Mobile Learning: Learning supported by mobile technology based tools

by Ghislain Maurice Norbert Isabwe, Research Fellow, ICT department, Faculty of Engineering and Science, University of Agder

One of the fast growing areas of application is education: handheld mobile devices are being used for teaching and learning, in what is known as “mobile learning” or “m-learning”. With mobile devices, education goes beyond the traditional classrooms and laboratories to get into the hands of learners. The ability to move freely and easily is part and parcel of mobile technology. Mobility is key to the success of mobile technology in education.

1. Introduction

The proliferation of mobile devices is causing remarkable changes in our ways of life. From low-end (simple) feature phones to high-end smartphones and mobile tablets, mobile devices are a common sight across all layers of today´s society. With a wide range of functionalities and applications, a mobile device is considered a personal tool. The majority of mobile devices are handheld, portable and often kept within a personal area for easier access and use. As a consequence, there are increased research and development efforts to deploy mobile technology for improved services across several areas.

Figure 1 Writing mathematics on iPad

Figure 1 Writing mathematics on iPad

Connectivity is one of the characteristics that make mobile devices very popular. Several networking technologies can be supported: from cellular networking to wireless local area networking and personal area networking technologies. Network connectivity allows users to work and socialise as a community. Several types of interactions are possible, including touch and voice based interactions. Users can naturally write on a mobile device screen using a finger or a stylus pen in the same way as on pen and paper. The touch interface is easy to use and it is efficient for tasks such us note-taking, sketching and writing of symbols.

Further on, the processing power, and memory capacity of mobile devices have seen tremendous improvements over the last 10 years. The ability to handle large files and better camera technology has made mobile devices capable of handling very high quality pictures, videos and other forms of digital media. Therefore, mobile devices are getting more attractive for highly demanding applications.

2. Mobile technology in education

Figure 2 Aspects of mobile learning

Figure 2 Aspects of mobile learning

One of the fast growing areas of application is education: handheld mobile devices are being used for teaching and learning, in what is known as “mobile learning” or “m-learning”. With mobile devices, education goes beyond the traditional classrooms and laboratories to get into the hands of learners. The ability to move freely and easily is part and parcel of mobile technology. Mobility is key to the success of mobile technology in education. Mobility, portability and network connectivity of mobile devices are central for making “ubiquitous learning” a reality. Students involved in mobile learning can be engaged in learning activities regardless of the time and their physical local. A mobile learning scenario involves delivering learning content and support to the learner when s/he is not necessarily at a fixed, pre-defined physical location.

Mobile learning gives learners possibilities to carry out learning tasks with or without connectivity to a virtual learning environment. Learning content can be stored on a mobile device for offline access, and more content can be made available online through access to a learning management system. Mobile devices are also capable of handling many types of communications, including voice calls, video calls, instant messaging and file sharing. Using appropriate communications channels supported by mobile devices, students are able to interact with fellow students as well as with teachers. Additionally, mobile devices support interactive educational systems with emphasis on learner to content interaction. Mobile learning promises to provide students with engaging learning experience.

Figure 3 Learner to learning content interaction

Figure 3 Learner to learning content interaction

It is believed (Dias et al., 2008) that m-learning can enhance learners’ engagement to create, access, revise and share course content. Mobile devices are equipped with input interfaces varying from text input, to video capture and support for natural interfaces. An average mobile device can capture, process, store and transmit multimedia data. For example, it is possible for students on a field study to collect information using a mobile device camera, microphone, write down notes, discuss through instant messaging or a forum, save the new information to a learning management system or share it on a social media platform.

3. Mobile learning pedagogy

Given the connectivity, mobility and wide availability of mobile devices, educational institutions are increasingly adopting “Mobile learning” (Motiwalla 2007; Garaj 2010). Mobile learning is considered a supplement to formal teaching and learning. Several studies have been reported in the literature, mostly focusing on learning content delivery and collaboration using mobile devices (Liu et al., 2010; Botzer et al., 2007).

Figure 4 Student engaged in mobile learning

Figure 4 Student engaged in mobile learning

On the other hand, there is a growing interest of taking mobile learning beyond content delivery and collaboration to include new concepts such as context aware-mobile learning and mobile self/peer-assessment. Using mobile technology features, learning can be more personalised to cater for different learning context. Teaching materials can be customized according to learners´ learning style, physical location, time and activity of the learners, etc.

