Designing educational experiences for the mobile device

Given where the field of educational/learning technologies has been over the last several decades, where do you believe it will go next?

I have read for years that learning would become more personalized.  What’s more personal than the device in your pocket or purse?  Mobile learning (M-learning), which is defined as learning methods and materials that involve the use of mobile phones or handheld computers. M-learning has gained attention over the last several years, but little work has been done to optimize content in distance education programs in order to take full advantage of this delivery medium.

As stated by Gedik, Hanci-Karademirci, Kursun, and Cagiltay (2012), in 2010 approximately 90% of the world population had available access to mobile networks, with 80% of people in rural areas having such connectivity.  The depth of mobile penetration has reached a tipping point and now is the time to address learning via mobile devices.

There are clear benefits to M-learning. These benefits are access to content, increased interaction in distance education, and leveraging of preferred communication channels. Mobile technologies promote the active participation of learners in-between the activities of the distance learner’s busy daily life.

Where there are opportunities to reach learners with the delivery method, there are also significant challenges. These challenges relate to issues such as inconsistency of mobile device user interfaces, feature diversity, and the variety of existing platforms (android, iOS, Windows, etc.)  (Sarrab & Hamza Aldabbas, 2012).

Designing for the various devices, browsers, operating systems, and features presents challenges to M-learning designers.  Design principles presented by Wang & Shen (2012) identify 4 key elements necessary for effective learning design for the various devices today.

Principle 1: Design for the least common denominator.
Principle 2: Design for eLearning, adapt for M-learning.
Principle 3: Design short and “condensed” materials for smart phones.
Principle 4: Be creative when designing for mobile devices with 3G and 4G technologies.

Students expect learning guides, exam help, and short video lessons never longer than 5 minutes to be delivered via their mobile devices.  Content should be sliced into manageable chunks that can be delivered via MMS or SMS (Wang & Shen, 2012).

M-learning created properly will leverage Mayer’s theory of multimedia message design and be multi-modal.  Video/Audio should be captioned in order to deliver content via many learning modalities at one time.  This approach take advantage of the dual-coding learning theory (Wang & