Category Archives: General

Theories for Mobile Learning

Current Theories Impacting Mobile Learning

by Mark Sivy

In 1999, the US National Research Council research efforts led to the conclusion that effective learning processes are:

  • Learner-centered, building on the skills and knowledge of students, enabling them to reason from their own experience;
  • Knowledge-centered, using a curriculum based on a sound foundation of validated knowledge that is taught efficiently through the creative use of concepts and methods;
  • Assessment-centered, ensuring instruction that matches the ability of the learners and offering diagnosis and formative guidance that builds on success; and
  • Community-centered, placing learners within a mutually supportive community, sharing knowledge and supporting less capable students.


Mobile Learning Characteristics

In today’s mobile environment, these “centricities” can be addressed by ensuring that learning blends being:

  • Personalized
  • Ubiquitous
  • Distributed
  • Validated
  • On-demand
  • Networked (social)
  • Informal
  • Lifelong

This translates into the notion that the development of mobile learning content and selection of technology be focused by the needs, flexibilities, and desires of the learner.

Situated Learning

Some Theories

Given this framework, there are several current theories that can be applied or adapted to the production of mobile learning. The focus here is to present a selection of these that provide a solid footing in the design and delivery of mobile learning:

  • Personal Constructivism – learning is an active process in which learners construct new idea or concepts based on their experience and knowledge.
  • Situated Learning – a process of unintentional and situated learning through activity, context, and social participation.
  • Social Constructivism – a form of constructivist learning in social settings where learning takes place within a group setting through observation and collaboration.
  • Problem-based Learning – interactively developed problem-solving skills that coincide with the on-demand acquisition of needed skills and knowledge.

Reflection Point – “With Knowledge on Demand, it’s easy for agents to access tools they can use to stay sharp professionally.”    ~ Karen Barone

National Research Council. (1999). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Mobile Learning Resources

Mobile Learning Resources

By Mark Sivy

Here are links to a few mobile learning resources that I’ve used over the years. I hope they prove to be as useful to you as they were to me.


M-learning or mobile learning is defined as “learning across multiple contexts, through social and content interactions, using personal electronic devices.” A form of e-learning distance education, m-learners can use mobile device educational technology in…


Today over 6 billion people have access to a connected mobile device and for every one person who accesses the internet from a computer two do so from a mobile device. Mobile technology is changing the way we live and…

Mobile Learning Blog

I’ve been writing about QR Codes in education for the last five years, on this blog, as well as in a few published and formal papers. Recently, I have been seeing some buzz around QR Codes in education, and without meaning in any way to…

Mobile Learning Portal

This website, hosted by the Learning Technology Center in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, is designed to be a central point of access to the wide range of research, projects, and other resources related to the use of mobile technologies in learning environments. As it continues to…

mobile learningMobile Learning Handbook

This ADL Mobile Learning Handbook is a compilation of mobile learning resources. It is geared towards instructional designers, developers, project managers, and stakeholders to help them better understand the issues, opportunities, and best practices in mobile learning. It is not…

Tribal is a global thought leader in m-learning. We have been active in mobile empowerment and learning since 2001, working to widen opportunities for learning through the use of mobile technologies. If you are looking for strategic advice and support with mobile pedagogy and technologies, or…

International Association for Mobile Learning

IAmLearn is a membership organization to promote excellence in research, development and application of mobile and contextual learning. It organizes the annual mLearn international conference series and manages the website to collate and disseminate information about new projects, emerging technologies, and…

Mobile Learning Basis

Mobile Learning Basis – Internet Growth

by Mark Sivy

Keeping in mind that mobile learning is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance through various contexts and interactions by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological and educational processes and resources, it is dependent upon the Internet. In this post, I’ll discuss the impact of the Internet on online learning in general. Mobile learning is a subset of online learning, which will be discussed in my next post.

The use of the Internet for purposes of communication and information has experienced rapid growth during the past two decades. The 2013 Pew Internet Use Survey results show that over 86% of all adults (18+ years of age) in the United States are connected to the Internet, whereas in 1995 it was 14%. The Miniwatts Marketing Group maintains global Internet usage statistics, which indicated in June 2012 that over 34% of the global population were connected to the Internet and that this indicated a 566% increase since 2000.

Internet UseThe point made by this Internet usage information is that the path is for the broad use of the Internet as a conduit for mobile learning is widening. In a 2012 global Internet user survey by the Internet Society, 98% of the participants agreed that the Internet is essential for access to education and knowledge.

World Internet Penetration 2012Evidence indicates that the use of the Internet for education is steadily increasing and has seen the fastest growth in higher education. An August 2011 Pew Research Center survey, The Digital Revolution and Higher Education, found that 77% of colleges and 89% of four-year universities of offer online courses. Also reflecting this growth in online courses is a Sloan Consortium and Babson Survey Research Group report, Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 2013, which found that over 7.1 million higher education students (33.5%) took at least one online course in the Fall 2013 term. In terms of fully online higher education institutions, the Online Education Database organization currently contains reviews of over 1847 higher education schools in the US that offer online courses.

