Skip to content Skip to navigation

What Is Mobile Learning?

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 

The fact that mobile learning allows for differentiated learning environments (that is, environments that aren’t bound by time, place, age, ability, or even curriculum) means that students can be far more self-directed in their learning.


The posting below looks at the many uses of mobile learning technologies in teaching and learning.  It is from Chapter 17 – Mobil Learning, in the book, Using Social Media in the Classroom: A Best Practice Guide, by Megan Poore.  SAGE Publications Ltd, 1 Oliver’s Yard ,55 City Road, London EC1Y 1SP. © Megan Poore 2016 All rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.




Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Clicking Your Way to Flipping Your Class


Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning

---------- 1,531 words ----------

What is Mobile Learning?


Sometimes referred to simply as ‘mlearning’, mobile learning can be described as ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning that is not fixed in time (by schedule) or space (by location) and that is supported by digital technologies. Put differently, it is learning that is relevant to the context and location of the student. Mobile learning has two main elements: (1) the learner, and (2) a portable digital device (or  devices) through which  he or she accesses content. Such devices include mobile phones (both ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’), digital cameras, voice recorders, tablet devices (such as iPads), laptops and netbooks, video cameras, and MP3 players. Portable digital devices can support a variety of files and functions, including audio, video, and text files, and recording, wireless internet, news content, feeds, email, social media and other apps, and GPS and geolocation – all of which can be used for ‘learning on the go’. Internet connectivity is not essential for mobile learning although such connectivity is fast becoming the norm. Nevertheless, much effective mobile learning can still be achieved with devices that simply record or ‘play back’ content and information. In any case, mobile learning can be said to be (Faculty of Education and Social work, 2011, online):


-       Spontaneous

-       Personal

-       Informal

-       Contextual

-       Portable

-       Ubiquitous

-       Pervasive

-       Multi-locational

-       Interactive.


Educational benefits of mobile learning


Mobile learning pedagogies

Mobile learning supports a myriad of pedagogies, many of them constructivist in nature. Depending on how they are set up, mobile learning projects promote problem-based learning, peer learning, just-in-time learning, and active learning. For younger students, game-based learning (see Chapter 16) is also evident in mobile pedagogies, whilst mobile research- and inquiry-based learning can be integrated into your classroom practice for older students. This enables us to move away from the teacher-centered, information-centered, model of education and to instead encourage self-directed learning at a time and place that best suit the students and allow them to actively take part in different contexts (AT&T, 2010, online) outside the physical reality of the classroom. In fact, physical classrooms and our institutionalized school systems unavoidably compartmentalize education; mobile learning, on the other hand, integrates more readily with the whole of students’ lives, allowing them to uncover the world in a less restrictive and less conditional milieu.

Suffice it to say, then, the benefits of mobile learning are manifold, and will depend on how mobile devices are used in your classroom, and to what purpose. In general, however, mobile learning brings with it a host of other, more practical, advantages, most of which are based on the portability and pervasiveness of mobile devices. In the first instance, mobile learning can be personalized and made relevant to the learner and her specific context or environment. For example, if students are on a field trip to the British Museum, they might use an internet-connected mobile device to search the web for more information about one of the displays. In this sense, and as previously mentioned, mobile learning is also often spontaneous and informal and allows for immediate engagement with the current environment, making self-directed, student-centered learning experiences truly possible.

Motivation and personalization

One of the great benefits of mobile learning from the constructivist point of view is that it is a very social way of learning. The fact that mobile learning allows for differentiated learning environments (that is, environments that aren’t bound by time, place, age, ability, or even curriculum) means that students can be far more self-directed in their learning. They can explore things in their own time and in their own way, giving them more control over what, when, and how they learn. The upshot of this kind of personalization is that there is less pressure on students to work and learn in the same ways as the rest of their classmates. If, for example, students are set a mobile task to complete, they might choose to do it with others or on their own; in either case,  students have more control over the pace and level at which they learn in an environment that makes them feel safe – because they have chosen it. Further, properly designed mobile learning tasks (and apps) will give immediate and useful feedback on progress. In such a motivating atmosphere they can attempt a task as often as they want without either fear of failure or being exposed to others who might diminish their efforts.

