In a previous post, I blogged out loud about my concern for misusing/overusing the term mobile learning, or mlearning.  In fact, a recent post and nudging by Michael Barbour got me to start putting some thoughts down that I’ve been mulling over for a while.  Plus, I have a very talented student right now who is working on a dissertation about mobile learning in higher education, and she has caused me to spend some sleepless nights thinking a lot about this. So, here’s a start to something that I hope will grow into more finalized.  I would really like to have your thoughts about this, so please comment and ask questions.

The definitions of mobile learning that I’ve read and have found, I believe are incomplete. For example:

I particularly like the direction and indecisiveness that Dr. Traxler (e.g., 2005, 2007, 2010) puts on the difficulty in defining mobile learning in a number of his articles on defining mobile learning.  Still, I think these definitions do not ask all the questions appropriate to mobile learning. I believe folks have been defining mobile learning, and trying to define a mobile learning environment.

Pushing my thinking even further, Dr. So (2010) in a presentation at the Association for Educational Communications and Technology asked me to consider the relationships among mobile learning, elearning, and distance learning.  He suggested that many people would argue that mobile learning and elearning were subsets of distance learning.

However, he posited that mobile learning (and elearning for that matter) were more likely derivations of distance learning, sharing specific traits but also retaining unique characteristics.

I really liked where this line of thinking was taking me, so I began to think about what mobile learning meant for teaching and learning.  In almost all of the cases I’ve read, the emphasis had been on the learner and the learning, and I like this concentration.  However, I think the current definitions do not do justice to the other components in learning environments, namely the teacher, the content, and the learning system, which in this case is the mobile computing device.  So, I’m begining to play around with this diagram:

By looking at all of the pieces in a mobile learning environment, I think it forces us to consider theoretical foundations for practices and avenues to take advantages of the mobile computing devices.  In particular, it begs the following questions:

  1. What does it mean if the teacher/trainer/facilitator is mobile?
  2. What does it mean if the device or system is mobile?
  3. What does it mean if the learner is mobile?
  4. What does it mean if the learning content is mobile?

I am planning a follow-up post about this diagram and how I think existing and future mobile teaching and learning strategies fit in.  What are your thoughts so far?  Please let me know.

Herrington, J., Herrington, A., Mantei, J., Olney, I. & Ferry, B. (2009). Using mobile technologies to develop new ways of teaching and learning, in J. Herrington, A. Herrington, J. Mantei, I. Olney, & B. Ferry (eds.), New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, Australia.

Mobile Learning Network (MoLeNET ). (2009). What is mobile learning? Retrieved December 30, 2009, from
Motiwalla, L.F. (2007). Mobile learning: A framework and evaluation. Computers & Education, 49, 581-596.

Quinn, C. (2000). mLearning. Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. Linezine. Fall 2000. Available at

So, S. (2010, October 27). Pedagogical and technological considerations of mobile learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Anaheim, CA.

Traxler, J. (2005). Defining mobile learning. IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning.

Traxler, J. (2007). Defining, discussing and evaluating mobile learning: The moving finger writes and having writ…The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 8(2). Avaiable at

Traxler, J. (2010). Distance education and mobile learning: Catching up, taking stock. Distance Education, 31(2), 129-138.

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.

5 Thoughts on “Defining mobile learning isn’t enough

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  2. You are the epitome of a participatory scholar, Michael 🙂 – Now onto the topic: I might be jumping ahead here, but what does the last diagram represent? Is it a vision of a mobile learning environment (i.e. what things ought to be?) The reason I am asking is because mobile devices can be used without actually being mobile or without learners being mobile. For instance, imagine an observer taking notes on his/her ipad during classroom observations. What makes the device mobile? Is it because we labeled the ipad as a mobile device? Or is it the act of walking around and taking notes? If it’s the latter, then isn’t a laptop a mobile device as well?

    Also, (and I may be reading too much into your diagram here) in relation to the mobile learning environment, do all 4 components that you identify above need to be mobile? For instance, if a mobile device is used while teachers and students are in the classroom, does that mean that this is not a mobile learning environment?

    • George, I have been called many things, but I am happy to be called a “participatory scholar!” Thanks so much for your insightful comments. I think you’re exactly on my same line of thinking here. The diagram so far is really a jumping off point for considering the components of a mobile learning environment. I think there are some important questions that should be considered, like is it still a mobile learning environment if the teacher/trainer/facilitator is the only one with a mobile computing device? Also, Dr. So asked us in his presentation to consider language learning lessons on an iPod or smartphone and those same lessons on CD in your car. Are these mobile learning environments, too?

      I really like your thoughts here, so as I keep adding, please continue to question my thinking. Also, I’d love to have your students chime in as well. 🙂

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