MET:Mobile Learning

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This page was originally authored by Sulhayl Patel, solo (2011). This page was edited by Sherman Cheuk Man Lee, solo (2012). This entry was merged with the M-Learning entry originally authored by Marjorie del Mundo, solo (2009), which was edited by Jonathan Strang, solo (2011) due to duplication of topic on ETEC 510: Design Wiki.

Gender Wage Gap

Definition of Mobile Learning


Mobile learning (also M-Learning, Mobile Computing Learning) can be generally defined as learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location (O'Malley, et al., 2003)[1]. By this definition, books and scrolls are likely the first form of mobile learning platform. However, many educators would refer mobile learning as a subset of e-Learning that takes place when learners use mobile technologies, paired with digital content in “anytime, anywhere” conditions, to learn.

According to Soloway and Norris (2010)[2], mobile technologies will have a more profound impact in our lives than the invention of the PC and Internet. Of the nearly 7 billion people on the planet, there are nearly 4 billion mobile phones. Mobile technology for educational purpose is continuing to evolve as these devices are enhanced, upgraded and played a more prominent role in our daily living.

We are now observing a union of mobile learning technologies, as companies design and market mobile computers, merging the functions of a phone, camera and a multimedia wireless computer resulting in an innovative formation of lifelong learning (Sharples, et al, 2005)[3]. The concern that arises and needs to be addressed is how mobile technology can be used to transform the way learning takes place. How can global media be used to impact education? How can mobile technology engage learners when they are not in the classroom? With the appropriate parameters in place, including digital citizenship, learning can “move more and more outside of the classroom and into the learner’s environments, both real and virtual, thus becoming more situated, personal, collaborative and lifelong” (Naismith et al, p.4)[4].

Current Mobile Technology

There are many devices that allows for mobile learning on the market today. Many of them started off to perform a specific task, but Mobile technology may include any wireless, portable, handheld devices which include but are not limited to the following technologies (Liu & Hwang, 2010)[5]:


File:Kid laptop.jpg
Laptop: photostock /
Laptops are personal computers with all common peripheral hardware (touchpad, keyboard, monitor and speakers) built into one machine to allow for ease of transportation. Most current models also have built in webcams. Built-in rechargeable battery and wireless internet connectivity allows a laptop to function temporarily away from any physical outlet connections for the duration of its power in storage. Due to their light weight and compatibility with desktop computers, laptops are increasingly common in post secondary classrooms as notes taken in class on a laptop can be easily transferred onto a desktop computer and shared.


Smartphone: jannoon028/
Smartphones are a mobile phones that offer more advanced computing ability and connectivity than feature phones. Current smartphone models usually combine the functions of a personal digital assistant (PDA), portable media players, camera with high-resolution touch screen, GPS navigation, Wi-Fi and mobile broadband access. Smartphones share many functionality of a laptop, and as it is a pocket-friendly size, they are a good alternative for light travelling. There are many phone brands and models available on the market today. Some of the commonly seen ones are iPhone and Blackberry. However most of them operate on 6 common operating systems (including Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Phone, Nokia's Symbian, RIM's BlackBerry OS, and embedded Linux distributions such as Maemo and MeeGo), which allows for a wide compatibility amongst different models. They are also a compatible input for some classroom response system, such as web>clicker – a part of the i>clicker system.


File:Girl tablet.jpg
Tablet: adamr /
Tablets(also tablet computer) can be considered as a subdivision of laptops, larger than a mobile phone or personal digital assistant, integrated into a flat touch screen and primarily operated by touching the screen. It often uses an onscreen virtual keyboard or a digital pen rather than a physical keyboard. Tablets, when used with a digital pen, can simulate writing or drawing on paper, which allows for ease in drawing diagrams compared to the use of a mouse in guiding the pointer on the screen.

Handheld Game Consoles

Handheld game consoles (also portable gaming devices) are integrated systems with built-in display, sound and controller that are often no larger than the size of a wristlet. Like laptops, some of the more recent models include camera and Wi-Fi capability. Games can either be built into the system or comes separately from the machine itself. Although these consoles are generally viewed as entertainment, many do support education. Nintendo DS, for instance, has a selection of games that supports informal learning. Some examples are the Professor Layton series, Scribblenauts, and the Brain Age series. There are also consoles that are designed especially for educational purposes, such as the Leapster.

