Mobile Technologies and Mobile Learning


Carol Campbell

Carol Campbell (
Durham College of Applied Arts and Sciences


Digital technologies are increasingly personal, mobile, and connected. While many students use them in their daily lives, and want to use digital technologies for learning, educators often ban or limit their use for safety reasons, or because teachers view them as learning distractions (Van’t Hooft, 2008). Evidently, a digital divide exists between teachers and students which needs to be examined. This chapter seeks to identify the critical issues concerning the integration of mobile technologies into mobile learning environments and to assist educators in addressing barriers to adopting mobile learning applications. It also seeks to examine the primary issues, limitations and challenges concerning mobile learning technologies.

Keywords: mobile learning, m-learning, mobile technologies, pedagogical affordances, technological attributes, ubiquitous learning


Mobile information technologies can free students from the confines of the traditional classroom and allow them to learn on the go. Students can explore information, collaborate with peers, record their learning and receive feedback from teachers at any time and in any place (Ramnath & Kuriakose, 2015). Recent innovations in program applications and social software using Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis or social networking sites, have made mobile devices more dynamic and pervasive and also promise more educational potential. (Park, 2011).

For students today, mobile devices are embedded in their personal lives and most expect mobile technologies to be an integral part of their learning. The affordances of mobile technologies should be assessed for their impact on education, which may provide valuable insight on the implications for 21st century student learning. As posited by Yu, Lee and Ewing (2014), instructional designers need to adopt new ways of facilitating learning, using multiple pedagogical strategies, to give students access to ubiquitous learning.

Background Information: What is Mobile Learning?

Mobile learning refers to the use of mobile or wireless devices for the purpose of learning while on the move (Park, 2011). Mobile learning devices include mobile phones, smart phones, laptops and computer tablets.
According to Sharples (2000), mobile learning devices “allow learners to learn wherever they are located and in their personal context so that the learning is meaningful.” The increased availability and usability of mobile devices has led to their emergent use in the mobile learning environment.

Ubiquitous Learning

Mobile learning is described as ubiquitous learning– anytime, anywhere learning. Ubiquitous learning involves learning in an environment where “all students have access to a variety of digital devices and services, including computers connected to the Internet and mobile computing devices, whenever and wherever they need them” (Van’t Hooft, Swan, Cook, & Lin, 2007, p. 6).
Some authors see mLearning as a learning environment based on mobility of technology, mobility of learners and mobility of learning that particularly augments the higher educational landscape (Kilmova & Poulova, 2016). This mobility enables ubiquitous learning in formal and informal settings by decreasing the dependence on fixed locations for work and study, and consequently change the way we work and learn (Peters, 2007).

Implications of Mobile Learning. Yu et al. (2014, p.2) offer: “a deeper insight into theory-based research is required to better understand how to adopt mobile learning elements and characteristics.” Ozdamli and Cavus (2011) suggest the elements of mobile learning need to be well organized, and the interactions between the various elements need to be efficiently combined so that mobile learning can be successful and the implementation can be efficient as well. “Instructional designers and teachers not only need a solid theoretical foundation for mobile learning in the context of distance education, but also need more guidance about how to effectively utilize and integrate emerging mobile technologies into their teaching” (Park, 2011, para.2).

Pedagogical Framework

Two Models of Mobile Learning

The FRAME Model. The Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME), presents three aspects of mobile learning: the device, the learner, and the social environment. This model also highlights the intersections of each aspect (device usability, social technology, and interaction learning) and the primary intersection of the three aspects (the mobile learning process). The model examines the technical affordances of the mobile phone in relation to the social and personal characteristics involved in teaching and learning (Koole 2009).

The TPACK Model. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) has been theorized as a seven-factor construct to describe teacher’s integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in their teaching. The TPACK framework for teacher knowledge is a complex interaction between three bodies of knowledge: Content, pedagogy, and technology. The interaction of these bodies of knowledge, produces the types of flexible knowledge needed to successfully integrate technology use into teaching.

Technological Attributes and Pedagogical Affordances

Mobile learning has unique technological attributes which provide positive pedagogical affordances. Pea and Maldonado (2006, p. 428), summarize seven features of handheld device use within schools and beyond: “portability, small screen size, computing power (immediate starting-up), diverse communication networks, a broad range of applications, data synchronization across computers, and stylus input device.”

  1. Shafriri and Levy (2017) offer: Three types of affordances are often mixed:
  2. Affordances attributed to non-mobile desktop applications, including complex design systems such as AutoCAD (
  3. Universal applications operating both on non-mobile and mobile computing devices, thus available anywhere and anytime; and
  4. Affordances attributed exclusively to mobile apps.

