Documentation:Mobile Learning

From UBC Wiki

What is it?

'Mobile Learning' describes a range of activities and discussions in response to the rapid development and increasing popularity of portable electronic devices. These devices may be wireless-equipped laptops (or their smaller, cheaper class of netbooks), but increasingly mobile computing devices are phones (especially smartphones such as Apple's iPhone or those that run Google's Android platform), or tablet devices such as Apple's iPad.

Increasingly, these devices can perform most of the same functions as desktop computing platforms. This raises the promise of enhanced 'anytime, anywhere' access to online learning materials and interactions. The emergence of location based tools and data, and augmented reality applications (in which virtual data is blended with the 'real world') opens up some truly new and exciting possibilities.

As the New Media Consortium's 2010 Horizon Report asserts: "The portability of mobile devices and their ability to connect to the Internet almost anywhere makes them ideal as a store of reference materials and learning experiences, as well as general-use tools for fieldwork, where they can be used to record observations via voice, text, or multimedia, and access reference sources in real time."

Uses and Benefits

The development and increasing use of mobile computing devices opens up a range of potential benefits:

  • Access to internet data and communication platforms is now available from a great many more locations.
  • While this practice is in its early stages, preliminary studies clearly indicate that students appreciate the flexibility of mobile-friendly environments, and students may even increase the amount of time they spend interacting with course materials.
  • These devices seem particularly promising for activities that involve fieldwork and collection of resources, or adding virtual information to 'real world' environments.
  • Simple polling or communication applications can allow students to provide similar classroom feedback techniques via their phones or laptops as they would with clickers.
  • Tablet computing fosters a form of "untethered" in-class instruction, in which the professor can direct media while moving about the class space. See this UBC Tapestry article by Matt Yedlin for a description of how this is done at UBC.


  • Edinburgh College of Art, the University of Edinburgh, and the EDINA Data Centre, Walking Through Time - Overlays historical maps onto current maps of the viewer's location, showing street views and areas of interest from prior time.
  • North Carolina State University Library Mobile Libraries - "offers a mobile application that provides a catalog search, information about computer availability in labs, and access to a reference librarian."
  • MOCA: Gathering Instant Student Feedback on Mobile Devices - Case study from the University of Texas at Austin describes the Mobile Ongoing Course Assessment (MOCA) tool developed by the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment. MOCA is used to assess student learning and engage students in discussion.

(Above examples drawn from the 2010 Horizon Report)

Get Started

There is no single path by which one becomes a mobile educator or learner. But a few tips for those looking to begin the journey:

  • If you have a smartphone, explore some of the applications that might support investigation and study. Tools such as Evernote are increasingly popular, and a good RSS feedreader can make following and reading up on subjects much easier. Periodic web searches for "phone apps education" will turn up many articles with recommended applications for smartphones.
  • If you publish learning content or communicate online, you might give some thought to how accessible this material is to mobile devices. Course discussions on platforms such as weblogs can work fairly well, especially if RSS feedreaders are used. Longtime usability expert Jakob Nielsen provides an overview of many of the problems that arise when users of mobile devices access most web sites.
  • WebCT Vista does not have a mobile platform. For Connect, UBC will not be using the Blackboard Mobile Learn app. A UBC-specific web app is currently in development.
  • UBC Blogs give you an option to use the Responsive WordPress theme and takes advantage of responsive web design, enabling your blog to resize freely, depending on the device used. Free Wordpress authoring applications allow for basic authoring and site management for your UBC blog from your smartphone.






  • Take it one small step at a time. Try using a mobile device for a while, getting a sense of what works well and what does not. If you start a mobile learning project, you are likely to accomplish the most with modest goals.
  • Mobile platforms are not always open. At this phase of the development of mobile computing, it's worth noting that the market is still developing, and competing platforms such as iPhone, Android and Blackberry are not necessarily compatible. Similarly, augmented reality applications themselves are usually proprietary and not built on open and agreed standards, so moving work built in one application to another may not be possible. If you can accomplish your objectives by designing for the open mobile web, you will be less likely to encounter that problem. Jared Stein elaborates on this issue.
  • Give some thought to how designed activities might take advantage of an 'untethered' environment.