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Written by Annette Devilee – prepared as part of the assessment for her Master of Learning Science and Technology (MLS&T) at The University of Sydney. 2008.


This literature review began as an investigation on mobile learning but really ended up reviewing a far wider range of issues such as the digital divide and barriers such as prevailing attitudes and fears. It has led me to consider mobile technologies not so much as something separate from e-learning but as a natural progression in our networking and communication capabilities, taking learning outside the classroom and outside school hours. Are the advancements in the small portable devices going to provide the possibility of one-to-one computing (one computing device for each student)? Could this give us a chance to realize the vision to foster technological and new media literacies (Chan et al., 2006)? How can we harness the enthusiasm and popularity of these mobile devices amongst this generation of students to add value to education and enhance the learning/teaching process?
The purpose of this essay is to investigate the opportunities provided to education by mobile technologies in a balanced unbiased way so the advantages and disadvantages are equally considered.


1.  A learner centred approach
1.1.  The Student Needs
1.2.  New Pedagogies
2.  Technological Opportunities
2.1.  Affordances of MWDs
2.2.  The Mobile Technologies
2.3.  Accessibility
3.  Developing a Teaching Methodology
3.1.  New Learning Styles
3.2.  Good m-learning makes the most
3.3  Uses for m-learning
4.  Issues Facing the Implementation of these Technologies.
4.1.  The Digital Divide
4.2.  Attitudes and Fear
4.3.  The Up side
4.3.1. For the Student
4.3.2. For the Teacher
4.3.3. For the Community
4.4.  The Potential Downside
5.  Conclusion
6.  References

1. A learner centred approach

1.1.  The Student Needs

Most of our present generation of students were brought up as Digital Natives (Prensky) using computers and mobile phones. The immediacy of Short Message Service (SMS) instant messages has become the norm. We may hear the older Digital Immigrants complaining about the limited size of screens and buttons on MWDs but “it is precisely the combination of miniaturization, mobility, and power that grabs today’s Digital Natives.” (Prensky, 2005) Mobile phones are now owned by 95% of Australians (Low, 2007) opening the possibilities for mobile communication in education (Viteli, 2000).

Dede (2005) considers the needs of today’s students in terms of their “Neomillennial Learning Styles“. Students are now fluent in multiple media, they prefer to collectively “seek, sieve, and synthesise” experiences rather than individually locate and absorb information from a single best source. They want active learning experiences based on real or simulated experience with opportunities for reflection. Their preferred medium for expression is nonlinear, associational webs of representation rather than linear “stories” and they want to be co-designers of their learning experience so they can personalise it according to their individual needs and preferences (Dede, 2005).

Sword & Leggott, (2007) believe that that if the Ne[x]t Generation of students are to face the intellectual, technological, and cultural challenges of the future without losing sight of the past we will need to adopt teaching methods that will cultivate their ability to see both forwards and backwards. They suggest the following seven key strategies to do this:
1. relinquish authority,
2. recast students as teachers, researchers, and producers of knowledge,
3. promote collaborative relationships,
4. cultivate Multiple Intelligences,
5. foster critical creativity,
6. encourage resilience in the face of change and
7. craft assignments that look both forward and backwards.

These Digital Natives, the Ne[x]t Generation with Neomillennial Learning Styles, do not want to memorise endless facts because today’s facts are often tomorrow’s history. They want and need skills for the future.

“The tolerance of consumers for a traditional pedagogical approach is fast disappearing.” (Peters, 2005)

1.2. New Pedagogies

New pedagogies already exist that can accommodate these neomillennial learning styles to meet the evolving needs and interests of our students (Dede, 2006). These new pedagogies are underpinned by a social constructivist learning theory (Vygotsky, 1978), principles of situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991), ideas of distributed cognition and connectivism (Siemens 2004) emphasising the connectedness of learners (Low & O’Connell 2006). This learner centered educational philosophy is based on giving the learner a degree of control over their own learning to “provide challenge, motivation and engagement for a wide range of student groups.” (Hennessy et al, 2007. p.140)

Solving real-world problems motivates these students. They want Authentic Learning and they prefer doing rather than listening. Immersion in authentic learning experiences cultivates “portable skills”, transferable knowledge, such as critical thinking, judgment, patience, discrimination and flexibility. The benefits of authentic activity “can be realized through careful design of Web-based learning environments.”(Herrington et al., 2002, Cited in  Lombardi & Oblinger, 2007). We will later explore how mobile learning experiences can provide these authentic activities.

Teacher and student roles have to change when these new pedagogies are adopted. The teacher becomes the facilitator rather than the leader and source of knowledge. The student becomes a co-desiger with power to influence the learning experience and a co-instructor as they engage in collaboration and peer tutoring (Dede 2005).

These new pedagogies emphasise the social means of learning so students are often working in collaborative groups, they become a community of learners whose focus is on “knowledge building” (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003) rather than on knowledge acquisition. They are actively constructing dynamic knowledge and understanding, no longer absorbing information as passive receptacles that will regurgitate static facts.

Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler (2005) make a distinction between didactic and discursive learning with mobile technology. A didactic approach would be to deliver learning materials to the device for the student to absorb. A discursive approach implies that the student uses the device for interactions and discourse with others in the learning community (p.26).

“The skills of constructing and exploring knowledge, conversing and collaborating with peers, and the ability to control one’s own learning are fundamental requirements of effective learning”
(Sharples 2001:7, cited in Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler 2005, p.30)

2.  Technological Opportunities

2.1.   Affordances of MWDs

The primary concern must always be on how the technology can enhance learning outcomes within the framework of these new pedagogies. MWDs provide “new opportunities…to be more intensely connected” (Roschelle, J. et al. 2005, p. 159).

“By utilizing computing power and wireless capability, these mobile technologies can make learning expedient, immediate, authentic, accessible, efficient and convenient” (Curtis et al. 2002; Kynäslahti 2003; Ogata &Yano 2004, cited in Lai et al, 2007, p.3)

Mobile technologies provide learning that is:

  •  Social, multi-way communications for social interaction;
  •  Situated (typically in the field or at the workplace);
  •  Contextualised through mediation with peers and teachers;
  •  Instant (with guidance and feedback);
  •  Accessable and available on demand (learning materials);
  •  Portable, flexible, anywhere and anytime (way to overcome barriers for those separated by huge distances);
  •  Interactivity, facilitating student control of the learning process;
  •  Personalised, tailored to the individual learner;
  •  Rapid, just-in-time learning.

All of these provisions support social, active, productive, creative, and collaborative learning that can increase student motivation, participation and engagement. It provides opportunities for any time, any place access to web-based information that can be used to expand the learning experience (Peters, 2005) and thus create Portable Personal Learning Environments (PPLEs). One-to-one computing with wireless connectivity can enable PPLEs but ownership of the device is important if the student is going to use it. These PPLEs serve as “gateways to rich, highly contextualised activities, virtual environments and augmented realities.

MWDs are also able to create a Seamless Learning Space which extends “formal learning time, usually limited to the classroom, into informal learning time, to embrace opportunities for out-of-school learning driven by the personal interests of students” (Computer Research Associations, 2005).

Note that, MWDs are ‘personal’ so if the device is loaned it is portable but not personal hence the “loaned device may not be appropriated by its user or integrated into daily patterns of activity” (Kakulska-Hulme, 2005, p.192).

2.2. The Mobile Technologies


The Technology Capabilities Instructional Use Pros Cons
Ipod Able to download, store and play a range of audio/video files: music, audio books, podcasts, photos and video.

Contains an address book and calendar.

Can add microphone to create podcasts.


Current leading platform for m-learning, with 47% of trainers and educators using m-learning indicating they target iPods for the delivery of their content. (Low, 2007)

Exchange information files, collaborate, can provide visual step-by-step directions


Immediacy of information


One way communication, no interactivity

Small screens

Smart Phone 3G (Internet equipped) mobile combines telephone capability with a PDA, camera, video, mass storage, MP3 player, internet access and networking

Download, store, display, and create text audio and video and exchange media via MMS, email and SMS

Second-most popular platform for m-learning. (Low, 2007)

Enables collaboration, and interactive learning.

Scientific data collection, visual journalism (photos)

Combines computing and communication capabilities


Small Screen

Small keyboard



The Technology Capabilities Instructional Use Pros Cons
Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) Plays audio, video and flash movies

Includes computing power, Internet access and emails, notepad, address book, pen stylus

Word processing.


Third most popular for m-learning platform. (Low, 2007)

Able to connect to the Internet and interface with both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools enabling collaboration.

Internet browsing capabilities provide a mobile research tool


Supports Interactivity

Larger screen


Bigger than pocket size

Tedious for long text entries

MP3 Player Download and listen to music, podcasts and audio lectures, audio books.

Some can record information.

Listen to lectures or language lessons (any audio resource Compact, light One way communication, no interactivity
USB Drive Storage device Easily transferring data between computers or school and home, Small and portable Single purpose device
E Book reader Download, store and display text-based materials Listen to book while active

Reading or marking

Large screen and easy to read Single purpose device
The Technology Capabilities Instructional Use Pros Cons
Ultra-Mobile PC Same capabilities as a tablet PC but much smaller

Touch sensitive screen

Mobile computing functions

Immediate processing and analysis of data

Good for viewing multimedia and Web Small keyboard


Laptop/Tablet PC The most complete and functional system Extensive use in most subjects Portability of full functions


Can not be used while walking


Proximal learning technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
Ability to determine precise position has clear
Content or delivery can be modified according to the learner’s location,
Applications in geography, orienteering, archaeology, architecture, science, and maths.

While RFID and GPS may be used to passively alert the learner and automatically offer content (‘passive’ use),

Good for distance education and field trips May infringe privacy
Radio Frequency Identity
Tags (small microchips) embedded in an object are able to exchange basic wireless information with specially designed hardware readers including mobile phone, a Pocket PC or PDAs. RFID enabled mobile phones with in built read and write capabilities.
Used in museums
Controversial use with refugees and intellectually handicapped people
Object Specific


Limited use for one item.


The Technology Capabilities Instructional Use Pros Cons
2D Barcodes 2D barcodes can be used to overcome the limitations of the small keypads on most mobile devices.
Mobile phones and PDAs can generate barcodes that can store over 4,000 alphanumeric characters making it easy to share data instantly among a group of learners.
2D barcodes must be observed and voluntarily interacted with by the learner (‘active’ use).

This can be used to assist face-to-face exchanges


Low cost way to transfer data Limit in size of data
Simple Syndication
RSS is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. as


RSS can be considered as a ‘social glue’ to keeps learners and teachers actively in touch with each other. RSS ‘feeds’ can be directly read on mobile devices such as mobile phones and PDAs. Easy way to keep up to date- automatic distribution Not personalised

3.  Developing a Teaching Methodology

3.1.   New Learning Styles

The next question is how can we use these MWDs to enhance teaching and learning? Can mobile technologies be used to promote deep knowledge and transferable skills?  We can begin to answer these questions by considering how to use the devices can be used to “facilitate listening, observing, imitating, questioning, reflecting, estimating, predicting, hypothesising and practicing functions” (Edwards, R. 2005, p.52). Alternatively, these questions can be considered from simpler learning activities suggested by Prensky and Brown, the “Four R’s” for Net Generation learning:

  • Record: The learner as a gatherer and “builder” of new knowledge.
  • Reinterpret: The learner as an analyst of existing data to discover new knowledge.
  • Recall: The learner as a user of existing information and resources.
  • Relate: The learner as part of a social context and a network of knowledge.

(Prensky 2001a, 2001b; Brown, 2002, cited in Low & O’Connell, 2006).

M-learning does offer the opportunity for a contextualised authentic learning experience but it still needs skilled facilitation and guidance from teachers if learners are to benefit. Skilled facilitation and guidance can help to deepen their understanding of these situated activities (Low & O’Connell 2006).

3.2 Good m-learning makes the most of the affordances provided by the technology within a structure that provides:

  • guidance (supervisor, co-worker and assessor),
  • discussion (via the moblog and email),
  • critical thinking (trainee revises ideas following input of others or review of procedure herself),
  • ownership and reward for effort (the trainee’s recording, subsequently rewarded for effort via workplace acknowledgement and achieving competency). (Low & O’Connell 2006).

3.3  Uses for m-learning

Much like many other new technologies, how they are used is really only limited by ones imagination and proficiency with the tools. Below is a list of just some ideas for use in education:

  • Administration:
    • Automated mobile data recording such as making the roll on a PDA and sending it directly to the administration office.
    • Text message automatically sent to parents who’s children are absent (reduce truancy)
    • Course or class administration- student records on PDAs
  • Organisation:
    • Daily news sent directly to teachers and students with a PDA or mobile phone.
    • Room changes or messages instantly sent by SMS to teachers and students
    • mobile technologies such as Barcodes for libraries
  • Teaching aids:
    • Flexible learning provided for distance education students by recording and transmitting lessons via Pod casts.
    • Field-trip-based and outdoor learning extending scope of current education
  • Learning support tools:
    • Scientific data collection
    • Visual journalism- Creative cell phone photos can inspire students’ creative writing via caption or story contests.
    • Virtual library of electronic documentation in our pockets at an affordable rate.

4.  Issues Facing the Implementation of these Technologies.

4.1. The Digital Divide

The Digital Divide refers to the chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of digital devices. Overcoming this issue of device ownership, having one-to-one computing, is an essential hurdle that must be crossed if we are to cross this chasm that causes this digital divide. Narrowing this digital divide is possible if the cost of the digital devices drops enough for every single student to have one (Chan et al., 2006). The relative low cost of mobile phones may provide the means to cross this digital divide.

4.2. Attitudes and Fear

Educational conversations about mobiles in schools are still dominated by questions of control & regulation (Goggin, 2005). It is public knowledge that the SMS casting service available on mobile phones was used to gather people to the 2005 Cronulla riots. This type of incident causes “moral panics” which are often associated with the regulation of sub-cultural groups by dominant groups (Goggin 2005). People are afraid of these negative possibilities. The existing conservative ‘social and hierarchical ‘ structures in educational institutions makes them slow to change and adverse to these types of risk.  The use of SMS casting service is still bogged down in issues such as the cost of the calls and who pays.

4.3. The Up side

4.3.1. For the Student

A mobile learner is able to:

  • upload information to web-based tools,
  • interact with the tools using mobile internet,
  • integrate web 2.0 services and
  • share mobile learning resources

These abilities can be used to construct a ‘mobile, social ecology’ surrounding a mobile learner (Low, 2006).

4.3.2. For the Teacher

M-learning does have the potential to free up teachers from the delivery of materials to focus on the management of learning ways that will prepare students for their future in the information age. However, the adoption of this innovation would probably redefine the role of teachers. Traxer (2005) describes an interesting possible outcome. It could mean less face-to-face contact with students and the development of content and learning objects may be done by what he calls “‘para-academics’ (staff skilled in learning materials, design, graphics, technologies and content) (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler 2005, p.30).

4.3.3.  For the Community

Howard (2005, cited in Chan et al.) predicts that cell phones and wireless devices will “allow global participation on a scale not yet seen. New online communities will emerge and social networking will expand. Free access to information and a means for anyone to participate will be available to huge numbers of people previously excluded from the information age. This will have a significant impact in politics, government, business, religion and education on our institutions”. (p.18)

4.4.   The Potential Downside

Blending informal and formal environments with pervasive computing as a threat to a balanced life.

  • Challenging data security, integrity, and privacy issues.
  • Being co-opted into the industry logic of a persistent digital divide.
  • The high environmental and ecological costs of low-cost pervasive computing.
    Chan et al., (2006)

These issues certainly warrant further discussion but I must refer you to the article by Chan et al. (2006) for this.

5.  Conclusion

Useability issues limit the use of MWDs to certain tasks that are “content light”. Chan et al. (2006) argue that three factors “will create the potential for a new phase in the evolution of technology-enhanced learning, characterized by ‘seamless learning spaces’.” (Chan et al., 2006, p.)

