool and has no dependence on a plugin; therefore no need to go through a bureaucratic IT process in an organization to get approval for enabling plugins in a browser for just being able to use the learning resources. 

HTML5 in Learning Solutions: Collaborative Learning

There is yet another aspect to the learning equation and how HTML5 can play a role that is quite distinct in the world of learning solutions, with respect to social collaboration. Just about everyone is familiar with social networks these days and the benefits of staying connected in the personal and professional world. HTML5 makes it easy to build solutions around collaboration among a group of experts and learners. Collaboration in the online world is so powerful that it can change the way everything works. In the coming years, learning methodologies will also change to accommodate collaboration.

The benefits of collaborative learning is quite a different topic and might need a separate article dedicated to that subject. However, the point that is being made here is the fact that HTML5 as a technology has all the necessary attributes to address the current and upcoming needs in the world of learning solutions.


Despite all the afore-mentioned advantages that HTML5 offers, there are concerns around the fact that the HTML5 specification itself is not complete yet, and is not slated to reach a recommendation for release for another decade. This obviously makes it seem like a moving target with the specification and support at the browser end being built at the same time. However, the rate at which the adoption is happening in the upcoming versions of browsers on varied set of devices is unbelievably impressive as the specifications emerge.

To conclude, although HTML5 is in its infancy, it will still be fair to assume that it is here to stay and rule as a sole choice for development of learning solutions as a diverse set of devices emerge and continue to connect and bring the world closer in unimaginable ways.