Standards for Mobile Learning

Mobile learning can be described as the delivery of learning through mobile devices. It is typically defined by either the learner’s experience, or the technologies which enable the learning. Mobile learning has developed from text messaging (SMS) to offering rich multimedia learning experiences. Mobile devices are mainly smartphones and tablets, with a growing interest on smartwatches and wearable technologies. Younger generations expect content delivered via mobile devices.

Mobile learning has been researched for a number of years. Its delivery is changing rapidly with the development of more advanced technologies and devices. The range of devices and infrastructures, along with a lack of international mobile learning standards makes it difficult to develop mobile learning for any large group of people.

This article will look at mobile learning and related pedagogy; the types of mobile technology and devices available. It will also explore how instructional designers and app developers can use existing learning theories to inform learning experiences and develop applications using standards compliant technology to create innovative, pedagogically sound learning applications with platform independence.

Mobile Learning

Mobile learning has been used within both formal and informal learning. Research has shown that mobile learning “increases the possibilities of informal learning” (Kadirire, 2007, p. 2). Self-motivation is a major driving force behind most informal learning, and location aware devices provide timely access to learning resources.

There are a number of benefits which mobile technology brings to learning:

  • The delivery of educational content.
  • Support of learners.
  • Provision of guidance and feedback.
  • Helps with field-trip-based learning.

Mobile learning has also been seen to make learning less formal, help stimulate reluctant learners and develop learners confidence. With these benefits it can be seen that mobile devices and technologies can be used to facilitate knowledge construction for both formal and informal learning experiences, while assisting those that may not typically contribute to learning experiences.

Research has shown that groups using mobile devices created and retained more knowledge than groups without. “The interplay between technology and pedagogical practice” (Lai, Yang, Chen, Ho, & Chant, 2007, p. 335) allows technology enabled students to outperform. However, not all mobile learning will create a valuable learning experience, software must be well designed, and have sound pedagogical grounding for the benefits to be realised.

Mobile Learning Pedagogy

Mobile learning is in its relative infancy. Many pedagogical applications have been informed by traditional teaching and lessons learned from e-Learning. While they have had some success, the concept of learning still needs to be re-evaluated for modern ultra-mobile devices including smartwatches such as the Apple Watch. It could be argued that smartphone and tablet app developers need to keep the technology simple and focus on pedagogy.

Mobile devices support a number of learning styles, for example, behaviorists can repeatedly practice a task while constructivists problem solve and reflect using mobile devices. Mobile learning is perfectly suited to both these learners, the technology can be visually stimulating and interactive, and because it is a mobile device, learning is timely.

The Shih Mobile Learning Model (Shih, Mills, 2007) has been developed to help instructional designers develop applications. It is based on ARCS Model of Motivational Design and comprises five stages; attention; relevance; relevance/confidence; confidence and satisfaction. This gives instructional designers a proven model in which to construct similar learning experience.

Mobile learning methodologies could benefit from research into e-Learning. For example, learning objects, perhaps there would be purpose in developing a SCORM or xAPI (Tin Can API) specifically for mobile learning. Some recommendations for designing learning objects for mobile devices include; designing for full screen in landscape, minimize scrolling, design for short contact time and for one step interactions.

Mobile Technology Standards

Mobile devices are changing rapidly. There are a range of mobile devices used for mobile learning. Of these, smartphones have rapidly grown in popularity. They use a number of communication technologies to connect to the Internet, workplace intranets and other devices, the most common technologies are Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G.

Three groups who are driving demand for new mobile communication devices are consumers, professionals and industry. The mobile devices people carry are becoming smaller, more powerful and less expensive. They are seen as personal devices, and people are prepared to spend time learning to use them. Where devices are not owned by the user, usability difficulties can sometime be an issue, however, training can be beneficial.

The question, ‘which mobile device?’ is still unanswered, each device offers slightly different features. The main mobile platforms are now iOS for iPhone and iPad and Android. However Windows is making a comeback, especially in the Irish Educational sector with its dual form tablet/PCs. The distinguishing features between the competing platforms are becoming less defined with all devices now offering an internet connected device with a large high quality multi-touch screen. While these devices are not designed for education they can be adapted to support learning through installing apps.

While still in relative infancy, many mobile learning applications have been developed for individual technologies and devices. With the lack of a single mobile device or software platform, apps can be difficult to deliver to large audiences. Developing an app for multiple devices can expensive, and risky when dealing with educational software.

A Mobile Learner Management System (mLMS) could achieve device independence. Through hosting content on the mLMS server, content would have autonomy to individual devices.

Two technologies which are mature, available on all mobile devices, and which, through the growth of e-Learning, instructional designers are familiar with, are HTML 5 and CSS. They are international standards, support server-side technologies and are delivered through the mobile devices Internet browser. By using these standards, many devices could be catered for by simply developing tailored CSS for each device. This allows learning content to be reused on any mobile device with an Internet Browser and developers to spend more time developing mobile pedagogy.


Mobile learning has many benefits to offer both pedagogical application developers and learners. Although relatively new in comparison to traditional teaching and e-Learning, mobile learning offers new and exciting opportunities in areas that other learning technologies have failed to reach.

Like any technology in its early stages, there are differing thoughts on where mobile learning will and/or should be headed, and as in any free marketplace the consumers will choose the device which best suits their needs. For pedagogical app developers, this can cause problems. Developing for different devices with divergent feature sets and running multiple operating systems and connecting with many communication technologies is expensive, time consuming, and a waste of resources. One argument would be to spend more time developing strong mobile learning pedagogies, and focus development on standard compliant coding, for example HTML 5 and CSS.

Mobile technologies and devices have an important role in education today and in the future. More research is required, focusing on pedagogy rather than technology, and mobile standards need to be developed. Ideally this will help with the next surge of mobile learning devices. The smartwatch?



  • Kadirire, J., (2007). Instant Messaging for Creating Interactive and Collaborative m-Learning Environments. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 2(8).
  • Lai, C.-H., Yang, J.-C., Chen, F.-C., Ho, C.-W. * Chant, T.-W., (2007). Affordances of Mobile Technologies for Experiential Learning: The Interplay of Technology and Pedagogical Practices. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23, 326-337.
  • Shih, E., Mills, D., (2007). Setting the New Standard with Mobile Computing in Online Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 2(8).