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