Mobile Learning

Trough of Disillusionment
UMN Assessment
Time Frame
2 to 5 Years
Last Updated on Sep 12, 2014

This category description aggregates information about several categories in the 2014 Gartner report, including Mobile-Learning Low-Range/Midrange Handsets, Mobile-Learning Smartphone, and Tablet (Consumer).

Mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) were initially envisioned as facilitating new, distinct, pedagogies and learning opportunities.  It was thought that students could use such devices in markedly different ways, to learn in various out-of-classroom contexts: academic (such as collecting data out in the field) as well as incidental (such as reviewing assignments or readings on a mobile device while waiting for a bus). Many special-purpose "learning apps" were also expected to launch, delivering content or novel methods of interacting with content.

However changes in education from mobile devices have thus far been much less disruptive and more evolutionary in their impact. Yes, students use these mobile devices in their academic pursuits, but this mobile learning—as we now see it—is not about delivering content or using revolutionary apps, but rather about using the devices side-by-side with other digital tools (such as laptops) as convenient. It is instead "about the processes of coming to know and being able to operate successfully in, and across, new and ever changing contexts and learning spaces" (Pachler, Bachmair, Cook, and Kress, Mobile Learning, 2010).

The mobile learning space
Gartner had divided up the "mobile learning" space into "low-range/mid-range handsets" (i.e., inexpensive mobile phones with just SMS, web-browsing, and limited media-playing ability), "smartphone" (the iPhone/android category typified by installable, special-purpose, native apps, and a relatively high pricetag), and tablets (which may be thought of as smartphones with larger displays, with Wi-Fi, but typically lacking cell-network capability).

The "low-range" devices category, was thought to have greatest promise in developing countries, where cheap mobile devices are ubiquitous.  SMS technology could be utilized in learning applications such as health-education, or simple quizzes and exams.  The audio capabilities may function in a content delivery capacity.  The device class is rapidly being displaced as full-featured smartphones and better networks get cheaper.

Smartphones are owned by a majority of students in higher education, and are the devices we think of when we talk about mobile-learning.

Tablets, after their initial hype as being the disruptive devices of the future, are still taking a measured pace in eroding laptop sales.  Users still use them largely for consumption of text or web content. Gartner sees the slow erosion continuing, as users let their laptops age out, and transfer more and more of their work to tablets.  Tablets are making steady gains in content creation (certainly writing, but also including video and audio editing) especially coupled with external wireless keyboards. Over time, this "mobile learning" distinction should disappear as these devices become mainstream, general purpose learning tools.

Mobile device impact

  • Mobile devices (especially smartphones) have opened new channels of communication, such as text messaging and created expectations of rapid dialogue between instructor and student
  • Mobile device use increases student engagement and collaboration
  • Mobile devices are displacing other dedicated devices such as clickers (student response systems), video cameras, or video editing workstations and software
  • Unique facilities such as GPS, accelerometer, and cell-data are still not often used in academic application
  • Mobile friendly awareness has pushed more class (CMS) and institutional information to be presented in ways that facilitate mobile access

Mobile learning at the University of Minnesota
As at other institutions, many schools and departments at the U of M have been working to exploit the properties of mobile devices. For example, Horticulture is working on using GPS and camera to provide an augmented reality view in field work (Eric Watkins).  A journalism summer course was implemented entirely on iPads (David Husom). CEHD has a pervasive iPad initiative, making an iPad available to every entering student; constructing digital stories and publishing such media-rich content is a prominent use (Linda Buturian).  The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at UMD are one of the few to have created custom smartphone apps for their discipline.  These examples, are only a few of many efforts.