Klopfer and Squire (2008, p. 95) summarize: “portability, social interactivity, context, and individuality.” are frequently cited affordances of mobile learning; specifically, portability is the most distinctive feature which distinguishes handheld devices from other emerging technologies, and this factor makes other technological attributes such as individuality and interactivity possible. Another unique attribute that mobile technology has is its ability to support effective face-to-face communication when students use the devices in the classroom. In contrast to using a desktop computer with several students, with mobile devices students do not need to crowd around one computer (Crowe, 2007).

Applications of Mobile Learning

The educational use of mobile computing devices and mobile applications is thought to have significant learning potential and to increase opportunities for learners and teachers alike. Smartphones are already massively embedded in daily life but integrating mobile technologies within learning environments is a complex and challenging mission which requires innovative pedagogical thinking and strategic changes (Traxler & Koole, 2014).

As cited in Park (2011); the applications of mobile learning range widely, from K–12, to higher education and corporate learning settings, through formal and informal learning, distance learning, and field study. Traxler (2007) suggests that, despite the many forms of and increasing services offered by mobile learning, it is still in its infancy in terms of its technological limitations and pedagogical considerations.

The following technology applications support mobile learning in different levels of the educational system and are also effective in cooperate and training contexts:

Edpuzzle is an easy-to-use video platform that helps teachers save time, boost classroom engagement and improve student learning through video lessons. This application facilitates collaborative and constructivist learning. It also provides opportunities for real-time interaction and feedback between teacher and students.

Mindmeister is an online mind- mapping tool that allows students to capture, develop and share ideas visually, and can assist in fostering critical thinking skills and problem-based learning.

Unique Characteristics of Mobile Learning Applications

In recent years, much research has been conducted on mobile learning and on integrating mobile apps into educational settings (Hirsh-Pasek, Zosh, Golinkoff, Gray, Robb & Kaufman 2015). The task, however, of identifying the unique features and affordances of mobile technologies has been a complex one. (Shafriri & Levy (2017), define a unique mobile application as an application with potential added value when integrated into a learning environment which would not be feasible using non-mobile desktop systems. Such benefits are also unattainable in traditional outdoor learning environments, when no digital technologies are involved.

Benefits to Adopting Mobile Learning. “Mobile learning devices allow learners to learn wherever they are located and in their personal context so that the learning is meaningful” (Sharples 2000). Gikas and Grant (2013, p.1), offer, “mobile computing devices, (such as smartphones) can provide educational opportunities for students to access course content, as well as interact with instructors and student colleagues wherever they are located.” Additionally, mobile learning allows for:

  1. Accessing information quickly
  2. Communication and content collaboration
  3. A variety of ways to learn, and
  4. Situated learning: (contextual and informal learning)

Limitations, Issues and Challenges with Mobile Technologies

Limitations in Mobile Learning

Although mobile technology offers many benefits for education– most significantly, its support for ubiquitous learning, it does have some limitations, relating to mobile devices, in particular –smartphones (Kukulska-Hulme, 2007).

According to Yu, et al. (2014, p.5), “While mobile technologies have great potential for learning, mobile technology and devices, however, have some limitations, issues and challenges as well.” Elias (2011), suggests; “A solid theoretical foundation in mobile learning addresses equitable use, flexible use, simple and intuitive interfaces, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical and technical effort, community of learners and support, and instructional climate.”

Mobile devices for learning are limited by screen size, computational power, battery capacity, input interface and network bandwidth; therefore, how to adapt information for delivery to mobile devices has become a critical issue in mobile learning environments. There is also little experience on how to deliver learning through mobile technology (Park, 2011).

Issues in Mobile Learning

Researchers point to some common issues in mobile learning, such as usability, communication and interactivity, cost, compatibility, equity of access, security and privacy and ethical concerns.

Primary Issues. Kukulska-Hulme, (2007, pp. 6-7) summarizes these issues as follows:

  1. Physical attributes of mobile devices, such as small screen size, heavy weight, inadequate memory, and short battery life.
  2. Content and software application limitations, including a lack of built-in functions, the difficulty of adding applications, challenges in learning how to work with a mobile device, and differences between applications and circumstances of use
  3. Network speed and reliability and
  4. Physical environment issues such as problems with using the device outdoors, excessive screen brightness, concerns about personal security, possible radiation exposure from devices using radio frequencies, the need for rain covers in rainy or humid conditions, among others (Kukulska-Hulme, 2007, p. 6).

