Workshop at Union University
Image by Michael M Grant via Flickr

One of the highlights of my semester is the invitation I receive regularly from Dr. Anna Clifford to visit her technology integration courses at Union University.  During this January term, she is teaching a graduate course for inservice teachers.  So, we’re going to discuss using mobile devices to support teaching and learning.  This should be a lot of fun!

In the past, we’ve discussed Web 2.0, but today I’m going to focus on mobile teaching and learning.  Specifically, we’re going to look at:

Here is the slide deck for today’s presentation:

[slideshare id=6686622&doc=making-tl-mobile-slideshare-110124122223-phpapp02]

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.

In my interest to wade through what is mobile learning and what’s not, I’m being to formulate a theoretical framework as well as a practical one that’s mulling through my head.  Yesterday, Thomas Cochrane shared a Prezi deck about how his school is using mobile learning devices into their curriculum.  He briefly explains the presentations as:

MLearning – Outline of framework for bridging learning contexts and facilitating student-generated content and collaboration via WMDs (Wireless Mobile Devices).

I really the alignment that he and his school are considering as well as identifying specifics tools to address specific learning goals.  While I don’t like calling the devices WMDs (that brings up connotations of Weapons of Mass Destruction), I do like how they are using them. You can see the deck below:

I’m excited to be presented at Mobile Learning Experience 2011 coming up in April.  I just received notification over the winter holidays that I was accepted and the others that are presenting is great too.  There are some really fantastic folks that will be presenting.  You can see a sample of the folks at

1. Evolution & Evaluation: Planning & Implementing a Statewide mLearning Initiative for Workforce Development

In June 2010, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) launched a plan to explore mobile teaching and learning in Tennessee. Inviting postsecondary faculty from over 25 workforce development centers across the state, exploration about the impacts of mobile teaching and learning with iPads to workforce development was the goal. This session will present the evolution and evaluation of this ambitious project. We’ll consider the planning, professional development, implementation, feedback, and data we have collected to date, as well as the lessons learned from the scope of this program.

2. Considering Mobile Teaching & Learning in a Use-What-You-Own World

Much of the electronic press and hype is dedicated to mlearning initiatives with a single platform or device. However, one of the significant promises of mobile learning is ability for teachers and students to use their own mobile computing devices. In this hands-on session, we’ll take a look at strategies for teaching and learning that are appropriate for a variety of mobile computing devices and platforms. Specifically, we’ll explore QR codes, capturing student responses and artifacts easily inside WordPress, and using MOBL21 as a mobile learning content management system.

More of the fun at the Midsouth Technology Conference. Previously, I included the link to the “Web 2.0 from the Beginning” workshop. Here’s the two other workshops that I gave on mobile learning. There are some really good stuff here, so I encourage you to browser through.

1. Mobile learning: What is it? What’s it look like? How’s it done?

Presenters: Michael M. Grant, The University of Memphis; Monte Tatom, Freed-Hardeman University; Kyle Menchhofer/Scott Newcomb, St. Mary School District, Ohio

Mobile learning, or mlearning, is a buzzword in all levels of education right now.  But what is it, and what does it mean?  This session will examine what mobile learning is, who’s doing it, and how it’s being done in K-12 classrooms and in higher education.  We’ll take a look at some schools that are implementing mobile devices into teaching and learning. We are also planning to Skype some folks in —just like Oprah—to give you some first-hand accounts.

Link to resources: Mobile Learning – What is it

2. Making Teaching and Learning Mobile

In this hands-on workshop, we’ll explore how to make teaching and learning mobile.  You’ll experience a number of technologies to create mobile teaching and learning opportunities for you and your students.  From using cellphones, smartphones, iPod Touches, iPhones, and iPads, we’ll look at ways to make learning engaging with tools your students may already have.  BYOM—You are encouraged to bring your mobile devices with you.

Link to resources: Making Teaching and Learning Mobile

Note: This is a cross-post from a guest blog post I authored for Next Gen Learning Challenges.

Mobile devices, like cell phones, smart phones, and tablet computers, stand to make significant changes in the ways in which teaching and learning can happen.  But there are some significant obstacles that have the potential to make mobile learning’s impact nearly nil.  Here’s five reasons that mobile won’t matter.

1.The “Off” button.

Cell phones have become ubiquitous. Tomi Ahonen’s keynote at mLearn Con documents just how much this is true.  The most startling viral message from this presentation: Worldwide, more people have mobile plans than toothbrushes. In the US, 75% of American teens have cell phones and almost 30% have smart phones with Internet capabilities.  In college, the numbers appear to be much higher (e.g., cell phones, smart phones). Plus, we’ve recently heard that the iPad’s adoption rate is faster than even that of DVD.

Unfortunately, in schools the most common response to cell phones is to turn them off.  One of the most pervasive and persistent barriers to meaningful technology integration with learning has continued to be a lack of access to technology.  However, with cell phones and smart phones, educational institutions finally may not have to foot the bill for a one-to-one technology initiative.  In fact, there is growing evidence that data use, such as access to the Internet and text messaging, is becoming as important or more important than voice capabilities.  Also, a substantial number of white and minority students use smart phones as their only home access to the Internet. If our singular response to these devices is to require they remain off, we have missed a substantial opportunity.

2. Assessment tunnel-vision.

Remaining solely focused on objective assessments limits the possibilities for teaching and learning. Sticking with multiple choice test questions on mobile devices, that is strictly using the device as a delivery mechanism for assessment questions, promotes the devices as one-dimensional. Using the multimedia capabilities of mobile devices, such as photo and video capture, offers learners the opportunities to represent their knowledge in multiple appropriate ways.

