The Role of Mobile Learning in Training

Posted: May 15, 2014 in e-learning
Tags: , , ,


Will mobile learning change corporate training forever?

Corporates need to rethink their training strategies with a need to create learning programmes especially for mobile devices. (Overton, 2013)

Daniel Burrus, Chief Executive Officer of Burrus Research Associates, Inc. believes and states “within the next five years, we are going to be not just changing but transforming how we train and educate based on mobile learning.” (Gutrierrez, 2014)

Researched by and published in Towards Maturity (Overton, 2013) shows that 70% of their Learning and development staff use or plan to use mobile learning by 2014. Activities they suggested included:-

  • To deliver and support formal learning (62%)
  • To support communication and collaboration (54%)
  • To support application of learning back at work (43%)
  • To access performance support back at work. (37%)

Opportunities for learning and development to response to this need are more readily available in the way of specialist products, namely epics MoGo, Linestream, Upside Learning, Upside to Go and mobile versions of Articulate and Captivate.

The advantages of mobile learning are quite evident and often summarised by:

  • Enables on the move training for time pressed professionals.
  • Access to a variety training materials:- ppt, pdf, videos, podcast and anytime anywhere principles.
  • Utilise unproductive times e.g. travelling, commuting, waiting at an airport etc.
  • Leverage on existing Mobile usage habits.
  • Allow to learn in small bursts.
  • Cost of training, because of cutbacks, it provides a flexible cost effective solution.

It is no surprise that the use of mobile phones is attracting considerable interest in the fields of professional learning and work-based education. However there is relatively little systematic knowledge about how mobile devices can be used effectively for learning and competence development in work contexts. (Pimmer & Pachler, 2014)

Primmer and Pachler (2014) identify the fact that,

many of the current  approaches tend to repackage eLearning content in order to make it suitable for  the smaller screens of mobile devices — following behavioural and cognitive paradigms. (p 193)

With many of today’s mLearning “solutions” tending to offer traditional eLearning content on mobile devices.

Primmer and Pachler (2014) conclude in their article how the affordances of mobile devices allow the realisation of rich pedagogical strategies not restricted to behavourisms and cognitivism but also by social constructivism, situative learning, multi-modal, cultural, multimodal and constructivist (p.200)


  • The creation and sharing
  • Learning for and learning at work
  • Individual and social forms of learning.
  • Education across formal and informal settings

M-learning is by far one of the most important technological advances to facilitate learning and mobile learning since the printing press. Extending as far backs as the 1800’s when the four step learning plan by Johann Friedrich Herbart was published in which he outlined how sensory “information was transformed, organised, stored, and related to new experiences” (cited by Saettler 1998 p.5)

So what is M-learning?  when most of us discuss education, we tend to think back to those endless days, sat “isolated” at a desk, in a class room, with the teacher at the front imparting knowledge until we left  joyfully for home at 3.30pm throwing off the shackles of confinement and quickly forgetting all that had been imparted to us. This is where mobile learning or m-learning comes with us, i.e. beyond the classroom in the form of a device.

1.2     The Role of Technology

With the rise of technology and “devices” often comes learning Dede 2011 ISTE conference states:-

“We know from generations of work that devices are catalysts… “The device never produces learning, but when coupled with changes in content, new forms of assessment, linking people together, that’s what enables learning.”

So what are these devices? PDA, iPods, iPads, tablet computers and of course the mobile phone, the ubiquitous device for communication, orally, textually and visually and conveyor of information, a portal to the worlds collaborative knowledge and even a paper weight.

1.3     The Classification of Mobile Technology.

M-learning falls into a number of categories, and are outlined by Kukulska-Hulme A. Traxler J. (2007) and listed below

  • Technology driven mobile learning
  • Miniature but portable learning
  • Connected Classroom Learning
  • Mobile Training/performance support
  • Informal, personalized, situated mobile learning.
  • Remote/rural/development mobile learning.
  • Theoretical perspective

Mobile technology instills the image of personal, portable device, linked to the World Wide Web. In the series FutureLab , (Naismith, et al., 2004) classify the range of mobile technology using the two orthogonal dimensions of personal vs shared and portable vs static.


