mlearning-minstructionI am concerned that mLearning is headed down a similar path to eLearning.  The saying, “There’s an app for that,” seems to reflect this sentiment that all mlearning is equal.  No matter what you’re trying to teach or how you’re trying to teach there seems to “an app for that,” and mlearning is what we’re going to call it.  And this is where I think we start to mash-up the meaning (pun intended).

Mobile learning, or mlearning, has become an umbrella, or catch-all, term for just about anything related to teaching and learning with mobile technologies.  However, using the term so liberally, dilutes the meaning, and it fails to recognize the inherent pedagogical stances that individuals are implementing. There are in fact a number of definitions of mlearning, including the following:

Some of these focus on the technology; some focus on the learner. Interestingly, though, I couldn’t find any Google hits for “define: mobile instruction” or “define: minstruction,” and an open search for “mobile instruction” didn’t really get anywhere either.

A Dead Horse?

This argument isn’t new.  For example, eLearning has had the same problem.  While many individuals will argue that eLearning encompasses corporate training, online and distance education, and even the dated CD-ROM based instruction, the reality is that many corporate eLearning developers have admitted to me that approximately 80% of their instructional development is dedicated to creating linear instruction, or “page turners.” The purpose of many of these modules of instruction is focused on compliance, that is documentation for regulatory agencies.  So, while the purview of learning is controlled by the learner, it seems counter-intuitive that this type of instruction be called eLearning.

Admittedly, though, many universities and K-12 virtual schools are offering courses that are asynchronous and learner-centered and are focused on the needs of the learner.  So, facilitated courses can approach the concept of eLearning.

A Concern for Precision

It is important to mention that I am not belittling or condescending any of flavors of instruction.  Instead, I want to emphasize the need to be specific in identifying the pedagogy we are choosing to use. My overall concern is that we are aggregating widely different instructional strategies, classroom or technology management strategies, and even instructional content into a single idea.

For example, we seem to be equating the following:

This just can’t be right. Are you comfortable with any definition of mobile learning? Is everything mobile learning if it involves a mobile device?

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

10 Thoughts on “mlearning, mInstruction, or just whateva?

  1. This post asks the question, “Is everything mobile learning if it involves a mobile device?” My answer — no. To truly be mobile learning the instruction must be chunked in a way that is useful in environments where mobility makes sense — learning objects, I guess. For example, being able to access instruction from my phone alongside the highway as I need to change a tire qualifies as mobile learning. The instruction also should be designed in terms of layout and usability for mobile devices (note that lack of a standard screen size makes this a challenge).

    The fact that someone can take an iPad to Starbucks and access a History course in Blackboard is not enough to qualify as mobile learning. That student is learning at a place of his/her choosing, but there is nothing about the situation that requires mobility.

    Mobile learning requires certain design elements and certain context of use elements.

    • Excellent points, Chuck. I particularly like that you have attached notions/components of instructional design to the concept of mobile learning. However, I don’t know that most others would agree. For certain, there is a interchangability of mobile computing, mobile technology, and mobile learning. I do believe they are different.

  2. Michael,
    Your post has articulated much of what I have been thinking about related to m-learning. As I have dived into the literature, so many programs under the m-learning banner are all being chided as improvement via technological application. However, program implementers need to step back a moment and start asking some foundational questions; namely, how m-learning is really going to improve learner performance. So many people, myself included, see how mobility can improve learning and are eager to develop products, but we own it to the academic community to be a little more objective and less willing to get an app out there without the research to back it up.

    You are totally right too in how e-learning went through a similar diffusion process and left lots of people wondering how to really make the technology work – and instead ended up with a learning system that is over-dependent on learner motivation and at times lacks substance. I am generalizing here of course, but anyone who has taken a dud Blackboard course can easily argue that ‘e-learning’ in that form is still lacking. We need to really examine the relationship between the technology, pedagogy, and instructional design.

    How then can we harness the potential for m-learning with it being co-opted by a marketing push?

    Check on the August issue of Distance Education for some current examples.

    • Excellent comments, Kevin! I believe many apps are mini drill-and-practice software — only portable. Your thoughts about how is this helping learner performance is right on the money. I think we certainly need to consider what it means for learners to begin learning mobilely. As with many online programs and courses, the impetus for these was “convenience.” I would really like to avoid convenience and primary reason we are implementing mobile learning. I would like to believe that we have learned from the past.

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  5. Allison Rossett on November 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm said:

    Happy to see skeptical questions abt mobile learning. Hope the following article continues the conversation….


  6. Thank you, Chuck. You would think I would know how to copy a url…. I was doing it on my ipad. As wonderful as the device is, it is a bit clunky on such matters.

    Here is another article that speaks to definitional issues surrounding e-learning. Based on a 2009 study and published in T&D in January 2010,

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