A framework for mobile learning

In order to move from theory to practice in mobile learning, one needs a framework. The JISC Mobile InfoKit introduces its frameworks discussion by listing six ‘course aspects’ (my term) which may be behind the drivers for mobile learning. The first four are pedagogical approaches. In sum, they are a pretty good, though not comprehensive, list of the ‘ideas behind the drivers’ toward mobile learning.

  • Behaviourist – activities promoting learning as a an observable change in behaviour
  • Constructivist – activities in which new concepts are actively constructed, based on a combination of previous and current knowledge
  • Situated – activities encouraging learning in an authentic context
  • Collaborative – activities encouraging learning through interaction with others
  • Informal and lifelong – learning activities outside dedicated, formal environments or curricula
  • Learning and teaching support – activities which help to coordinate learners and learning resources


As for the actual framework, three frameworks are presented in the JISC infokit. The one which makes the most sense to me is Koole’s Model for Framing Mobile Learning (2009). The model is called FRAME: Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education.

Koole's FRAME mobile learning framework

Koole’s FRAME mobile learning framework

The model reveals that Koole defines mobile learning in terms of three distinct aspects: device, learner, and social, and what happens at the intersections of these aspects. One reason I find this interesting is because it reveals that mobile learning has a different accepted definition now than it did even six years ago. Six years ago, the first iPhone was released. Being the first very-popular smartphone, the iPhone ushered in this new definition of mobile learning: the social aspect was added. Until then, unless one counted networked laptop use as mobile learning, which would be valid, mobile learning was only about the device and its user. A mobile learner might be listening to lecture podcasts, or learning a skill from drill-and-practice instruction videos on an mp3 player with video, or doing something with a PDA. Now it was possible to connect with others by means a device which could be held in one’s hand. Furthermore, making this connection over phone networks increased the number of locations in which this full connectivity could happen.

Koole also furnished issues to be considered by institutions looking to incorporate mobile learning:

1. Consider how use of mobile devices might change the process of interaction between learners, between communities, between systems. This reminds me of the School of Education Masters in International Education course in which every student was sent an iPad. One way the students unexpectedly and spontaneously used their iPads was to video-Skype with each other and with their tutors. It also meant that students would accessing their Blackboard materials with their iPad, which immediately brought the Blackboard mobile app capabilities up for scrutiny.

2. Consider how learners may most effectively use mobile access to other learners, systems, and devices, to recognise and evaluate information and processes to achieve their goals.

3. Consider how learners can become more independent in navigating through and filtering information. Our university’s medical school is seriously considering furnishing one iPad per undergraduate student. One of the goals is to give students more immediate access to core medical ebook texts, and encourage independent learning.

4. Consider how the roles of teachers and learners will change and how to prepare them for that change. I would add that the role of administrators will change as well. It may be administrators who are asked why the YouTube video works fine on the VLE on a desktop, but not on a tablet. Our institution was surprised to have to deal with customs officials in different countries, all reacting differently to the presence of an iPad to be shipped to a student, and it was administrators who had to help them to deal with it.

It is my hope that one output of this Places project will be a checklist of issues which may help a course team to decide whether and how to implement mobile learning, and to give them an idea of the kind of unexpected issues that may arise. I anticipate that the six course aspects at the beginning of this blog post will feature in the checklist, as they are a good summary of the kinds of things educators wish to achieve by including mobile in learning.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

JISC InfoNet. (2011). Emerging Practice in a Digital Age (Mobile Learning Info Kit) (pp. 1-65). Retrieved from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/digiemerge (Or: https://mobilelearninginfokit.pbworks.com/w/page/41122430/Home)
Koole, M. (2009a). Chapter 2: A Model for Framing Mobile Learning. In M. Ally (Ed.), Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training (Vol. 1, pp. 25-47). Edmonton, Alberta: AU Press. Free download: http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120155


Learner expectation as a factor of mobile learning

iPads in lectures, by Mike Cogh on Twitter

iPads in lectures, by Mike Cogh on Flickr

The JISC Mobile Learning Infokit quotes NUS research: “the percentage of students who feel that ICT usage has enhanced their experience of studying has actually decreased, from 46% in 2009 to 42% in 2010,” (NUS, 2010) and goes on to suggest that students’ dissatisfaction with technology in education might largely originate in the disconnect between what the institution provides and what they themselves own. (JISC, 2011)