Activities supported by mobile learning

Although we can catalogue the variety of mobile devices available to students for use in education, perhaps what is more important are not ‘tech specs’ and functionality (both of which are in a constant state of change, anyway), but, rather, the types of activities that mobile devices can support. From this perspective, we can see that mobile learning supports relevant educational undertakings such as:

-       Data gathering

-       Information processing

-       Voice recording

-       Video recording

-       Image/photograph recording

-       Access to content

-       Podcasting, vodcasting, photosharing

-       Other collaborative and knowledge-construction activities.

If we take this kind of ‘meta-focus,’ then we can avoid an emphasis on particular devices and instead explore how mobile learning can be used to advocate for higher-order cognitive skills such as creating, producing, interacting, interpreting, and experimenting. But again a word of caution: just because a thing is ‘mobile’ this does not mean that it is also automatically ‘active’. Mobile learning can be every bit as passive as other forms of learning, such as those that focus on watching, reading, listening, and transmitting information. This is no way to say that activities such as reading and listening are not important or valuable, but that it only goes to reiterate a major theme of this book that it is how a tool is used which determines the kinds of educational outcomes you will achieve.

Geolocation as ‘learning locations’

The potential of geolocation, that is the ability of mobile appliances to pinpoint the exact geographical location of a device, object, or even person, is enormous. Geolocation is used by social media service providers, for example, to allow you to share your current location with your ‘friends’ or ‘followers’, or to find out the same about people you know or follow on social media. It also allows you to add location data – including, say, links to maps and other information – to photos that you tag and share using social media. Any mobile learning activity should account for geolocation in its educational design by considering different ‘learning locations’ and how they can be integrated into the pedagogy of the task. That said, however, the sharing of (or even enabling access to) geolocation information via mobile devices brings with it almost unfathomable risks for, and potentially irreversible negative impacts on, privacy and confidentiality. Geolocation is already being used for governmental, industrial, business, and, of course, military applications, some of which may be harmless, but many others of which are more than likely not. If this makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, then you should think very carefully about how, or even if, you would use geolocation as part of your mobile learning activities. See Chapter 7 for more information about risk management online.

Administrative advantages of mobile learning

Mobile devices provide many administrative advantages for teachers, the most basic of which include being able to access calendars, clocks, and reminders from any location. This can be extended if you have a device that supports apps that allow you to keep attendance records, create class lists, and develop contact registers for parents and guardians. Mobile devices also enable the easy delivery of content to students and can even be used for your own professional learning as you make connections with colleagues, explore the viability of mobile learning for your own classroom, or access development materials yourself via your portable device. Finally, of course, such devices and apps are excellent tools for keeping schools and parents in touch with each other through the posting of reminders, information about events, messages, and such like.


‘BYOD’ stands for ‘bring your own device’. Many schools are now supporting schemes whereby they allow and even encourage students to bring tablets, laptops, and netbooks from home to use in the classroom. There are many benefits to this, perhaps the most important of which from a learning point of view is that students get to navigate devices they are familiar with and don’t need to grasp something new (although how much this is a problem for younger users and more of a projection of older users is up for debate). In using their own device, students can also personalize their learning and then take it home with them to build outside of school hours on what they have learnt. From a more practical standpoint, student-owned devices are often newer and better featured than those supplied by the school, and a BYOD scheme can help offset the costs and administrative issues (insurance, keeping track of loans, potential for damage) associated with school-based loan schemes.  Of course, a mix of BYOD and school-supplied devices in any given classroom is also possible, and in fact is important if we are to avoid disadvantaging students who do not have access to mobile devices at home.


AT&T (2010) Transforming the classroom with mobile technology. Retrieved from

Faculty of Education and Social Work (2011) Mobile Learning. University of Sydney. Retrieved from