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Mobile Learning Overview

Mobile Learning

The effective use of mobile technology brings us closer to personalized learning more than ever before, resulting in offering the right learning resources, training, and performance aids to the right person at the right time and place. The true potential of mobile learning should not be merely described as learning content delivered or accessed on a mobile device. It should be viewed as a way to augment the learner by providing either learning content or support information. Mobile learning should also not be merely viewed as a replacement, an alternative, or as a new flavor of existing education or training delivery methods. It should be thought of as a complementary way to augment or enhance environments that already support learning.

Definition & Perspectives

Both the learners and devices should be considered in order to provide a more flexible view of mLearning. Unlike other learning technologies, mLearning is unique in that it can accommodate both formal and informal learning in collaborative or individual learning modes, and within almost any context.

Consider the following definition of mLearning: Leveraging ubiquitous mobile technology for the adoption or augmentation of knowledge, behaviors, or skills through education, training, or performance support.

This definition allows for a growing number of mLearning scenarios as well as future device capabilities and types. This definition also lends itself to support both education and training in traditional learning environments and performance support scenarios.

Learning Theories for Mobile

Although mLearning design does not necessarily require new models, the mobile devices and learning theories they support are sufficiently unique and warrant special considerations during the design process. Instructional design models such as ADDIE are generally focused on helping lead the designer objectively without premature bias toward a particular solution. Additionally, they help with choosing the appropriate learning technology and instructional strategy. Robust ID models are intended to stand the test of time, and are agnostic to particular technologies and design strategies. However, it is not unusual for instructional designers to combine existing process models with other models, frameworks, or theories. Learning theories are critical to mLearning design because they directly inform choices of learning strategies and can ultimately influence other steps in the ID process.

Based on the work of Piaget and philosophers like Vygotsky, Constructivism is generally recognized as one of three main schools of thought in learning theory. In the past, it was underutilized in learning experience design because of limitations of the learning environment or technology. However, it is now enabled significantly by the mobile platform, occupying a potentially equal seat at the learning design table along with the two other traditionally relied on learning theory schools of thought, Cognitivism and Behaviorism.

Constructivism holds that learners “construct” knowledge and meaning from interactions with other people and their environment; meaning is therefore unique to each individual. New information is assimilated into the learner’s mental schema and filtered through existing knowledge and experiences. Constructivist learning focuses on creating appropriate learning environments with authentic representations of real challenges and tasks that learners can interact with and construct meaning from. This learning theory is especially relevant because mLearning enables learners to communicate, analyze problems, and participate in learning activities in a real world context. In fact, learners can analyze problems in real time without having to return to the classroom.

Constructivism is also often equated with informal learning. Depending on the definition of the latter, there is significant overlap, but they can be differentiated by the fact that informal learning connotes freedom of choice on the part of the learner to determine what activities they are going to engage in to meet the learning objectives; by contrast, constructivist learning environments (CLEs) may be constrained to a finite range of choices (i.e., learners “discover” the solution to a problem by examining the given options that are engineered into the system). There are no unique design considerations for mobile CLEs except that the affordances of the mobile device need to be taken into account; CLES, more than behaviorist or cognitivist experiences, really can benefit the most from mobile technology, since they are often conducted in the field, leveraging the many different data capture and communication features of mobile devices.

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From eLearning to mLearning

From eLearning to mLearning: The Effectiveness of Mobile Course Delivery, paper and presentation as presented Jason Haag during I/ITSEC, November 2011.


When did ADL Initiative get involved with mobile learning?

ADL Initiative has followed the mobile learning industry over the years, and in July 2009 began looking at it strategically to meet the learning needs of the military. At this time ADL Initiative established the ADL Mobile Learning Team, a team dedicated to development and research in the mobile learning field.

How is mLearning different from elearning?

Existing mobile applications and leveraging the web should be considered first, and if a decision is made to create new content, considerations such as: Can the information be made to be more concise? Should the information be sequenced in the same way? Should students be assessed differently? should be evaluated.

Why is mobile learning important?

Mobile learning is important for a number of reasons. It can be inexpensive when compared to traditional learning (and even some forms of e-learning), and it is as far-reaching as there are people with mobile devices. The effective use of mobile technology brings us closer to personalized learning than ever before—the right learning resources and performance aids, to the right person at the right time and place.

What is classified as a mobile device?

ADL Initiative defines handheld computing devices as those that are easily carried in a pocket or pouch, turn on instantly, have connection capabilities although not always connected, and have self-sustaining power. The rationale for not including laptops is that no differentiation needs to be made in the development of learning materials because they support the same desktop browsers for delivery of the content. Mobile devices usually require different design principles, entail user interaction, and offer additional capabilities to enhance learning or performance support. The use of mobile devices for learning or support may not be the best choice in all instances. Factors such as security, ruggedness, connectivity, screen size, input options, and battery life must be considered. In some cases for support at the moment of need, however, it may be the best available option. The penetration of mobile devices within our daily lives can and should be leveraged for new learning opportunities and enhancing military readiness.

Mobile Research

  • Mobile Learning Overview

Mobile Learning: Technology

Mobile Learning: Design


Haag, J. (2011). From eLearning to mLearning: The effectiveness of mobile course delivery [Paper presentation]. In Volume 2011 (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2011 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC). Arlington, VA: National Training and Simulation Association.