According to the Horizon 2011 report, internet-capable mobile devices will outnumber computers within the following year, and by 2015, 80% of people accessing the Internet will be doing so from mobile devices. (NewMediaConsortium, 2011)

Most universities employ a VLE or LMS, and by policy it is this designed-for-desktop environment through which learning material is distributed; any other channel is considered complementary. While the practical need to do this is clear, it is also clear that this policy, like every other, has a sell-by date. So far, I do not have evidence nor even the impression that students are demanding that their learning material be made available on mobile devices. It may be that no one is really asking them, or that students are not yet thinking of their own mobile devices as agents for learning, or that I haven’t looked hard enough yet. However, what is beyond dispute is that the numbers of students owning more, and more powerful, mobile devices. is increasing. In the second half of 2012, a study revealed that 51% ofpeople in the UK own a smartphone. (ThePaypers, 2012) I do wonder how long students who have never experienced student life without a smartphone or tablet, and who are paying exponentially more in fees than their predecessors, will accept that they cannot access their material on their own device of choice, especially if that device is one which fits seamlessly into most other areas of their lives.

Here at University of Leicester where we use Blackboard as our VLE, the Blackboard Mobile Learn app and our university-contextualised LeicesterUni app were launched this past autumn. The launch was quiet, and yet, over 7000 unique downloads of the Blackboard app have been registered, and these numbers continue to grow. In the two weeks up to 21st February 2013, for example, downloads to iOS devices have increased 3.6%, downloads to Android devices have increased 2.9%, and downloads to Blackberry have increased 0.9%. Educational sector stakeholders need to both engage with each other and keep an eye on such statistics in order to relevantly address the changing requirements of mobile learning.

JISC. (2011). Mobile Learning infokit / Home. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from https://mobilelearninginfokit.pbworks.com/w/page/41122430/Home
NewMediaConsortium. (2011). 2011 Horizon Report. Horizon Report. Retrieved February 22, 2013, from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/2011-horizon-report
NUS. (2010). NUS/HSBC Student Experience Report: Teaching and Learning. Student Experience Report. Retrieved February 22, 2013, from http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/news/article/6010/1438/
ThePaypers. (2012). The Paypers. Insights in payments. Retrieved January 3, 2013, from http://www.thepaypers.com/news/mobile-payments/smartphone-adoption-in-uk-reaches-51-students-lead-the-way/747745-16

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

Toward a mobile learning strategy

Based on the JISC Mobile Learning InfoKit, with my additional points based on recent developments in mobile learning as well as on our own observations through the Places mobile learning evaluation project:

In order for a school or university to strategically implement mobile learning, it must, as an institution:
• put learners at the centre
• ensure staff are on board and kept in the communication and policy loop
• consider cultural implications of employing technology often used for leisure
• consider cultural and other implications of expecting students to use their own equipment in their learning (in BYOD initiatives)
• consider cost including institutional wireless capacity, charging, and furniture in learning spaces
• plan for sustainability

Mobile charging station -- a lucrative small business in some African countries. Photo by Adam Cohn on Flickr

Mobile charging station — a lucrative small business in some African countries. Photo by Adam Cohn on Flickr

Every institution will come at this differently, tackling these issues at different times and in different orders. Many find that the first mobile learning initiative serves as a Trojan Horse for further innovation, especially when previously disparate parties come together to accomplish such a project. At University of Leicester, the initial success of the ‘one-iPad-per-distance-Masters-student’ Criminology programme paved the way for a second one-iPad-per-student programme in the School of Education, and an attempted one-Kindle-per-student programme; this was a natural outcome since many questions and reservations were already resolved.

