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Responsive Versus Adaptive Content in eLearning

Producing content that is both responsive and adaptive provides the best user experience possible whilst maintaining the quality of the content. This means content can be built once and published once across multiple devices including desktop, tablets and smartphones.

Both responsive and adaptive content provides visitors with an optimal user experience, but they do this in different ways. So, what’s the difference?

Responsive Design

Responsive content is fluid and flexible – it seeks to create an optimised experience for any screen by responding to the size of the browser.

For devices like a desktop PC or tablet, content can be created to appear in a two, three or four column layout. However, when the same content is viewed on a smartphone, the device does not have enough space available to show three columns, so the responsive content automatically responds and is displayed in the most effective way possible.

The term itself originates from web design and was coined by Ethan Marcotte in 2010 in his A List Apart article, “Responsive Web Design” and later in his book, Responsive Web Design.

Adaptive Design

Adaptive content is less fluid, and adjusts by adapting to the width of the browser at a specific points. It will wait until the browser has reached a certain width, at which point it selects the most appropriate layout for the screen.

The nature of adaptive content means that there is much more control over the design, as it can be individually designed for a set of specific screen widths.

The phrase again originates from web design and was coined by Aaron Gustafson, who wrote the book “Adaptive Web Design.”


Although they work in different ways – with responsive relying on flexible and fluid grids and adaptive relying on predefined screen sizes – both enable learning to be viewed on mobile devices and desktops, across all screen sizes, ultimately providing visitors with a seamless learning experience. Something very important to us.

There is no doubt that technology is transforming the way we learn and work. LEO Learning believes that now is the perfect time to consider the future of learning and know-how in business. Download our free ebook “Art of the possible” where we look at several current trends that closely link to these opportunities, and which are profoundly changing the face of learning today.

This blog was originally published by gomo learning, Learning Technologies Group’s award-winning multi-device learning suite.

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