Mobile learning

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Draft 3

Editor: Mike Sharples, Learning Sciences Research institute, University of Nottingham, UK

Contributors: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, The Open University UK / Gonca Telli Yamamoto, Okan University, Turkey / John Traxler, University of Wolverhampton, UK


Any sort of [technology enhanced] learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies..

Comments on the history

In the early 1970s Alan Kay and colleagues proposed the concept of a Dynabook as a "personal dynamic medium the size of a notebook". That group developed the desktop computer as an "interim Dynabook" and the Smalltalk language as its communications system. In 1991 Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow used a tablet computers connected by a wireless network to communicate between children on a field trip and others located in the school 15 miles away. Two projects funded in the early 2000s by the European commission - MOBIlearn and M-learning - established mobile learning in Europe, leading to the mLearn, WMUTE, and IADIS Mobile Learning international conference series and establishment of the International Association for Mobile Learning.

Related terms

Pervasive Learning, Ubiquitous Learning, Seamless Learning, Augmented Reality Learning, One to One Learning, Handheld Learning, Mobile Ubiquitous and Immersive Technology Enhanced Learning, Blended Learning.

Translation issues

There are translation issues related to the phrase ‘mobile learning'. For example, in French there are several terms in use: l'apprentissage nomade, l'enseignement nomade, le nomad-learning, l'apprentissage mobile, le m-learning, and le mobile-learning. In English there are related and overlapping terms, including: handheld learning, pervasive learning, ambient learning and ubiquitous learning. Each of these terms can be used in some combination of technology orientation, learning orientation, or socio-cultural orientation (e.g. learning in a mobile world).

There are also differences in the interpretation of ‘mobile learning' that arise from cultural and national priorities and research cultures. Thus, research in Europe arising from the MOBIlearn and m-Learning projects has an emphasis on the mobility of the learner and connecting learning across contexts (Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2009). In the US, a predominant focus is on effective delivery of educational content and applications on portable devices such as smartphones and tablet computers (Roschelle & Pea, 2002). A related perspective associated with the G1:1 network (Chan et al. 2006) embraces 1 to 1 learning in classrooms with each child equipped with a personal wireless device (see also, Zurita & Nussbaum, 2004). Another perspective embraces ‘mobile technology for development', where mobile services including SMS and mobile web access can enable learning for professional development, conversation and collaboration where such communication was not previously available (Traxler, J. & Leach, J, 2007).

Disciplinary issues

The definition above, adapted from O’Malley et al. (2003), is generally accepted . It indicates the dual nature of learning assisted by mobile devices, which could be in a fixed location such as a classroom or workplace, or across contexts supported by a variety of fixed and mobile technology. For the former, the focus is on enabling learning with handheld technology. For the latter, the emphasis is on the mobility of the learner in a technology-rich environment.

The field has been characterized by two types of activity: first, adopting mobile technology for learning across physical, social or economic distance and separation; and second, using handheld devices to enhance, extend or disrupt prevalent conceptions of learning. How these activities are expressed may be determined by physical and environmental factors and by differing notions of education in formal and informal contexts.

Mobile technologies, and mobility of learning, are ‘boundary objects’ with interpretations that differ amongst disciplinary communities. Thus, the key concept of ‘context’ for mobile learning can be seen from a technology perspective as an integration of data sources or from a activity theory perspective as being generated through by the activities of objective-oriented people mediated by technology Sharples et al. (2007) is an attempt to reconcile the technical and socio-cultural perspectives of mobile learning.

Key references

[1] Kukulska-Hulme, A., Sharples, M., Milrad, M., Arnedillo-Sánchez, I. & Vavoula, G. (2009) Innovation in Mobile Learning: a European Perspective. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 1,1, 13-35.

[2] Chan, T-W., Roschelle, J., Hsi, S., Kinshuk, Sharples, M. and 16 others (2006) One-to-one Technology Enhanced Learning: An Opportunity for Global Research Collaboration. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 1,1 pp. 3-29.

[3] O'Malley, C., Vavoula, G., Glew, JpP., Taylor, J., Sharples, M. & Lefrere, P. (2005). Guidelines for Learning/Teaching/Tutoring in a Mobile Environment. MOBIlearn project report, D4.1.

[4] Roschelle, J., Pea, R. (2002). A walk on the WILD side: How wireless handhelds may change computer-supported collaborative learning. International Journal of Cognition and Technology, 1(1), 145-168.

[5] Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2007) A Theory of Learning for the Mobile Age. In R. Andrews and C. Haythornthwaite (eds.)The Sage Handbook of Elearning Research. London: Sage, pp. 221-47.

[6] Traxler J. & Leach J. (2006) Innovative and sustainable mobile learning in Africa. WMUTE 2006: Proceedings of the IEEE 4th International Workshop on Wireless, Mobile and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education, Los Alamitos, CA, USA, IEEE Computer Society.

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