It is therefore worthwhile to consider some ‘quick win’ mobile learning scenarios:

1. Add a mobile stylesheet to the institutional website — so that any mobile device will nicely display the site
2. Add a mobile-friendly front end to an RSS feed. For example, many universities broadcast news via a blog, which creates an RSS feed. When this is run through Google Feedburner, a mobile-friendly RSS feed is created.
3. Set up social media accounts to broadcast news and updates.
4. Turn on the mobile version of your VLE or LMS. At University of Leicester, we began to make use of the Blackboard Mobile Learn app last autumn. This is not a free option within Blackboard, however.
5. Invest in secure SMS text messaging services on behalf of the institution. Sending texts to let students know a lecture has been cancelled is usually very well appreciated.
6. Try making some learning materials available not only as Word documents but as pdf (viewable on all mobile devices) and epub, and ask students for feedback on how they look on their devices. The free software Calibre easily converts a document to epub. It is best to save a Word document first as html, then import into Calibre, then convert to epub. Additionally it can be converted to mobi pocket, the format for Kindles.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

Tangible benefits of mobile learning

This is the second in my series of blog posts looking at the JISC Mobile Learning infoKit, published in 2011 and available here. My blog posts in effect re-purpose the infoKit as they consist of my notes and thoughts on what has changed in the mobile learning terrain especially in the light of evidence being found and discussed in the Places project, evaluating the use of tablet PCs at University of Leicester. To give further background, I also worked on the DUCKLING project and keep referring to findings from the e-book reader case studies in that project (in which we pre-loaded simple e-book readers with learning material and shipped to distance students in lieu of much printed material and notes).

Introduction (continued)

Why Mobile Learning?

“Looking at mobile learning in a wider context, we have to recognize that mobile, personal, and wireless devices are now radically transforming societal notions of discourse and knowledge, and are responsible for new forms of art, employment, language, commerce, deprivation, and crime, as well as learning.” (Traxler, 2009)

Although Traxler rightly points out negative products of mobile device use, his key point of ‘transforming societal notions of discourse and knowledge’ reveals why educational institutions must incorporate these notions if they are to remain relevant.

Tangible Benefits

A very useful list of measurable mobile learning benefits is proposed in the infoKit. I mark each benefit we saw in the DUCKLING e-book reader study, and benefits we are seeing in Places tablet PC studies:

  1. Personal, private and familiar – the ‘personalness’ reduces the sense of obstacles to learning –DUCKLING, Places
  2. Pervasive and ubiquitous – DUCKLING, Places
  3. Fitting into the lives of learners – allowing user to make use of even spare 10 minutes – DUCKLING, Places
  4. Portable – enabling learning in any place and at any time – DUCKLING, Places
  5. Immediacy of communication – Places
  6. Bringing learning to those in remote or isolated areas – DUCKLING, Places
  7. Location-aware contextualisation – GPS capability
  8. Immediate capture of data and learning processes – camera, video, sound recording, text input – Places
  9. On-the-move access to tutors and peers- Places
  10. Learners can receive reminders and chasers – Places?
  11. Bite-sized resources – helpful when learning skills or on-the-job – DUCKLING, Places
  12. Abstract and concrete knowledge can be integrated – Places
  13. Peer-to-peer network fosters student-centred learning – Places
  14. Promotes active learning – Places
  15. Enables new learning environments
  16. Accessibility – DUCKLING, Places
  17. Enables reflection close to the learning event (in both time and place) – Places?
  18. Reduces technical barriers to e-learning- DUCKLING, Places

Now that I’m considering the DUCKLING use of simple e-book readers by busy distance masters students, and the Places use (also by busy distance masters students) of the iPad with the bespoke app containing multimedia learning materials, I see that in both, the main use of the device is to serve to the students learning materials created by instructors, and the main intended benefit that they can carry around all of this learning material and study it anytime, anywhere. No communication was possible using the e-book reader, but of course it is possible with the iPad. With the iPad, students are encouraged to use Twitter to keep in touch with their tutor, and to use discussion boards to discuss with tutor and peers. Knowledge creation or capture using the iPad was not exactly designed into the course; however, students are reporting new study strategies they are developing with new apps they discover, such as a mind-mapping tool and Evernote for storing notes in the cloud.

I wrote ‘Places?’ next to those benefits which are possible with the iPad, but for which I have not yet seen evidence from the students.

