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

iPad as e-book reader: we need more data

The MSc in Security, Conflict, and International Development, was the focus of two papers I presented at the MobiLearnAsia 2012 Conference in Sentosa, Singapore, 24-26 October. This MSc course at the University of Leicester provides an iPad to each student; students are located all over the world, largely in conflict zones.

I presented Mummies, War Zones, and Pompeii: the use of tablet computers in situated and on-the-go learning, and also Embedded E-books and E-readers in  Distance Education. This second presentation is particularly interesting to our Places project, because it shows how the use of iPads in the MSc in Security programme is building on the use of e-readers in Psych and Education  Masters, which was done in the DUCKLING Project. It is great to see how research done in a previous project is being continued and developed, and taking some unexpected turns.

Information assistants carrying iPads at Changi Airport in Singapore

The e-book readers in DUCKLING were pretty basic, the Sony PRS 505, the only model available for purchase in the UK in 2009 which is when DUCKLiNG happened.  We pre-loaded the learning materials, then shipped the devices to students around the world. Because of copyright issues, we could only succeed in including one book on the e-readers, in addition to our instructor-authored learning materials. Time-poor students found the e-readers very helpful to keep up on reading in a convenient, accessible psckage, because they could make use of even 10 minutes during the day. One student felt using the e-reader helped her to focus on assigned reading and achieve better marks in assignments.

In the case of the iPads for MSc In Security, nothing is preloaded; the iPad is simply shipped to the student w instructions to download the free, custom-made app (called ‘SCID’, and it is free in the Apple store). The student downloads the app and has the course information from a single handy source. The student is also given Amazon book vouchers so as to purchase some of the recommended readings for the course.

So far students are very positive about both the app and the iPad, but less positive about e-books on the iPad. One person lives in a country in which Amazon books cannot be purchased. Another person commented thats/he had not yet gotten into the habit of using the iPad for all of the readings.

We need more data to be sure, but in our case, e-books on the iPad don’t seem to be quite as popular as the app, about which students are definitely very positive. Why is this? Is it because we did not pre-install the readings? It does seem clear that in DUCKLING, students liked having the readings pre-installed on the e-book reader. Is it because the iPad is not as easy-on -the-eyes as an e-ink e-reader? We have not asked enough questions yet to make any conclusions at all, but we hope to establish whether the iPad is a successful e-book reader for these distance students.

Finally, we have received word that another distance program at Leicesteer is considering a one-mobile-device-per-student model, but this one may feature not iPads but e-book readers. It would be good if we could get even a bit of data on that one for our Places project as well.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester