Mobile Learning


Mobile Phones:

An Effective Distance Learning tool

Shijina Jayaprasad

San Jose State University


The head of the UN’s agency for information and communication technologies predicts that there will be 4 billion mobile phone users or more than half of the planet’s estimated 6.7 billion inhabitants will have mobile phones by the end of the year 2008. Mobile learning or m-learning is touted as being the next big thing in e-learning. More the mobile phone users, bigger the e-learning market. Millennials learn differently, working adults can’t find time to learn, getting geographically dispersed employees in a classroom is a difficult task − mobile learning could be the answer to these barriers in learning. This paper discusses the happenings in the field of mobile learning and discusses the future of ‘m-learning’.

Mobile Phones:

An Effective Distance Learning tool

The world is converging and education or training is diverging to reach out to people; this diversification is in the form of distance learning, e-learning, and now mobile learning. The term ‘Distance Learning’ is a thing of the past where students and teachers were separated by distance and relied on technology for a common point of communication. In comes mobile learning – distance learning reloaded; here students and teachers are on the move, the former could be a high school student listening to her chemistry class podcast or a sales executive learning the mantra to sell the new product launched by his company; the latter is catering to his tech savvy student or empowering employees of his company to learn while they are travelling. With a market share of half of the world’s population, e-learning companies are looking to capitalize this market as more and more revenue is being invested into e-learning. According to a report by Global Industry Analysts Inc., “eLearning: A Global Strategic Business Report,” e-learning is on the rise, and the demand for it is expected to exceed $52.6 billion by 2010 worldwide.

This paper is divided into five sections and explores different aspects of m-learning.

What is m-learning?

The use of wireless mobile technology such as PDAs, cellular phones, ipods or ultra notebook computers in education and training is making learning more flexible where students can learn from anywhere and at anytime. Mobile learning (mLearning) is novel in that it facilitates delivery of learning to the right person, at the right time, in the right place using portable electronic devices.( Ally, Schafer, Cheung, McGreal, Tin, 2007).

The 360 report by the E-learning Guild on mobile learning states that:

“Any activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating information, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on a regular basis, has reliable connectivity, and fits in a pocket or purse.”

What types of mobile phones can be used for mobile learning?

The arrival of mobile phones with larger screens and touch-screen and multi-touch technology has opened several doors for having robust e-learning courses on mobile phones. There are millions of phones available in the market, not all of them can be used for e-learning. The factors that should be considered while choosing a mobile phone device for e-learning are operating system (Symbian, Linux, Windows Mobile, Apple, Android, RIM Blackberry, Palm), internet accessibility, screen-size, user interface, keyboard, memory, PC synchronization and security.

According to a survey conducted by the E-learning Guild, Blackberry is the platform of choice for developing mobile learning followed by Windows Mobile and iPhone.

The Assessment and learning in Practice Settings (ALPS) is running a project to use mobile technology to improve higher education assessment and student skills. Nine Hundred Health and Social Care students from the north of England are taking part in this project. The students will be given a T-Mobile MDA vario mobile to use during placement work for assessments and learning.

The assessors will be able to log into a secure area, which will be connected to the university’s virtual learning environment teaching and business systems, to record and store the student’s assessments and results. This is an excellent way to incorporate mobile phones into e-learning.

Designing m-learning

Courses currently available in the html format can be easily viewed in smart phones that have internet access. However, when viewing content on mobile phone factors like text limit, scrolling and audio/video limitations should be considered.

In his blog Al Moser talks about how course content behaves differently when the display window shrinks. Graphic artists and many course creators like to design eLearning courses so that all aspects of the visual layout are tightly controlled. They like to precisely specify the position of each character. This is called absolute positioning. Absolutely positioned pages work well for printed brochures, but don’t work well for environments where the learners have different screen/display sizes.

Mobile devices have different size and capability limitations. Some browsers will resize the fonts, some support zooming, some don’t respect style sheets; some have a portrait layout, etc.

The Apple iPhone does not support flash files and according to a survey conducted by the E-learning Guild 69.2% of the content that is designed is deployed in flash.

There are tools available in the market that can used for creating courses for smartphones some of them are: 5 Minute Outliner, Atlantic Link Content Point, Cram 1.0, iWriter, Learning Mobile Author, Mobile Study, MyLearning Author for Pocket PC, mscape authoring toolkit, Podquiz Maker, Toolbook 9.5, Zirada.

As noted by Ally (2005a), the use of mobile technology in distance education could provide more flexibility for learners, a view that has also been put forward by Rekkedal (2002). Ally also makes the point that mobile learning requires organizational change and careful planning: existing course materials must be converted and new ones developed for delivery on mobile technology; it is necessary to establish a telecommunication infrastructure, train staff and faculty, and so forth.

Future of m-learning

Mobile phones are easily available and reach out to more people than we could ever imagine. It is not only the fact that we could reach out to more people but the fact that a majority of the people who use mobile phones belong to developing countries that generates interest. The literacy rate among these countries is bad but with the advent of mobile learning there are signs that learning opportunities can be created.

In many markets, mobile phones have a product life cycle of 12 months or less. Some subscribers are able to put their new phones to immediate and full use. For others, the learning curve is so steep that they move on to a replacement without having learned to exploit the functionality available in the first one. (Gilbert, Sangwan, & Han Mei lan, 2005, p.1). Such factors could act as a roadblock, but continuous research and development will surely help overcome such roadblocks.

Today mobile learning makes up only about 9.3% of the overall training in an organization and the content that is specifically developed for mobile learning is about 13% (E-learning Guild report). The major barrier to mobile learning is that content developed for other media does not transfer well to mobile phones.

With technological advancements and development of new mobile handsets compatible for e-learning, it won’t be long that most of course that we take on our desktops will then be accessed on our mobile phones.


Ally, M. (2005a). Use of Mobile Devices in Distance Education. Paper presented at Mlearn 2005,

October 25-28. Cape Town, South Africa.

Ally, M., Schafer, S., Cheung, B., McGreal, R., Tin, T., Use of Mobile Learning Technology to Train

ESL Adults. Paper presented at Mlearn 2007, October 16-19. Melbourne, Australia.

Gilbert, A. L., Sangwan, S., & Han Mei lan, H. (2005). Beyond Usability: The OoBE dynamics of mobile

data services markets. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 9(4), 198-208.

Rekkedal, T. (2002). M-Learning for PDAs: Enhancing the flexibility of distance education. Powerpoint

presentation delivered to Ericsson Education, November 22. Dublin, Ireland. Retrieved February

14, 2007

Wexler, S., Brown, J., Metcalf, D., Rogers, D., Wagner, E., Mobile Learning: What it is, why it matters,

and how to incorporate it into your learning strategy , 360 Report, E-Learning Guild.



  1. zack said

    e-learning,, mobile learning,, this next step for easy learning ,,

  2. Li Hu said


    I am very interested in this topic. Do you know any company who can design and embed training content to cell phone. I am looking for this kind of providers. Your suggestions will be highly appreciated.

    • shijina said

      Hi Li,

      There are many companies who cater to mlearning, you can choose based on your requirements. Apple provides access to learning content through iTunes , there are many more that provide customized mlearning.

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