Figure 1 The Classification of Mobile Technology (Naismith, et al., 2004) p. 7

The four quadrants of the figure indicate the classification of the mobile technology. The first quadrant (1) is the idea that mobile technology is portable and personal, and allows for networking and communication. It is probably atypical of mobile technology and the backbone of m-learning. Personal and static learning (2) in Naismiths model (2004) falls into the category of Classroom response systems, devices such as quizdom and the SMART response system to name a few. Although not static in the sense of being fixed, they are generally left within the classroom/training room environment. The interaction whilst using the student response system tends to be a student centric activity.

Quadrant 3 refers to personal but shared mobile technology, (Naismith, et al., 2004) state that “Being physically moved from one place to another is not the only way in which mobile technologies can be ‘portable’.” (p. 7). In this case it is the person that is mobile and the “kiosk” is fixed, these include street kiosks and interactive museum’s displays. Naismith (2004) suggests such devices are typically seen as being less personal, and are likely to be shared between multiple users.(p 7).

Large devices such as interactive whiteboards and video conferencing, allow for a more sharable interactions and are much less portable, as shown in quadrant 4, but they would generally not be classed as mobile technologies (Naismith, et al., 2004).

1.4     Mobile Learning.

Taylor, et al in their article (2006) proposed that there is a lack of mobile theory and that “most theories of pedagogy fail to capture the distinctiveness of mobile learning”, mainly due to the fact that these theories pertain to teaching occurring in a classroom environment, led by a trained teacher.

They continue by proposing that “any theory of mobile learning must embrace the considerable learning that occurs outside the classroom” (Taylor, et al., 2006) accounting for the personal initiative and dynamics created by mobile learning.

To get a general overview, I will recap on the fundamental learning theories and then drill down and consider case studies to support the learning theories entwined within mobile learning.

1.5     Learning Theories and Mobile Learning.

Behaviorism is the learning process of reacting to an external stimulus and a response.Taylor, et al., 2006 refer to this as “drill and feedback”. This theory draws on the operant conditioning and behaviourism and works of Skinner (1968) and itself from Pavlov’s work on classical conditioning. They postulate that memory is created by reward and punishment or stimulation. A program of instructions can put the learner in charge, but does not necessarily promote higher level thinking.

Sharples and Taylor (2006) suggest that mobile learning can enhance the  behaviourist learning process, by presenting content specific questions (stimulus), obtaining a response and provide reinforcement by appropriate feedback.

Case studies:-

The use of basic SMS messaging to remind students of content, revision programs. (BBC Bitesize 2003,2004).

The engagement of language students using SMS, allows them to listen, practice speaking (Clarke, et al., 2008).

“Drill and Feedback”: using the Socrative mobile application, students can participate via smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices in online questioning, educational games, and student group response survey questions to create an aggregate displays.

Naismith, et al.,( 2004) describe the behaviourists type of learning the adoptions of a “transmissive model” with learning taking place throughtout the transmission of information from the tutor (mobile device) to the learner (p.11)

Despite the move away from behaviourist learning in traditional teaching much of m-learning relies heavily on behavourists theory, i.e. present, gather response and giving of appropriate feedback (Naismith, et al., 2004) and that  “Drill and feedback” still offers a number of benefits.

The development of mobile devices, in particular the smartphone have made them ideal tools for student response systems such as the “Socrative student response system”.

This use of Socative or other student response systems creates a hybrid model of a typical classroom or training session with embedded technological use, that can quickly assess student knowledge, and whilst creating an engaging activity, the change to the nature of teaching can server as a catalysts for wider discussion. (Rochel 2003)

Socrative allows the tutor to present a range of content, from simple multi-choice to more probing questions and reflections, the ability to rapidly gather responses and anonymity identified as an advantage by (Rochel 2003).

Limitation in the use of traditional behaviourist learning can be gained from the experience from for the WeLearn project Singapore, which attempted to move students away from teacher centric to student centric learning. The students were given Nokia Lumia 710 phones in an attempt to foster 21st century skills. It was realised that traditional drill and practice approach was not going to develop the 21st century skills of self-directed learning and collaborative learning that can be supported by the utilisation of m-learning. (Namahoe, 2012)

The result from the We Learn project outlined the benefits of m-learning.

  • The students adapted easily to the new devices, researchers found a boost in test scores in the pilot class.
  • Students are learning key skills like “problem-solving, debugging, conversation, critical thinking, self-directed learning, collaborative learning, and also
  • Gaining hard skills like critical analysis. 

(Namahoe, 2012)


1.6     Cognitivism:

Where learning is a process of constructing subject based reality based on the works of theorist such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner being a notable few.