There are a couple of other examples of mobile learning which deliver obvious benefits but which fall outside of my two projects, which I’d like to note. One is the use of mobiles as a field notebook; for example, students are walking around, observing plants, taking photos, making notes, measuring, comparing, filming live action. They might be storing this data only on their own devices, or they could be saving everything to a central location in the cloud. This corresponds to benefits 7, 8, 12, 14, 15, 17, and 18.

The other notable example is the use of iPhones at University of Leeds medical school (Apple, 2011). 4th and 5th year medical students are loaned iPhones which are loaded with many key medical and pharmaceutical texts, as well as medical apps, so that right in the clinic they may check references, note issues arising, and use many other useful medical apps, with an iPhone which is more hygenic for being on the wards than is a traditional notebook. I would say this use demonstrates every benefit in the list except possibly number 6.

Have you encountered other tangible benefits of mobile use not in the above list? Leave a comment!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

Apple. (2011). Apple (United Kingdom) – Education – Profiles – Leeds School of Medicine changes learning culture with work-based iPhones. Apple Education Case studies. Retrieved January 6, 2013, from http://www.apple.com/uk/education/profiles/leeds-uni/

Traxler, J. (2009). Current State of Mobile Learning. (M. Ally, Ed.)Mobile Learning Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, 5(2), 9–24. Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120155/ebook/01_Mohamed_Ally_2009-Article1.pdf

Definitions of Mobile Learning

Notes on the JISC Mobile Learning InfoKit
as considered in the light of new mobile learning developments and the University of Leicester Places mobile learning evaluation project

The JISC Mobile Learning InfoKit was launched at ALT-C 2011. It was created as a guide for institutions considering the implementation of mobile learning initiatives, especially implementations that are policy-led and sustainable.

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 13.22.27

This is the first in a series of posts serving as my notebook on this excellent resource, including my thoughts as a result of the 18 months of mobile learning development which have ensued since the launch of the InfoKit, as well as my thoughts as a result of working on the Places project, evaluating mobile learning at the University of Leicester.
I. Overview
“A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability.” (Dewey, 1916)

The key consideration in any mobile learning initiative is the learner. Any institution or individual considering mobile learning should continue to return to questions about benefits to the learner. Gaining feedback from learners is key, as is considering context.

What is mobile learning?

Mobile learning is both a ‘trojan horse’ and a vehicle for exploring the changing nature of learning in a connected age.

Mike Sharples: “the processes (both personal and public) of coming to know through exploration and conversation across multiple contexts amongst people and interactive technologies.” (Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2005)

Agnes Kukulska-Hulme: “…mobility is the central issue (Winters, 2006). This denotes not just physical mobility but the opportunity to overcome physical constraints by having access to people and digital learning resources, regardless of place and time.” (Kukulska-Hulme, 2010)

MoLeNET: “exploitation of ubiquitous handheld hardware, wireless networking and mobile telephony to facilitate, support, enhance and extend the reach of teaching and learning.” (TribalGroup, 2009)

The one question I have with each one of these defintions is that I wonder if they give enough weight to the older and less sophisticated forms of mobile learning, for example the simple consumption of educational podcasts from an mp3 player. Remember that this was the big new idea which encouraged Duke University to give out iPods to each of its first year students back in 2004 (Joly, 2005) and this was arguably the catalyst for both the proliferation of captured lectures and (not so arguably) the creation of iTunes U. I can say that each of the above definitions does include this form of mobile learning. Yet because mobile learning has so quickly moved to including wireless connectivity with an infinite number of resources and other people, that I think the simple advantage of having learning materials in the palm of one’s hand, for one to spend time on without discussion or interaction, may be regarded as lesser or outdated or even a bad model. I don’t think it is a bad model because it is similar to the simple act of reading a paper book. Indeed, many e-readers sold today are still simple vehicles of e-book delivery and presentation, and do not excel at or even offer interactivity with other materials or people. This is important to consider for our current Places project, because Places studies the use in a University of Leicester programme of tablet PCs which were chosen to essentially serve multimedia learning materials and for which connectivity to other users was an important but secondary consideration when shaping the programme. Also, this project is an outgrowth of a previous project, DUCKLING, in which distance masters students received simple, non-networked ebook readers loaded with instructor-created learning material. It is indeed necessary that mobile learning has moved on to include connectivity to resources and people in the palm of one’s hand, but also I do not want to overlook these other original benefits of mobile learning.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (p. 434). MacMillan.
Joly, K. (2005). Duke University iPod first-year experience: So, was it worth it? | collegewebeditor.com. College Web Editor website. Retrieved August 19, 2011, from http://collegewebeditor.com/blog/index.php/archives/2005/06/16/duke-university-ipod-first-year-experience-so-was-it-worth-it/
Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2010). Mobile learning as a catalyst for change. Open Learning The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 25(3), 181–185. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/23773/1/Open_Learning_editorial_(Accepted_Manuscript).doc
Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a Theory of Mobile Learning. Mind, 1(1), 1–9.
TribalGroup. (2009). Mobile Learning Network (MoLeNET). Molenet Project Website. Retrieved October 8, 2012, from http://www.m-learning.org/case-studies/molenet-