Moreover, this moves us away from a one-directional vision of teaching, where the teacher pushes instructional content out to the student, the student responds, and the teacher evaluates the response. Instead, we are moving toward a project-based learning approach, where students are able to create artifacts to demonstrate their learning.  Using mobile computing devices as creation tools can open the possibilities for representing students’ learning.

3. Drill and practice persists.

Using mobile devices for drill and practice, pejoratively referred to as drill and kill software, is limiting as well.  Much of the technology integration research from the 1990s and the first decade of this century has reported that drill and practice software is prevalent in classrooms today. While drill and practice software applications offers learners to memorize factual knowledge, reducing cognitive load and response rates, simply using apps to practice is insufficient.

One of the significant advantages that one-to-one initiatives offers is the ability to adapt instruction for individual learners.  Similar to the selective release options available in course management systems, providing specific students with remedial content and practice or advanced students with additional learning opportunities is possible by delivering the learning content directly to the individual’s device.  MOBL 21 is one of the first applications of this I’ve seen, as you publish content specific to individual learners.  However, as more CMSs become mobile-ized (for example, Blackboard Mobile Learn), the selective release features of these systems will also be able to be leveraged.

4. Believing it’s only for instruction.

While potentially powerful, believing that mobile computing devices are strictly delivery mechanisms to access learners outside of class time will also make mobile learning less meaningful.  Mobile technologies and the apps that are available on them have the potential to significantly change the way people work — beyond communication.

These devices and apps are mobile electronic performance support systems. Moving aside from the uber-obvious world of corporate business, mobile computing offers frontline vocational and trades workers access to significant support.  These apps provide just in time scaffolding to help individuals perform at higher levels and more efficiently. For example, ICD-9 On the Go offers quick access to medical billing codes and a number of other features, and Builder Pro provides over 400 formulas used by contractors and access to building codes as well.

5. Textbooks = mobile content.

In the early days of the web and the early days of elearning, many believed we could publish existing legacy documents.  In elearning, we referred to these as “shovelware,” because all folks did was use a big shovel to to pick up as much content as possible and shove it onto the Internet.  However, we have learned that learning content must be designed and segmented appropriately.  We’ve learned that content should take advantage of the medium.  I hope we’ve learned from these mistakes.  We cannot simply take our textbook content and port it to mobile devices.

In a recent post, I questioned the current definitions of mobile learning.  A comment from Dr. Chuck Hodges, a colleague at Georgia Southern University, suggested, “Mobile learning requires certain design elements and certain context of use elements.”  Inkling (iTunes app page) is one of the first examples that has taken this to heart. Taking advantage of the iPad, Inkling provides both content and embedded media along with navigation and annotations. Moreover, textbooks and instructional content should be available in a variety of formats available for reuse across multiple mediums and devices.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive.  What other elements must change for mobile computing devices to matter?  What have I not considered?  Please contribute to the discussion in the comments below.

[Image (cc) from]

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?

A few days ago, I wrote about how I was experimenting with mobile learning.  In fact, I am testing out mobile learning with a unit on mobile learning.  One of the units I added this summer to my Internet in the classroom course was on virtual schooling and mobile learning.  Through a pilot program with Emantras, I am using their MOBL 21 application to develop and deploy this unit onto iPod Touches, iPhones, and through their desktop Adobe AIR application.

I thought I would share some of the screen shots from the desktop application (that simulates iPhones/iPod Touches).  I’ve enjoyed testing out this system. Not everything is exactly the way I would have preferred the content to be. For example, I would really like to be able to embed images and videos directly from the Web.  The images I had to go into the HTML code and insert.  The video I had to upload, which I wasn’t happy about.  I would really like to be able to take advantage of iPhone/iPod Touches connection with YouTube directly to go full screen.  This wasn’t possible inside of MOBL 21.  I am also still learning the ins and outs of the system.

As you can see from the screen shots, though, you can create study guides, which are content with text, images, audio, and video.  You can also create flash cards.  Since my content isn’t drill and practice, I used the flash cards as a way to present some quotes about virtual schooling.  If I had had more time, I would probably have created these as graphics and uploaded them into the system … probably with Powerpoint.  Finally, you can create a quiz.  I haven’t tested this feature yet.

In another post, I’m going to list some of the features I would like to see added in as an option to make a more robust system.

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

During this term, I am teaching a course on integrating the Internet in the classroom with teaching and learning.  As a result, I am adding a completely new unit for me on virtual schooling and mobile learning.  I have decided to build this unit as a mobile learning unit.  I am in the process of creating the content for this unit. Most definitely, I will be piloting the use of MOBL 21, which is a content creation platform for mobile devices, specifically iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches.  MOBL 21 also has an Adobe Air desktop application for students who do not have one of these devices.

A few of the questions that I have to figure out answers to with this development project is:

  • Can I include video into the MOBL 21 environment?
  • Is it necessary for me to chunk the content into pages/screen?
  • How much is too much content in this unit?
  • What are the best methods to have students interact with this content?
  • Will the lack of Flash on the devices be an issue?
  • Should I do the entire unit inside the MOBL 21 environment or should I also include content outside of MOBL 21?
  • Should I have students experience the iPhone Simulator?
  • How do I address other devices?

In addition, the Advanced Learning Center at the University of Memphis is allowing me to offer iPod Touches to my students in this online course, so they can play, test, and use these devices with this unit.

What’s your thinking about my project and my questions?  Can you help me … quickly?