Educational or philosophical aims of learning


It does not appear to be a generally accepted definition among the educational community to describe the term 'mobile learning'. Obvious interpretations might be either learning using a mobile device and/or learning while mobile (eg while travelling or outside the classroom). The fact that a device is easily portable means that learning can take place in locations, and possibly at times, more convenient to the user. Therefore, convenience and flexibility are commonly felt to be characteristics of mobile learning. There is, however, some disagreement about which devices should be included in the description 'mobile device'. Partners in the m-learning project agreed their definition of a mobile device should include only electronic handheld devices, i.e. mobile phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants, or palmtop computers) and mobile games machines. In defining mobile learning, some authors appear to have placed the emphasis on either the technologies involved, or the educational or philosophical aims of learning. Here are some examples of the variety of definitions from the literature.

They consider that m-Learning must include the ability to learn everywhere at every time without permanent physical connection to cable networks. Furthermore, the devices must be able to connect to other computer devices, present educational information, and realise bilateral information exchange between the students and the teacher.

M-learning vs E-learning

  • E-learning is the macro concept that includes online and mobile learning environments.
  • M-learning is a subset of e-learning.
  • E-learning is in turn a subset of distance learning, which is in turn a subset of flexible learning.


In July 2005 Ericsson announced that the number of mobile devices in the world had topped 2 billion for the first time. They forecast ownership of 3 billion mobile phones as early as 2010 - and this for a world population of somewhat recent research on audience characteristics published by the BBC in Britain shows the ubiquity of mobile devices especially in the 16-24 ages group, the university age group. The BBC research in this group shows that it characterises ownership of a mobile phone as a 'necessity' and not a 'luxury'. Thus it can be taken as a given that every student in all European further and higher education institutions in all countries in Europe possesses one.

Benefits of M-learning

  1. Students can interact with each other and the practitioner instead of hiding behind large monitors.
  2. PDAs or tablets holding notes and e-books are lighter, less bulky and easier to carry than bags full of files, paper and textbooks, or even laptops.
  3. Handwriting with the stylus pen is more natural than using keyboard and mouse.
  4. Can draw diagrams, maps, sketches directly onto a tablet, using standard software.
  5. Can take notes directly into the device during outdoor lessons or on field trips, either typed, handwritten or voice.
  6. Shared assignments and collaborative working, so several students and the practitioner can pass the device around a group, or "beam" the work to each other using the infrared function of a PDA, or a wireless network such as Bluetooth.
  7. Practitioners can more easily and naturally annotate work using the pen.
  8. Can be used anywhere, anytime, including at home, on the train, in hotels - such places are conducive to learning because you cannot be disturbed by meetings, you are often alone, it might be quiet - this is invaluable for work-based training.
  9. Can trace an image directly onto the tablet's screen.
  10. Engaging learners - young people who may have lost interest in education do like mobile phones, gadgets and games devices such as Game boys.
  11. Just-in-time learning/reference tool for quick access to data in the field eg. accessing step-by-step guides to help you achieve a task.
  12. SMS can be used to get information (eg. timetable changes) to staff and learners more easily and quickly than phone calls or email.
  13. As assistive technology for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities - see accessibility below

Limitations of M-learning

  1. It is hard to read from small PDA screens, and it is also too hard to take notes, because small screens limit the amount and type of information that can be displayed, and they often cause text to be abbreviated. As a result, the display tends to be cramped.
  2. The stylus pens are often narrow and small, and require accurate use to work correctly.
  3. They are more difficult to upgrade and limited potential for expansion with some PDA's.
  4. Fast-moving market so the devices can become out of date very quick.
  5. The restricted functionality of the operating systems used by PDAs also add to problems, as users with disabilities need to be able to customised colour, text size and font.
  6. It is difficult to develop content that will work anywhere because of lack of common platform like different sizes screens for example, horizontal screens with some handheld computers, and small square screens with mobile phones.
  7. It is difficult to uploading and downloading of data, and the content relevant of m-learning aspects of overloading learners with interaction, may have a negative impact on the overall learning effectiveness.
  8. Lack of connectivity and expensive mobile phone connections failed menu navigation and incorrect responses to learning interaction. These affect users, leading to frustrations and reluctance to continue the lesson.
  9. Batteries require regular charging because if it is not done correctly, data can be lost on some devices.


Teaching and learning with mobile technologies is beginning to make a breakthrough from small-scale pilots to large departmental and institutional implementations. This section presents both key issues for educators and technical developers, and research informed guidelines as to how these can be addressed.


Compared to desktop technology, learning and teaching with mobile technology presents significant new challenges including:

  • Context - the ability to acquire information about the user and his or her environment presents a unique ability to personalise the learning opportunity. There are, however, significant ethical issues. For example, context information needs to be gathered with the consent of users, and must be stored securely to prevent misuse by third parties. This is also related to the issue of coupling between the informatics layer provided by the devices and the existing communication layers of the classroom.
  • Mobility - the 'anytime, anywhere' capabilities of mobile devices encourage learning experiences outside of a teacher-managed classroom environment. Inside the classroom, mobile devices provide students with the capabilities to link to activities in the outside world that do not correspond with either the teacher's agenda or the curriculum (Sharples 2003). Both scenarios present significant challenges to conventional teaching practices.
  • Learning over time - lifelong learners will need effective tools to record, organise and reflect on their mobile learning experiences (Vavoula 2004).
  • Informality - the benefits of the informality of mobile devices may be lost if their use becomes widespread throughout formal education. Students may abandon their use of certain technologies if they perceive their social networks to be under attack.
  • Ownership - both personal and group learning are most effectively supported when each student has access to a device. The ownership of the devices is thus a key consideration. According to Perry (2003), both tangible and intangible benefits can accrue through the use of mobile devices. Intangible benefits include a sense of belonging with the device and personal commitment and comfort. Ownership is stated as a prerequisite for engagement, where students have the potential to go "beyond the necessary and play with it to explore its potential". Personal ownership does, however, present a challenge to the institutional control of the technology

Future Developments in Mobile Learning

The latest developments in mobile technologies e.g. GPRS (General Packet Response Service) that allows for multimedia messaging (MMS = Multimedia Messaging Services), in stead of the well-known short messaging (SMS = Short Messaging Services), makes it possible to deliver and receive multimedia content such as audio, images and video sequences. Interoperability with email and the Internet are key to new developments and everyone is already talking about the future 6XSUDQHW_that will have no restriction to any one channel. The 6XSUDQHW_will line up the optimum technologies without the user having to select or intervene.

Kristiansen (2001:8) envisaged a future service network (like the 6XSUDQHW) that is IP-based (Internet Protocol-based) and provides the following type of services and applications to end users: It will not be long before m-LMSs (Learning Management Systems for m-learning) start to emerge. Integrating EPSS (Electronic Preformance Support Systems) into the mobile environment will take m-learning even further: m-learning with on-demand access to information, tools, learning feedback, advice, support, learning materials, etc.

These technological developments and the rich capabilities of mobile technologies, together with the growing demand to provide learning opportunities RQ_WKH_JR, spells out a great and rapidly growing future for m-learning.

Kristiansen (2001:4) made the following statement about the expected growth of m-learning: "Trend analysts expect mobile terminals to be the main device for accessing the Internet before_


Most previous reviews of mobile technologies and learning have been concerned with the use of these technologies to address specific curriculum areas. In this review, we take an activity-centred perspective, considering new practices against existing theories. Our review of the literature reveals six broad theory-based categories of activity, and identifies a number of examples of the use of mobile technology in each of them:


Activities that promote learning as a change in learners' observable actions

In the behaviourist paradigm, learning is thought to be best facilitated through the reinforcement of an association between a particular stimulus and a response. Applying this to educational technology, computer-aided learning is the presentation of a problem (stimulus) followed by the contribution on the part of the learner of the solution (response). Feedback from the system then provides the reinforcement. In a mobile learning context, classroom response systems like 'Classtalk' (Dufresne et al 1996) and 'Qwizdom' (Qwizdom: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom 2003) fall in this category, as well as examples of content delivery by text messages to mobile phones.


Activities in which learners actively construct new ideas or concepts based on both their previous and current knowledge in the constructivist approach, learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based on both their current and past knowledge. Learners are encouraged to be active constructors of knowledge, with mobile devices now embedding

them in a realistic context at the same time as offering access to supporting tools. The most compelling examples of the implementation of constructivist principles with mobile technologies come from a brand of learning experience termed 'participatory simulations', where the learners themselves act out key parts in an immersive recreation of a dynamic system. Examples include the Virus Game (Collella 2000), Savannah (Facer et al in preparation), and the Environmental Detectives (Klopferand Squire in preparation).


Activities that promote learning within an authentic context and culture, situated learning posits that learning can be enhanced by ensuring that it takes place in an authentic context. Mobile devices are especially well suited to context-aware applications simply because they are available in different contexts, and so can draw on those contexts to enhance the learning activity.

The museum and gallery sector has been on the forefront of context-aware mobile computing by providing additional information about exhibits and displays based on the visitor's location within them. Examples of mobile systems that situate learning in authentic contexts include the Ambient Wood (Rogers et al 2002), MOBIlearn (Lonsdale et al 2003, 2004), and the multimedia tours offered at the Tate Modern (Proctor and Burton 2003).


Activities that promote learning through social interaction Collaborative learning has sprung out from research on computer-supported collaborative work and learning (CSCW/L) and is based on the role of social interactions in the process of learning. Many new approaches to thinking about learning developed in the 1990s, most of which are rooted in Vygotsky's socio-cultural psychology (Vygotsky 1978), including activity theory (see for example Engeström 1987).

Though not traditionally linked with collaborative learning, another theory that is particularly relevant to our consideration of collaboration using mobile devices is conversation theory (Pask 1976), which describes learning in terms of conversations between different systems of knowledge. Mobile devices can support mobile computersupported collaborative learning (MCSCL) by providing another means of coordination without attempting to replace any human-human interactions, as compared to say, online discussion boards which substitute for face-to-face discussions (Zurita et al 2003; Cortez etal 2004; Zurita and Nussbaum 2004).

Informal and lifelong

Activities that support learning outside a dedicated learning environment and formal curriculum Research on informal and lifelong learning recognises that learning happens all of the time and is influenced both by our environment and the particular situations we are faced with. Informal learning may be intentional, for example, through intensive, significant and deliberate learning 'projects' (Tough 1971), or it may be accidental, by acquiring information through conversations, TV and newspapers, observing the world or even experiencing an accident or embarrassing situation. Such a broad view of learning takes it outside the classroom and, by default, embeds learning in everyday life, thus emphasising the value of mobile technologies in supporting it.

Current approaches to m-learning

Future approaches to m-learning

Latest and future developments

  • Moblogging (mobile blogging)
  • Instant messaging (IM)
  • Wireless Google
  • Collapse-to-Zoom and Popouts
  • Ambient technology and intelligence
  • Personalised learning with dynamic adaptation of learning resources to individual preferences
  • Text to speech & speech recognition for mobile devices
  • Multi-user applications and resources
  • Multi-technology interaction

Podcasting (broadcasting of audio to iPods)

The future of m-learning

"Whether we like it or not, whether we are ready for it or not, mobile learning represents the next step in a long tradition of technology mediated learning. It will feature new strategies, practices, tools, applications, and resources to realize the promise of ubiquitous, pervasive, personal, and connected learning. It responds to the on-demand learning interests of connected citizens in an information-centric world."


Our ongoing m-learning action research and development focus question is;

How can mobile technology be best utilised in teaching and learning strategies to enhancelearning and support the characteristics of the digital natives generation, while at the sametime addressing the diversity of all students? We have suggested some directions for research and development activities and outcomes to support and improve the use of mobile technology to enhance student learning. We argue such investigations should aim to progress the implications of m-learning for active and experiential learning. The processes of action research (Dick, 2007) and learner-centred educational design (Litchfield, 1999) can be used as the prime planning, design and development, implementation, testing and evaluation methodologies to maximise quality research investigations and project outcomes.

Lean, Moizer, Towler & Abbey (2006) found in their examination of perceived barriers to the use of innovations in academic settings that academics make the decision to use them based upon their professional judgment of benefit and risk. Therefore they emphasised a role for awareness building activities and improved information about approaches. These concerns can be directly addressed by academic professional development strategies such as mentored project partners, online support resources, experientially-based workshops, and the publication of papers and articles to further disseminate m-learning findings to support innovators and early-adopters (Rogers, 1993) to support the diffusion of active m-learning.

The development of wide support for an online body of knowledge of m-learning and teaching principles, strategies and effective, practical case-studies across all disciplines - an m Portal - is needed and can support and inform emerging national and international approaches to using mobile technologies to enhance learning.

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