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester

DIY Multimedia Ebooks for Distance Students

Our colleague Phil Wood of the University of Leicester School of Education has recently launched a new distance masters program in which students are furnished with iPads. The iPads are not preinstalled with anything. (I don’t even know if it’s possible to do that). Phil wrote the course material first and released it on our university VLE Blackboard. Then he turned his attention to formatting the material for the iPad and decided to use iBooks Author. iBooks Author is for Macs only and is free if you have the latest version of the Mac OS. Phil decided to use this because it is easy to use, offers lovely templates and easily accommodates multimedia such as video and podcasts.


Phil demonstrated his DIY ebook for delegates from the Open University of China at a session 23rd of November, 2012, at Beyond Distance, University of Leicester

Phil reported it was not very difficult to cut and paste the already written material into iBooks Author; it required about 10 hours to do 101 pages. The difficulty was that once he imported videos and podcasts, the ebook was over 500 MB in size. The problem then was how to transfer this document onto the students’ iPads in remote locations. For some reason even smaller portions of the book could not be transferred through Blackboard. I need to get to the bottom of the technical reasons for that.

In the end the best option was to use iTunes U Course Manager. This is possible to use even though our university is not yet launched our iTunes U channel. Phil created a new course using Safari on his computer; all he needed was his own Apple ID. For the Course Material, he uploaded his new ebook.

Phil emailed me the link so I could test it; I was the first to enrol on his new course. I selected the ebook to download; it took about 10 minutes to download it onto my iPad 1, while I was sitting in my kitchen at 9.30pm, using Virgin broadband. At first I could read everything but not view the multimedia; that was because I had not upgraded to the latest iBooks. So I upgraded, and everything played perfectly. Phil emailed his students with the private link to his course; when I spoke to him a day or two later, Phil reported that roughly one-third to one-half of the students had already enrolled in the course to access the ebook, and no problems had yet been reported. These students are located all around the world.


iBooks Author saves in the formats .ibooks (for the Apple iBooks app), .pdf and text.

If and when I learn whether students experience issues, I will blog about it here.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester


iPad use in UK Higher Education

As I am a member of the Association for Learning Technology (and even have my CMALT!), I am involved in the ALT mailing list. A few days ago, someone asked what use of iPads is happening amongst the higher education institutions of the UK. Of course I mentioned our project, Places, which is evaluating the use of iPads in two distance learning masters programmes of the University of Leicester.

How I use my iPad – Nathan Huneke from Manchester Medical School on Vimeo.

Several other uses of iPads emerged from the email discussion:

Imperial College  Business School gave out over 650 iPads to MSc and MBA students as part of a move to seamless learning via paperless delivery. Article here:


700 students who used iPads at Manchester Medical School, not yet written up and published, but here is a qualitative view (the video in this blog is from this Vimeo channel:


From Msc Intl Business at Leeds University Business School, the website now includes a first, mid-semester evaluation of what we have done so far with iPads:


And Networked Learning Technologies in Art and Design:


I am sure there are many more. If you are aware of an iPad or other tablet use in Higher Education or Further Education in the UK, please leave a comment and let us know!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester