Mobile Learning Trends in Higher Education

While online instruction has been an increasingly common component of the university environment for several years, a recent innovation has been making its presence felt in higher education. Advances in computer and communication technologies resulted in the development of portable digital devices that change pedagogical possibilities. Cell phones, personal digital assistants, netbooks, iPods, digital still and video cameras, MP3 players, GPS, and portable e-books enhance establishing and participating in online communities of learners. The pedagogical application of these devices has lead to the development of ‘Mobile Learning’, a rapidly expanding area of instruction. According to Quinn (2000), Mobile Learning is defined as “the intersection of mobile computing (the application of small, portable, and wireless computing and communication devices) and e-learning (learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology) (para. 8).” Quinn predicted mobile learning would one day provide learning that was truly independent of time and place and facilitated by portable computers capable of providing rich interactivity, total connectivity, and powerful processing.

Some essential features of Mobile Learning are that it is dynamic, operates in real-time, is collaborative, is comprehensive, provides multiple paths for learning, and aids in building learning communities forged by participants (Leung & Chan, 2003). Indeed, the emphasis in Mobile Learning is placed on the interaction between learners/instructors/content and the technology used. This suggests to some investigators that learning is a social process (Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2007). For example, users can post content and have it instantly disseminated to a community of learners, who in turn, review the content, provide feedback, suggest refinements, and collaborate in team or group activities to an unprecedented degree.

A recent survey of U.S. adults reveals a significant increase in the use of mobile devices to access online sources (Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 2009). Thirty-two percent of Americans have used a cell phone or Smartphone to access the internet for emailing, instant messaging, or seeking information, which is an increase of one-third since 2007. The findings also reveal a 73 percent increase in Americans using mobile devices to access the internet.

Some academic institutions have begun incorporating mobile devices in the development of curriculum for both face-to-face and online instruction. Potential uses of mobile devices in higher education include providing recordings of entire lectures, textbook materials, journals, songs, music, novels, and radio programs to students via podcasts. These devices are used to access multimedia materials, produce student presentations, assignments and projects, facilitate field studies, and conduct tutor/peer/self-evaluation (Nie, 2006). Professional organizations have also been observed using mobile devices to facilitate their tasks and activities. For example, public health workers in developing countries are increasingly collecting health information with PDAs rather than with the traditional paper and pencil method for a speedier dissemination of data.

Collaboration with Mobile Devices was a featured topic in the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center sponsored ‘Teaching with Technology Institute’, held in June of 2009. Faculty Development is continuing to pursue an interest in current pedagogical and technological advancements by developing workshops in mobile learning. Please check the Faculty Development website to learn more information as well as new offerings in this area.


Leung, C.H., Chang, Y.Y. (2003).  Mobile Learning: A New Paradigm in Electronic Learning. Proceedings of the
3rd IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’03)

Nie, M. The potential use of mobile/handheld devices, audio/podcasting material in higher education.  Retrieved from

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  Mobile internet use increases sharply in 2009 as more than half of all Americans have gotten online by some wireless means Retrieved from

Quinn, C.  mLearning. Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. Linezine. Fall2000. Retrieved from

Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2007) A theory of learning for the mobile age. In R. Andrews and C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of elearning Research (pp. 221-247). London: Sage.

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