Mobile learningIn the K-12 setting, there has also been a rapid increase in the use of online courses and resources. There is an increasing emphasis on online and blended courses and online learning systems, such as found in the National Education Technology Plan, released by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010. A Project Tomorrow survey report, Learning in the 21st Century: 2011 Trends Update, found that three times as many high school students and twice as many middle school students are learning online as compared to the original 2007 report. It was also noted that in 2011, 27% of all high school students took at least on class online. In Project Tomorrow’s 2013 Trends in Online Learning Virtual, Blended and Flipped Classrooms, it is reported that 43% of US school districts offer access to online courses. In iNACOL’s 2013 Fast Facts About Online Learning states that five states – Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia, and Michigan – require online learning for students in the public schools. According to the Evergreen Education Group’s 2013 Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning Report, 26 states have state-led virtual schools, 24 states have blended schools, 30 states have fully online schools, and the number of private online learning options is increasing.

Online learning is also playing an important role in the multi-billion dollar corporate training industry as seen in articles such as one at Forbes and another at CNBC. These articles and others indicate the robust adoption of online learning as an active component of corporate training and development efforts. An infographic at the e-Learning Industry website claims that in 2013, 77% of American corporations were using online learning. Global Industry Analysts, Inc. projects that by 2015, education and corporate e-learning will be a US$107 billion industry.

Mobile learning is a variation of online learning which takes into account both the benefits and limitations of mobile devices, typically a tablet or smartphone. Even though the concept of mobile learning (or m-learning as it is often called) has become one of the latest buzzwords in academic and corporate settings, it’s been around for many years with its roots set in scientific visions of the future and science fiction. Today’s perspective of mobile learning is based upon the growing availability of broadband Internet access and the proliferation of Wi-Fi and mobile services such as 3G and 4G.

mobile device

Image courtesy of

Reflection Point – “The next big killer application on the Internet is going to be education.” ~John Chambers

Introducing Mobile Learning

Introducing Mobile Learning

by Mark Sivy

mobile learningAn agreed upon definition for mobile learning is as elusive as those for many other contemporary terms such as e-learning, virtual learning, and web-based learning. For purposes of orientation to mobile learning, I decided to build upon the 2008 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) description of educational technology. So mobile learning can be comprehensively explained as:

“The study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance through various contexts and interactions by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological and educational processes and resources.”

From this rudimentary definition, one can see that mobile learning incorporates complex relationships between multiple factors. Some keywords in this definition are:

  • Study – having knowledge of learning theory and research that are associated with the use of educational technologies.
  • Various Contexts and Interactions – these can provide abundant learning opportunities, but also present many of the unknowns, barriers and issues that can arise.
  • Ethical Practice – increasing the likelihood of attaining intended learning outcomes by being responsible, maintaining a respect for of learner abilities and progress, applying appropriate methodologies, and using principled intentionality when innovating.
  • Appropriate Technological and Educational Processes and Resources – even with a valid need guiding the selection of technology and instructional methodology, the combined implementation can sometimes result in instructional complications and learning issues if the overall strategies are not well-planned.

mobile learningMobile learning is playing an increasingly important role in the learning process by providing the means for convenient learning using a broad range of mobile devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, and smartphones) at a time and location of the learner’s choice. Mobile learning can provide personalized learning advantages to younger learners and can facilitate many aspects of the flipped classroom. When offering learning opportunities for adults, mobile learning provides such advantages as access to on-demand content, self-directed learning, and the individualized incorporation of new knowledge with existing experience.

mobile learning21st Century Learning ideals are facilitated by mobile learning. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has been at the forefront of providing a basis for the remodeling and modernization of instruction, learning and curriculum. Regardless of whether learners are K-12, higher education, or adults, the Partnership’s renowned publication, P21 Framework Definitions document, provides a list of skills that mobile learning can leverage and enhance. These include innovation, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, digital literacy, working in diverse teams, productivity, leadership and managing one’s own learning.

Instructional needs, the ability to facilitate intended learning, and learner access to mobile devices should guide the implementation of mobile learning strategies. Properly trained IT staff are needed for the installation, maintenance, and administration of back-end systems. Talent development is necessary to prepare instructors to produce learning through positive and engaging experiences. Finally, mobile learners need understandable guidelines and readily available support.

Reflection Point: I absolutely think we need to give people access to material where and when they need it. It’s imperative to have a mobile learning strategy and that’s even more important with emerging generations. But I’ll add that when I talk to my peers who are in global companies, nobody has one. ~Karl-Heinz Oehler



Association for Educational Communications and Technology (2008). Definition. In A. Januszewski and M. Molenda (Eds.), Educational Technology: A definition with commentary. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.