The affordances of mobile technology facilitate communication and interaction in the community of learners. Synchronous and asynchronous collaboration is achieved through real time mobile communications solutions and other forms of communications for learners to interact, discuss and give meaning to concepts as a social activity. Mobile learning has a potential to support student-centred pedagogies. It allows students to explore multiple sources of information in a digital form. This exploration provides more opportunities to acquire, retain and recall knowledge. Further on, students can compare digital learning resources, critically think and discuss about this information in order to   create new knowledge.

Figure 5 Peer tutoring

Figure 5 Peer tutoring

Mobile learning supports social-constructivist pedagogy, with emphasis on students´ responsibility and ownership of learning. This is in contrast with the instructivist pedagogy because in mobile learning students should take the initiative to engage with the learning content, their peers and the teacher(s). The teacher´s role shifts from instructor to tutor and guide in the learning process. This has several implications in the course design, as students are expected to be more active and motivated. Learning tasks & activities should be organized to stimulate the learner´s interest in the subject and keep learners informed of their gradual progress. Clear statements of learning goals, feedback on learning progress and rewards on achievements are some of the elements that can help to keep students active in a mobile learning environment. Mobile learning should create more engaging experiences, which provide the learner with context-rich artefacts and authentic tasks.

Developments in mobile technology are still addressing limitations in terms of processing power, storage capacity, network technology, display screen size and resolution. Digital educational resources targeted at mobile learning should consider these limitations to provide an enjoyable user experience. For example some of the students may need to access lecture videos using low speed Internet connection (probably with feature mobile phones) whereas others have advanced mobile devices and broadband Internet speed. There is a need to provide flexible resources that can be seamlessly adapted to devices for the best achievable user experience. Other factors affecting a mobile learner´s experience include variations in distraction levels and the mobile device use scenario (e.g. possibilities to use voice interaction, mandatory hands-free operation, restrictions on visual interaction etc.). More efforts are necessary to ensure that learners are satisfied (happy) to use mobile learning resources, otherwise it can be difficult for them to adopt this way of learning.

4.   Future trends in mobile learning

Mobile technology is getting mature and more affordable. Millions of new applications have been written for mobile platforms, Apple iOS, Android, Windows and Google (Chrome) users. Educational applications very from games to more strictly speaking content delivery systems, tutoring systems, assessment and feedback solutions.

The future will see mobile learning making use of augmented reality, for learners to access more information in virtual learning environment. Semantic web technologies are enabling context aware mobile learning. Mobile applications will rely on context information to present more personalised content to individual students.

Social media on mobile devices is likely to support more interaction and collaboration among learners. Most mobile users are active on social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. This has a potential to support collaborative learning, with possibilities of more student-generated content, peer assessment and peer-feedback.

The advancement in natural interfaces for mobile devices will foster new learning opportunities, as learners can use for example gestures based interaction. The learner will be able to interact with the learning material more easily, efficiently and the experience can be more enjoyable.

Mobile learners are likely to learn in such environments with high levels of distraction and multitasking. Learning activities should be fun in order to maintain concentration in mobile environments. One of the possibilities is to embed game elements into learning. This process known as “gamification” of mobile learning could improve learning experience and maintain student motivation. Mobile devices have multiple features to support gaming applications; hence this opportunity should be used for teaching and learning.

In addition to increasing access to education through self-study, mobile technology will also help to increase interaction in face-to-face teaching (traditional classrooms). Student response systems and screen sharing applications can support interaction and collaboration within a physical classroom.

Mobile learners may eventually have to undertake digital assessments using their own devices. Careful planning will be necessary to address security, access control and privacy issues as mobile devices may use a multitude of network access technologies. It can be challenging to limit what kind of materials students are allowed to access during the assessment and to protect students´ identity.


Botzer, G., and Yerushalmy, M. (2007). Mobile application for mobile learning. In proceedings of IADIS International Conference on Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age, Algarve, Portugal, December 2007, pp. 313-316.

Dias, A., Carvalho, J. et. al. (2008). An Introduction to Mobile Learning. Available online: european_education/products/wp/socrates_wp1_english.pdf

Garaj V., (2010). m-Learning in the Education of Multimedia Technologists and Designers at the University Level: A User Requirements Study. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, Vol. 3, No.1, pp. 24-32.

Liu, G. and Jiao, Z. (2010). The design of mobile learning system for teachers’ further education. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Education Technology and Computer Science, Wuhan, China. March 2010.

Motiwalla L.F., (2007). Mobile learning: A framework and evaluation. Computers & Education, Vol. 49, pp.581- 596.


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2 Responses to Mobile Learning: Learning supported by mobile technology based tools

  1. svenaake says:

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