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