Portable Media Players

File:MP3 player.jpg
Portable Media Player: dan /
Portable media players refer to any electronic devices that stores and plays digital media including videos, audios and images. Earlier versions of portable media players often play a limited number of media. For instance, MP3 players are only capable of playing audio files, while portable DVD players would play videos. In recent years, portable media players have broaden their range to play a multitude of different file formats on one machine. One of the more prominent portable media players available now is the iPod Touch, which is a portable media player, personal digital assistant, handheld game console, and Wi-Fi mobile platform designed and marketed by Apple Inc. Due to the multitude of capabilities, iPod Touch is used in many classrooms to supplement learning (Abboud, 2011)[6].


File:Man kindle.jpg
Kindle E-Reader: Tina Phillips /
E-readers are electronic devices used primarily for reading e-books and other digital publications. Most e-readers have dictionaries installed and are able to look up words within the text that you are reading on screen. Some e-readers also have the text-to-speech capability. E-readers also utilize E ink (or electronic ink) which simulates ink on paper, which increases readability of text compared to most mobile displays making it comfortable for extended read. Since E-readers are light weight and are able to carry thousands of e-books at a time, depending on the available memory, it has increasingly become a more popular alternative to printed novels. Educational institutions (such as University of British Columbia) and public libraries (such as Vancouver Public Library) are transitioning to include e-books as a part of their collections.


Mobile Learning


The dynamic simulations presented by each technology encourage learning through play (Sharples, 2007)[7]. More recent technologies have focused on greater interactivity with the environment including location-awareness (often using GPS technology), constant connectivity, and limitless access to data and information (Kroski 2008)[8].

Pea and Maldonado (2006)[9] summarized seven features of handheld devices used in a classroom and beyond its walls: “portability, small screen size, computing power, diverse communication networks, a broad range of applications, data synchronization across computers, and a stylus input device” (p. 428).

According to Klopfer and Squire (2008)[10] “portability, social interactivity, context, and individuality” (p. 95) are often mentioned as affordances of mobile learning. Moreover, portability is what specifically sets mobile devices apart from other emerging technology in terms of individuality and interactivity.


The greatest difference between mobile learning and other learning is its ability to relocate with the learner. Although books and scrolls allow for knowledge to travel with the learner centuries ago, the development of increasingly tight-knitted Wi-Fi network expands the mobility beyond textual knowledge; that is, learners are carrying their text and classmate with them as they travel and learn. Some major advantages of mobile learning can be summarized in the table below.

Advantages of Mobile Learning
Benefit Details
Just in time Learning can be done at anytime and anywhere
Portable Learner can travel at ease as mobile devices are compact and light
Low Cost Relatively inexpensive compared to desktop computers
Energy Efficient Mobile devices use less energy to operate than their larger counterparts
Connectivity Wi-Fi or Bluetooth compatibility allows device to stay connected
Multimedia Rich multimedia capability increases interest in learning

Further to the general advantages, mobile learning benefits learners as it is more informal; it embeds learning in everyday life and can take place outside the classroom (Arreymbi et al., 2008[11]; Naismith et al., 2004[7]). Educators also benefit from the affordance of mobile learning; some of these advantages include the use of mobile devices for attendance reporting, reviewing student marks, general access of central school data, and managing their schedules more effectively. In higher education, mobile devices can provide course material to students, including due dates for assignments and information about timetable and room changes (Naismith et al., 2004, p. 4)[7].


Mobile learning is a relatively new branch of eLearning. As there are many advantages to the temporal, spatial changes to the educational ground, there are opportunities for growth. The devices and functionalities mentioned above are not definitive; new technology is being developed and functions are merged, changed and updated in an ongoing basis. Summarized below are some of the current social, educational and technical challenges of mobile learning (Ally, 2004[7]; Gerth, 2003[12]; Landers, 2002[13]; Maniar, 2007[14]):

Disadvantages of Mobile Learning
Category Aspect Details
Technical Screen Small screens on most mobile devices makes multimedia and text difficult to read
Keyboard Small “qwerty” keyboard or touch-screen input limits word processing efficiency
Storage Available memory is limited, external memory is an option on selected devices
Battery Life With consistent use, battery depletes rapidly and may not last for one school day
Device Support There is a lack of support to upgrade lost, broken or obsolescent hardware
Compatibility Operating system or file type can show incompatibility amongst mobile devices
Social Privacy Technology affords for sharing of information at the risk of undesirable exposure
Plagiarism Material is freely available for redistribution without permission of the owner
Bullying Deliberate act of harm done onto others through the internet
Cost Constant mobile connection is available only at a very high price
Educational Distraction While the web holds a vast amount of information, it also presents entertainments
Overload Volume and never-ending availability of information can overwhelm learners
Lack of Studies We just started examining its pedagogical impact. Current design is experimental

Pedagogical Significance

Mobile learning changes the space and time, which has created challenges that were not seen or not as prominent prior to mobile learning. To address and overcome these challenges, instructional designers and administrators must consider the impact the learning devices and materials will have on various learning styles (Ally, 2004, p. 7)[7], and devise new pedagogical framework (Kearney, Schuck, Burden & Aubusson, 2012 [15]).

According to Sharples, Taylor and Vavoula (2005)[16], there exists much convergence between the current mobile learning technology and idea on lifelong learning (see table below). Hence, mobile learning will likely be increasingly more prominent in education.

Convergence between Learning and Technology
New Learning New Technology
Personalized Personal
Learner Centered User Centered
Situated Mobile
Collaborative Networked
Ubiquitous Ubiquitous
Lifelong Durable

Learning Theories

File:Screen shot 2011-02-26 at 6.30.03 PM.png
Koole's FRAME Model as depicted in Ally, 2009.
The Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) model is one standard for analyzing the process of mobile learning. Koole (2005)[17] represents the aspects of mobile learning as a Venn Diagram representing intersections between device usability, learner, and the social aspects of learning. Mobile learning takes advantage of the context of the device with respect to individual learners, the ability of the device to interact with the environment as well as with other learners with mobile devices.

As learning technologies, computers have had their roots in behaviourist theories where learners are encouraged to have more control over how they learn (Arreymbi et al., 2008)[18]. Classtalk and Qwizdom are examples of classroom response systems that enable instructors to present a question or problem to the class where students must answer each question using a specific device. Responses are collected immediately and summarized for the instructors for formative assessment. Such activities help promote learning through examination of the learner's actions (Naismith et al., 2004, p. 3)[7].
Gay (2009)[19] posits that there is a dialectic between social mobile applications and the real world, with the virtual world complementing and supplementing real world spaces through added information, navigation and social understanding. It is this last aspect that he explores in greater detail in his studies in human-computer interaction (HCI) at the art museum at Cornell. Participants used software for displaying location and mood to create a sense of presence within the museum. While location and emotion-recording technologies allowed participants to create a sense of place, it also created social influence through comparison and motivation.

Learning experiences such as "participatory simulations" enable learners to act out key parts in an immersive, dynamic system. Such applications include ARIS, an "augmented reality" (AR) application created by scholars and researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison that presents students with a simulation scenario where they must collect information and create goals or solutions for a problem (Diermyer and Blakesley 2009[20]; cf. MIT, 2008[21]; Naismith et al, 2004, p. 3[7]). Another example of constructivist m-Learning is Apple iTunes U, now used by UBC at UBC on iTunes U, which allows the distribution of digital lessons to students.

Conversational learning happens when students question the structure of discourse, interpret symbols, act on description of goals, and adjust actions to fit the tasks assigned. Mobile technology can enable a rich environment in which these types of conversations can happen. Conversational theory draws heavily upon semiotics to argue that there is a discourse of representation between mobile technologies and the context in which they are used, forming a dialectic of understanding. One example of conversational theory in M-Learning is the MOBIlearn project in the Uffizi Museum in Florence (Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula, 2010)[22]. That project discovered that the users developed new conversational strategies in the museum (portrayed by the authors as "sacred space") through the backchannel discourse created by mobile devices.

Situated learning consists of activities where learning occurs in an authentic context and culture. Because mobile devices have context-aware applications available in a variety of contexts, they are appropriate tools for situated learning. Museums and galleries employ context-aware mobile devices to help provide information about particular exhibits (Berri, Benlamri, & Atif, 2006[23]; Naismith et al, 2004[7]; Wakkary et al., 2004[24]). Situated Learning has also been used by M-Learning language projects, particular the Danish school, to encourage formal language use outside the classroom in informal situations (Bo-Kristensen et al 2009)[25].

Collaborative learning promotes learning through social interaction and originates from research on computer-supported collaborative work and learning (CSCW/L). One theory that is not linked to collaborative learning but is significant for mobile devices is conversation theory, which describes learning as conversations between different systems of knowledge (Naismith et al., 2004, p. 3)[7].
Morgan, Butler and Power (2007)[26] describe how the Nintendo DS provides affordances and applications such as Pictochat that could support collaborative learning activities for small groups of learners. The context-aware device also supports situated learning by detecting if players with similar game titles are in the area (p. 721). Such opportunities can help build communities of practice. Notable communities of practice include the University of Wollongong's New Technologies, New Pedagogies M-Learning group and the Abile Christian University Mobile Learning project.

The Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile developed a program called Mobile Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (MCSCL) which studied the use of wireless handheld computers in schools, teacher training and with university students. The study found that MCSCL provided significant differences in learning outcomes (Sharples, 2007)[7].

Instructional Design

Technology used in mobile learning has many constraints that should be reflected in instructional design (Ally, 2009)[27]. These include:

  • Technology should be easy to use and unobtrusive.
  • Use of presentation strategies that allow learners to process material efficiently on a limited screen display (e.g. use of a single column to represent text).
  • Organization of content into smaller chunks to facilitate consumption of ideas and there should be greater use of organizers to allow learners to make sense of content and a good interface to allow for navigation.
  • Information should be organized in visual concept maps emphasizing important concepts and showing their relationship to other main points.
  • Learning materials should take the form of learning objects which are electronically available and reusable.

Many of these design features share point in common with ubiquitous computing, a term coined by Mark Weiser to refer to the process of removing the technological interface from the user’s awareness when undertaking tasks.

Current Educational Applications

Activities in a mobile learning environment are enhanced by three factors:

  • the timely and contextual retrieval of relevant information (Diermyer & Blakesley 2009)[28];
  • the juxtaposition of formal learning objectives with an informal setting (Pachler et al 2010)[29];
  • the ability to digitally annotate and comment upon real world surroundings (Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula 2010)[30].

A multitude of categories of learning benefit from the three enhancements mentioned. Hence it is common to find traces of mobile learning in a wide range of learning opportunities, both formal and informal settings.


Formal learning environment is often learning that takes place within an educational institution - most often in a form of a school (Mocker & Spear, 1982) [31]. This can also be stretch to include professional, workplace training where performance is reviewed, measured and reported. Mobile learning has been utilized in formal learning settings for the past decade, if not longer.

  • Academic Learning
Many e-learning platforms are extending their reach into mobile learning. Blackboard, the current learning management system undergoing a pilot run for ETEC 510 and several other courses for the University of British Columbia has rolled out a mobile version of their platform - Blackboard Mobile in 2009. Several institutions, such as the Florida State University and University of Miami have adopted this platform.
  • Skills Learning
Other than academic learning, some corporations and institutions that provide standardized skill testing have also began to adopt mobile learning by providing downloadable app related to the tests that they deliver. For instance, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia provides a practice knowledge exam app for new learner drivers.


Mobile learning is even more prominent in informal learning, where the learner, instructional designer and instructors are not pressured to meet a define set of goals. Informal learning usually has no set curriculum or planned assessments. Learners often decide and dictate the objective of their learning (Mocker & Spear, 1982)[31]. Listed below are a couple of examples of informal mobile learning:

My Japanese Coach is game designed by Ubisoft in 2008. This game runs on the Nintendo DS platform, which is a pocket tutor to the Japanese language that allows the learner to gain knowledge of the Japanese language with as little as 15 minutes of learning per day. provides a series of self-guided audio tour of Europe. These guided tours can be downloaded onto iPhones, iPads, iPods or any MP3 capable devices. Learners listen to the audio files as they tour Europe and learn about history, fun-facts about major monuments in the cities they are visiting.
Shakespeare in Bits is a downloadable app for several of the most often studied plays of William Shakespeare, such as Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet. This app includes the full read for each play along with interactive components like quizzes, character building and animated enactment of the play.

See also


  1. O'Malley, C., Vavoula, G., Glew, J.P., Taylor, J., Sharples, M., & Lefrere, P. (2003). Guidelines for Learning in a Mobile Environment [1]
  2. Norris, C., and Soloway, E. (2010). Education the Mobile Generation. Retrieved from: [2]
  3. Sharples, M., Taylor, J., and Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a Theory of Mobile Learning. Retrieved from: Theory of Mobile.pdf
  4. Naismith, L., Lonsdale, P., Vavoula, G., & Sharples, M. (2004). Literature review in mobile technologies and learning. NESTA Futurelab Series, Report 11.
  5. Liu, G. Z., & Hwang, G. J. (2010). A key step to understanding paradigm shifts in e-learning: Towards context-aware ubiquitous learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), E1-E9.
  6. Sheena Abboud (February 2011). Teaching with the iPod Touch
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Sharples, M. (2007). History of mobile learning. In mLearn 2007 doctoral consortium. Retrieved February 18, 2009 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "multiple" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Kroski, E. (2008). On the move with the mobile Web: Libraries and mobile technologies. Library Technology Reports, 44(5), 1-48.
  9. Pea, R., & Maldonado, H. (2006). WILD for learning: Interacting through new computing devices anytime, anywhere. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 427-441). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. Klopfer, E., & Squire, K. (2008). Environmental Detectives: the development of an augmented reality platform for environmental simulations. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(2), 203-228.
  11. Arreymbi, J., Agbor, E. & Dastbaz, M. (2008). Mobile-Education - A paradigm shift with Technology. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2008 (pp. 5114-5122). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from the ED/ITLib Database.
  12. Gerth, B. (2003). Mobile Computing: Experiences and Issues. In D. Lassner & C. McNaught (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2003 (pp. 2580-2583). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from the ED/ITLib Database.
  13. Landers, P. (2002). From e-learning to m-learning. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from the Ericsson website: [3]
  14. Maniar, N. (2007). M-learning to teach university students. In C. Montgomerie & J. Seale (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2007 (pp. 881-887). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from the ED/ITLib Database
  15. Kearney, M., Schuck, S., Burden, K.,& Aubusson, P. (2012). Viewing mobile learning from a pedagogical perspective. Research in Learning Technology, Vol 20.
  16. Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a Theory of Mobile Learning.
  17. Koole, M. 2006. Framework for the rational analysis of mobile education (FRAME): A model for evaluating mobile learning devices. Thesis, Centre for Distance Education, Athabasca University.
  18. Arreymbi, J., Agbor, E. & Dastbaz, M. (2008). Mobile-Education - A paradigm shift with Technology. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2008 (pp. 5114-5122). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from the ED/ITLib Database
  19. Gay, G. (2009). Context-Aware mobile computing: Affordances of space, social awareness, and social influence. Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics, 2(1), 1-62. UBC: Online Access.
  20. Diermyer, C. & Blakesley, C. (2009). Story-Based teaching and learning: Practices and technologies.25th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Retrieved from [4]
  21. Massachussetts Institute of Technology. (2008). AR Games, Scheller Teacher education program. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from [5]
  22. Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2010). A theory of learning for the mobile age. Medienbildung in Neuen Kulturräumen, 87-99. (Preprint) [6]
  23. Berri, J., Benlamri, R. & Atif, Y. (2006). Ontology-based framework for context-aware mobile learning. Retrieved February 17, 2009 from the ACM Digital Library: [7]
  24. Wakkary, R., Muise, K., Tanenbaum, K., Hatala, M. & Kornfeld, L. (2004). Situating Approaches to Museum Guides for Families and Groups. In International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2009 [8]
  25. Bo-Kristensen, M., Ole Ankerstjerne, N., Neutzsky-Wulff, C., & Schelde, H. (2009). Mobile city and language guides - new links between formal and informal learning environments. Electronic Journal of E-Learning, 7(2), 85-91.
  26. Morgan, M., Butler, M. & Power, M. (2007). Evaluating ICT in education: A comparison of the affordances of the iPod, DS and Wii. In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2009 from [9]
  27. Ally, M. (2009). Introduction. In Ally, M. (Ed.) Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training. Edmonton: AU Press (pp. 1-8).
  28. Diermyer, C. & Blakesley, C. (2009). Story-Based teaching and learning: Practices and technologies.25th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Retrieved from [10].
  29. Pachler, N., Bachmair, B., Cook, J., & Kress, G. R. (2010). Mobile learning : Structures, agency, practices (illustrated ed.). New York: Springer. UBC: Online Access, ISBN: 978-1441905840.
  30. Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2010). A theory of learning for the mobile age. Medienbildung in Neuen Kulturräumen, 87-99. (Preprint) [11]
  31. 31.0 31.1 Mocker, D.W., & Spear, G.E. (1982). Lifelong Learning: Formal, Nonformal, Informal, and Self-Directed. Information Series No. 241. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "mocker" defined multiple times with different content

Further Reading

External Links