Education: Is Mobile Learning Actually Effective?


Anyone who has ever taught a class of any sort or size knows that interactive learning is better; the more senses you engage in your students while teaching, the higher the likelihood they will enjoy the learning experience and remember what you teach.  Now, recent trends in technology have made learning more tactile, more mobile, and perhaps more enjoyable, but do they actually make a difference in the learning experience? Does anyone know whether or not those apps on your iPhone that your kids are playing or the distance learning course that you or your husband is taking online will really make a difference in the long run? Is mobile learning that effective?

With the explosion in the number of educational apps, online courses, and smart phones in the hands of Americans young and old, you would think the answer to that question would be a resounding "yes." Indeed, "mobile devices have become the fastest growing technology in human history," according to Bruck, Motiwalla, and Foerster, who cite numbers of the International Telecommunication Union. Their "statistics show more than 6 billion mobile phone connections existed at the end of 2011 worldwide and will grow to 12 billion by 2020 (ITU, 2012). Very soon mobiles will outnumber humans living on earth, presumably by 2013."

However, there is little research that measures their effectiveness overall, and the results of what has been done may be considered dubious for several reasons. First, there is obvious difficulty in "evaluating the outcomes of mobile learning experiences due to the presence of too many variables and difficulty in separating the effect of mobile and other experiences (Blake, Adams, Scanlon). Second, the rapid changes taking place in both the technology and material available present significant logistical difficulties as well. And lastly, surprisingly, applications designed specifically for learning, at least on smart phones, are not very popular.

But that's not to say that their benefits aren't tremendous. They are, in fact, numerous and amazing. Many would say they're changing the face of education as we know it. It makes the educational process “spontaneous, personal, informal, contextual, portable, ubiquitous (available everywhere), and pervasive (so integrated with daily activities that it is hardly noticed),” says Agnes Kukulska-Hulme. “Mobile devices, whether embedded in the environment or carried around by their users, are redefining the nature of public and private spaces. Learning is becoming more personal while becoming more connected to the surroundings and with more potential for connected, collaborative activity."

Indeed, it is obviously not just educators who are aware of these experiential benefits. Producers of entertainment material for kids and adults realize that the more forms of media in which they can offer their products, the more engaged and responsive their audiences will be. As the popularity of transmedia, fan fiction, video games, and social media increase, so does the involvement, and even influence, of the audience. Disney is one company that is aware of that, as was the popular  television show Lost. Viewers who watched Lost—a dedicated bunch—were able to enjoy parallel story lines delivered online and offline as websites, games, novels, and more.

So, there is tremendous potential for not only the continued exponential growth of mobile learning but also for the measurement of the quality of such learning. What is needed is longitudinal studies that assess whether kids or adults who regularly engage in that kind of learning actually get better grades in school or college. Then again, we all seem to be having so much fun doing it, maybe its effectiveness is irrelevant.

Do you feel like you learn from educational apps and games?

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.


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5 responses to “Education: Is Mobile Learning Actually Effective?”

  1. Teachers who embrace technology have been able to use technology well in their classrooms. Some classrooms are using the internet, SMART Boards or hand-held clickers to engage and monitor student learning. While many of these tools are well regarded by teachers and students alike, they are only as effective as the teacher using them. As one study said, “Claims about the motivation-enhancing effects of IWB [interactive white boards] are not baseless, but they appear to be somewhat overstated. Research is needed to determine how IWB-use is associated with academic performance, and also to examine how teachers use the IWB and how this usage could be strengthened.”

    Training teachers on how to incorporate technology successfully in the classroom is essential otherwise it is no more effective other than it is a “new” medium. It does have the capability to be more engaging to multiple learning styles although teacher training may be required to have students achieve higher order thinking skills. In an era where we need to acheive more learning in less time, using technology needs to be more effective than just engaging.

  2. I actually agree, Trina, and would actually like to chat with you more on this subject, to see if you could direct me to more sources on this subject so that I could write more posts about it. My email is

  3. I think an integrated approach is better. We make mobile learning work because there is always an intuitive call to action for the children engaging with our eco-educational apps.

    I find some of the over-interactive games labeled educational are actually disrupting the learning process. A lesson delivered in an engaging, immersive way is better than one touting a tap-action on every screenshot. Developers need to embrace the technology but not implement every bell and whistle with each app.

  4. That’s a great comment, Stephanie. Do you mean “integrated” in terms of mobile learning that supplements face-to-face learning? And/or apps that require the learner to actually think and then reward that process, as opposed to apps that have a “tap-action on every screenshot?”

  5. Drew Harnish says:

    I actually did my M.S. thesis on this subject and will be presenting the research at a conference this month. Using a control group (simulating a “standard” college course) and an app using group (simulating a course using a supplemental app), a professsor gave students a lecture on statistics with examples followed by a quiz over the material. The app group performed 16% better overall and scored higher on each question.

    This certainly adds validity to the “people learn better while engaged” theories. I can certainly see the opportunities to augment education with mobile devices (and technology in general).

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