It is important to consider these issues when using mobile devices and designing the learning environment. The use of mobile technologies in education, however, is moving from small-scale and short-term trials or pilots, into sustained and blended development projects (Traxler, 2007). Therefore, these concerns can likely be mitigated, by the ever-evolving improvements in mobile device application and function.

Challenges to Adopting Mobile Learning

As offered by Traxler (2009), “The mobile learning community is now faced with broader challenges of scale, durability, equity, embedding and blending, in addition to the earlier and more specific challenges of pedagogy and technology.” The issue of scalability could be compounded with the use of smart phones in the mobile learning environment.

Design Issues and Principles. Stanton and Ophoff (2013), suggest that mobile learning designs need to consider what needs to be delivered, how it will be done and the structure of such a delivery. Killilea (2012) proposes five best practices for the design and use of mobile learning: 1. Clear objectives to the course; 2) feedback; 3) content; 4) active learning techniques, and 5) realistic timeframes for lessons.

Ryokai (2012) presents four design principles for mobile learning: 1) connect, 2) contextualize access, 3) capture, and 4) multimodal. These design principles refer to the importance of creating a connection between what takes place in the classroom and what is delivered through the mobile device; and the importance of creating a personal connection to the material for the learner by ensuring it is relevant and meaningful.

Technical and Usability Issues

Usability focuses on making systems easy to learn and easy to use (Zhang & Adipat, 2005). Kukulska-Hulme (2007) summarizes some usability concerns as: a) physical attributes of mobile devices, such as small screen size, inadequate memory, and short battery life; b) content and software application limitations, such as a lack of built-in functions, the difficulty of adding applications, and differences between applications and circumstances of use; c) network speed and reliability; and d) physical environment issues, such as problems with using the device outdoors and concerns about personal security.

Security and Privacy Issues

Kambourakis (2013) indicates that most mobile learning studies have focused on course development, deployment and delivery, but not paid enough attention to the security and privacy issues. In a study of frameworks and middleware for facilitating mobile and ubiquitous learning development, Martin, Diaz, Plaza, Ruiz, Castro and Peire (2011) also conclude that privacy and security would be needed for the future development when building systems that guarantee user’s rights.

Ethical and Legal Issues

Some of the major ethical issues associated with mobile learning include informed consent, anonymity and confidentiality, participant risk, payment to participants and cultural differences (Hewson, Yule, Laurent, & Vogel, 2003; Traxler & Bridges, 2004).

Sharples, Taylor, and Vavoula (2005, p.5) compliment systems that allow parents or teachers to monitor every intimate detail of learning, so that play and leisure can be an extension of school activity by being checked and assessed as continuous records of achievement. However, Sharples et al. (2005, p.5) also warns: “[this is] a deeply disturbing vision of childhood without privacy.”

Broadband Connections and Infrastructure Issues

According to Crescente and Lee (2011). There are several operating systems, video formats, hardware limitations, and internet connections all of which make it difficult to develop standards for mobile learning. Without any standards that are universally accepted and practiced, the capacities of mobile device will never be reached.

Other Cost Concerns

In addition to the broadband connections, it is important to examine the other costs of mobile learning. Initially, organizations will have to invest large sums of financial resources into mobile learning, to cover the cost of training, infrastructure, devices, content development, and testing (Kant, 2012). The time needed for converting existing content into mobile learning content should be closely evaluated and tested for effectiveness (Crescente & Lee, 2011).

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

Despite the limitations and challenges, which educational institutions will face in executing mobile opportunities for e-Learning, mobile devices offer unequalled opportunities for teaching and learning. (Davis, 2014). Mobile devices are an integral part of students’ daily lives. As digital natives they desire and expect mobile devices to be embedded in their learning.

Mobile learning is 21st century learning, which is collaborative and characterized by constructivist learning. It provides a framework for ubiquitous learning – access to anytime- anywhere learning. It is critical that the characteristics of mobile technologies that support both individual and social aspects of learning be advanced, and it is incumbent on educational institutions at the secondary and post-secondary level to continually explore emerging technologies to increase student engagement, and thereby improve retention, and graduation rates. Despite the great potential mobile learning has and the innovative development of mobile technologies; in many ways, it is still in its infancy. A guiding theoretical framework, with the adoption of effective instructional design will assist in greater integration of mobile learning applications in teaching and learning, to the benefit of students and teachers alike.


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Millennials Are Shaping the Mobile Workspace of the Future
Figure. 1: Millennials Are Shaping the Mobile Workspace of the Future [#Infographic]. This infographic shows how the wide variety of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices used on campus by students and faculty create a significant opportunity for anytime, anywhere learning.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2018 Copyright © 2018 by Carol Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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