  1. Ubiquitous access to mobile, connected, and personal, handhelds.
  2. The relentless pace of technological developments in one-to-one computing.
  3. The evolution of new innovative uses of these handhelds.

Ragus (2006) agrees that mobile learning has an enormous potential for the teacher’s ‘kit of creative practice’ but he warns that we will need a planned and structured system that incorporates this technology into the day to day operations of learning organisations, from administration to learning delivery and from staff to the learners” if we are going to realise the potential. So many educational innovations have failed to add value to education, not because they lack potential, but “because of poor adoption, implementation, institutionalization, and support strategies” (Tinker et al, 2007).

6.  References

  1. Chan, T., Roschelle, J., Hsi, S., Kinshuk, Sharples, M., Brown, T., Patton, C., Cherniavsky, J., Pea, R., Norris, C., Soloway, E., Balacheff, N., Scardamalia, M., Dillenbourg, P., Looi, C., Milrad, M., & Hoppe, U. (2006). One-to-one technology-enhanced learning: An opportunity for global research collaboration. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 1(1), 3-29.
  2. Corbeil, J.R. & Valdes-Corbeil, M.E. (2007) Are you ready for Mobile Learning? Frequent use of mobile devices does not mean that students or instructors are ready for mobile learning and teaching. EDUCASE quarterly 2, 2007
  3. Dede, C (2005) Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles, EDUCASE Quarterly, No 1 2005
  4. Goggin, G. ( 2005) Mobile Technologies for Learning. Centre for Critical & Cultural Studies, University of Queensland. Presentation for Schools, Scholars and Cybraries: Technologies and Spaces for Learning. University of Queensland Library Cyberschool Seminar 2005, Brisbane
  5. Hennessy, S., Wishart, J., Whitelock, D., Deaney, R., Grawn, R., la Velle, L., McFarlane, A., Ruthven, K. and Winterbottom, M. (2007) Pedagogical approaches for technology-integrated science teaching. Computers & Education 48 (2007) 137-152
  6. Kukulska-Hulme, K. and Traxler, J. (2005) Mobile Learning. A handbook for educators and trainers edited by Kukulska-Hulme, K. and Traxler, J. Open and flexible learning series Routledge Taylor and francis Group
  7. Lai, H. Yang, J., Chen, F. Ho, W. &. Chan T. (2007) Affordances of mobile technologies for experiential learning: the interplay of technology and pedagogical practices Journal of Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  8. Lenhart, A., Madden, M., & Hitlin, P.(2005) Teens and Technology Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation July 27, 2005
  9. Lombardi, M.M. & Diana G. Oblinger, D.G. (2007) Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview, ELI Paper 1: 2007, May 2007 © 2007 EDUCAUSE Educase Learning Initiative Viteli, J. (2000) Finnish Future: From eLearning to mLearning? ASCILITE 2000 conference
  10. Low, L. & O’Connell, M. (2006) Connections: Social and mobile tools for enhancing learning
  11. Low, L. (2007) M-learning standards report Background, discussion and recommendations for usable and accessible m-learning 
  12. O’Connell, M. & Smith. J. (2007) A guide to working with m-learning standards A manual for teachers, trainers and developers
  13. Peters, K. (2005) Learning on the move. Mobile technologies in business and education Researcher: Kristine Peters 2005 Australian Flexible Learning Framework
  14. Prensky, M. (2005 ) What Can You Learn from a Cell Phone? Almost Anything! Originally published in Innovate ( Accessed on 31 June from
  15. Ragus, M. (2006) M learning: A future of learning.
  16. Roschelle, J. Sharples, M. et al. (2005) “Introduction to the special issue on wireless and mobile technologies in education,‿ Journal of Computer Assisted Learning vol 21., no3, pp 159.
  17. Sword, H. and Leggott, M. (2007) Backwards into the Future: Seven Principles for Educating the Ne(x)t Generation Innovate. June/July 2007 Volume 3, Issue 5 accessed on 2 June 2007
  18. Tinker, R., Galvis, A., and Zucker,A. (2007) A Concord Consortium White Paper, COMPUTING IN SUPPORT OF SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS EDUCATION Recommendations for Large-Scale Implementations The Concord Consortium, 16-Feb-07

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