Mobile Learning

mobile learning
Photo by Thom Cochrane

mLearning, or "mobile learning" is any sort of learning that takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies. In other words, mobile learning decreases limitation of learning location through the mobility of portable devices. Mobile learning is convenient in the sense that it is accessible from virtually anywhere, which provides access to all the different learning materials available. It is also collaborative; sharing is almost instantaneous among everyone using the same content, which leads to the reception of instant feedback and tips. M-Learning also brings strong portability by replacing books and notes with portable devices filled with tailored learning content.

While there are some great advantages afforded by mobile learning, there are can be problems when mLearning is not designed well (see below). As mobile devices become more and more powerful it will become easier and easier to design effective mobile learning.


Warning: Pitfalls of Mobile Learning

Spoof mLearning ad to illustrate Sexy Device Syndrome

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There are two main pitfalls of mobile learning; CBT-viewer syndrome and sexy device syndrome.

CBT Viewer Syndrome
This is what happens when static content is pushed to a mobile device with limited interaction. This looks like the traditional linear computer based training (CBT) but on a smaller screen. Think of watching a PowerPoint presentation on an iPod. Typically there is no human interaction and limited computer interaction.

Sexy Device Syndrome
This is the tendency to be more interested in the coolness factor of the device than the quality of the learning experience. Often in these cases there is really no instructional design at all. Instead, learners just access existing online learning materials from a portable device. Not that there is anything wrong with using a mobile web-browser to do online learning, but it certainly doesn't take advantage of the affordances of the mobile device.

Designing Effective Mobile Learning Experiences


As portable devices become increasingly ubiquitous, the ability to deliver mobile learning experiences becomes both an opportunity and an expectation for learning organizations.

There are four types of interactions that make mLearning effective. While not all interactions need to be used for all learning experiences, a healthy mix of interactions should be included in an effective mobile learning program. If you find you are using only one type of interaction, you should carefully review your design.

Type of Interaction   Idea for mobile learning
Learner >< Learner Interactions  
  • Use points creatively to encourage learners to interact with each other
  • Create a unique hashtag on Twitter for your learning experience
Learner >< Expert Interactions  
  • Have learners follow/interact with domain experts on Twitter
  • Use audience polling to improve in-class experience (
Learner >< Content Interactions  
  • Make content engaging and relevant (Publishing a Kindle book is a good way to get started with mobile content. Branching YouTube branching videos and also good - and don't underestimate the value of SMS texts)
Learner >< Context Interactions  
  • Encourage learners to engage with their environment (take pictures of "evidence" and post it to Twitter for other learners)
  • Use mobile devices to enhance reality (see QR codes below)

(based on Michael Moore's Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-6. (1989).

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