It involves the reconstruction of prior knowledge to a current context, it is a social activity, but learning is created individually. Engagement and participation are important factors along with a social and cultural perspective. The benefits are that experiences are real, authentic, situative problem solving; and it creates an engaging learning environment.

Naismith, et al., (2004) suggest mobile devices are particularly well suited to situative learning, being available in different context so can draw on those to enhance learning activity.

Pimmer & Pachler (2014) question the need for researcher to measure cognitive effects, suggesting that the value of mlearning in work settings can be perfectly explained by socio-cognitive, situative and socio-cultural perspectives and can lead to “enhance learner self-confidence”.

Case Studies:-

The use of augmented reality falls within the theoretical boundaries of cognitive learning, for example, immersive mobile investigation and situated learning in which authentic learning involves real world problems that are relevant and interesting to the learner.

Augmented Reality is a technology that blends computer generated imagery onto real life, real world environments in real time (Lee, 2012).

Other researcher have proposed the use of augmented reality as being the basis of cognitive constructs based on knowledge acquisition using advanced spatial visualization tools (Shelton & Hedley, 2003).

The multimedia museum (Naismith, et al., 2004) use of Pocket PC to provide interactive audio-visual tours, view video, pictures, commentary and to reflect on their own experience via quizzes.

David A. Kolb believes “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (1984, p. 38). A theory I believe is embedded within the use of mobile learning and of augmented reality.

The use of Augmented Reality and the advent of wearable mobile technology such as Google Glasses, potential will have a fundamental impact on the way training and learning will develop in the near future. For example, augmented reality in business enables the development of collaborative learning experiences, explainable and guidance tools for workers, managers and customers. Text books will embed 3D virtual images, videos will play from a static pictures, and teachers could embed audio/visual feedback into student texts, the potential utilisation is ever expanding.

(Lee, 2012) outlines the uses of augmented reality in the corporate employment, from the design and recognition of a products physical parts. Cars can be designed in 3D but can also be used to train technicians on what needs to be fixed. The use of this technology is already available, helping mechanics wearing head tracking devices to perform maintenance on a vehicle, with components and parts overlaid on the real world elements with links to video instructions and animated diagrams showing processes and sequences.

In the same article Lee (2012) highlights the ways in which augmented reality would be a helpful tools in the training of Health and Safety. He states that augment reality can be used to add to the richness and scope of the health and safety training by creating virtual, simulated situations, within empirically enhanced work environment, allowing the wearer to experience real risk and potential hazards but in a safe situation.

The creation of training booklets with embedded augmented reality to make training material more engaging and “increase employer acceptance” (Lee, 2012) and change mindset from a didactic training into engaging, multi-media, 3D environment.

There are a growing number of on-line applications for the creation of Augmented Reality (Toledo, et al., 2010),  some of the more common and more established ones include:-

Aurasma (

Google Goggles

Layar (

QR codes (

To demonstrate the concept please scan the following QR code, using Google Goggles or a similar QR code reader


1.7     Constructivism.

“Constructivism learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas based on current and past knowledge” (Brunner, 1966) other theorist include Piaget, Gagne. The role of memory is “encoding storage retrieval” by a use of reasoning and problem solving. Previous experience plays an important role.

It is a design aid and helps trainer/educators to design learning experience that is enhanced by visual media and multi-channel and appeal to many parts of the brain.

(Naismith, et al., 2004) state “that mobile devices provide a unique opportunity to have learners embedded in realistic context…and having access to supporting tools.” (p.8)

Case Studies:-

The paper on “mobile learning through indigenous languages: learning through a constructivist approach (Jantjies & Joy, 2014) reports on a case study in a South African high school that evaluated the potential use of mobile learning to support bilingual learners using a constructivist learning approach.


The data from this research revealed that mobile learning can be effective in supporting constructivism approaches used in informal bilingual learning, especially when used in a blended learning environment.

This was achieved by revisiting the theory of constructivist learning. A class of physical science students participated in the study creating mobile audio through their provided mobile phones, uploaded to a mobile learning system for later revision. The content of these notes was composed of their own individual knowledge and gathered from daily physical science lessons, electronic sources and text book. In their paper (Jantjies & Joy, 2014) concluded that

The opportunity of being able to create material in their own languages on their own mobile phones, at their own time allowed learners to create learning material that they could relate to and engage with at any time. The learners found this very useful for assessment purposes.  (p 7)

Primmer and Pachler (2014) in their article Mobile Learning in the Workplace suggest that from the constructivist learning theories, the creation of learning materials via professional Facebook sites  and social networking can support active knowledge construction and peer to peer learning.

Mobile Learning in relation to training and workplace learning.

Research by Primmer and Pachler (2014) indicate that few systematic studies have been implemented in relation mobile (m-learning) for at work based learning and with many of today’s mobile learning solutions relying on traditional e-learning content just being reduced and placed on a mobile device.

Primmer and Pachler (2014) suggest pedagogical practice needs to change “to where learner-centred creation and sharing of content such as multimedia materials in the form of text, audio, images and video.”

Primmer and Pachler (2014) continue by exemplifying the use of  “just-in-time learning” that  normally takes place at work and is immediately relevant for learners, as compared to the “just in case” scenarios typical of corporate training.

Findings from a recent study at IBM show an excellent example of “just in time learning” use of mobile devices. Where it was found that employees were using phones for accessing “infield performance support” to help with every day work queries. Findings that change the policy for future mlearning strategy at IBM (Pimmer & Pachler, 2014).

Since a great deal of learning is rooted in learning from others, mobile learning should be encompassing the communication functionality and in turn the social aspects associated with the ability to communicate. The IBM study indicated that when workers were unable to find the information required from internal sources, they turned to subject matter experts within the organisation. The findings showed that “they were more likely to use their mobiles to communicate” (Pimmer & Pachler, 2014).

Mobile learning is often seen as an informal method of learning, however mobile devices can enable the linking of the formal teaching environment of a class room to the informal mobile learning, A few examples of this include the use of text messages to assign tasks to junior manager at Lufthansa, bringing the formal in to an informal context. Alternatively students collecting video, pictures of work activities and placing them in an e-portfolio. (Pimmer & Pachler, 2014).

1.8     Conclusion:

In conclusion the use of m-learning encompasses a number of learning theories and links this with the development of new modern devices that are a ubiquitous part of  a student’s everyday life. However, as stipulated by (Saettler 1998 p.52) the basis for this is not new, but extends back more than 200 years when “information was transformed, organised, stored, and related to new experiences”. It is how we use these in an innovative, engaging and pragmatic way that will potential change the face of workplace learning in the next decade or so.  


2      References

Clarke, P., Keing , C., Lam , P. & McNaught , C., 2008. Using SMSs to engage students in language learning.. In World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications , 2008(1), pp. 6132-6141.

Gutrierrez, K., 2014. Mobile Learning Stats that Will Make You Rethink Your Training Strategy. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 April 2014].

Hawthorn), C. G., 2011. Augmented Reality and Experiential Learning. [Online]
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[Accessed 26th November 2012].

Jantjies, M. & Joy, M., 2014. Mobile learning through indigenous languages: learning, Coventry: University of Warwick.

Kolb, D. A., 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development.. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc,.

Lee, K., 2012. Augemented Reality in Education and Training.. TechTrends, 56(2), p. 22.

Naismith, L., Lonsdale, P., Vavoula, G. & Sharples, M., 2004. Literature Review in Mobiel Technologies and Learning, Birmingham: University of Birmigham.

Namahoe, K., 2012. The Journal. [Online]
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[Accessed 20 4 2014].

Overton, L., 2013. Towards Maturity. Improving the impact of learing technology at work.. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 April 2014].

Pimmer, C. & Pachler, N., 2014. Mobile Learning in the Workplace: Unlocking the Value of Mobile Technology for work based education., Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning and Athabasca University.

Saettler, P., 1998. Antecedents, Origins, and theoretical evolution of AECT.. Techtrends, 43(1), pp. 51-56.

Sharples, M. & Taylor, J., 2006. Google Scholar. [Online]
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[Accessed 14 April 2014].

Shelton, B. E. & Hedley, N. R., 2003. Exploring a Cognitive Basis for Learning Spatial Relationships with Augmented Reality. Tech., Inst., Cognition and Learning,, Volume 1, pp. 323-357.

Taylor, J., Sharples, M., O’Malley, M. & Vavoula,, C., 2006. Towards a task model for mobile learning: a dialectical approach.. International Journal of Learning Technology,, 2(2), pp. 138-158.

The President and Fellows of Harvard College., n.d. Handheld Augmented Reality Project (HARP). [Online]
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[Accessed 26th November 2012].

Toledo, J. et al., 2010. Design of Embedded Augmented Reality Systems, Augmented Reality. s.l.:InTech.








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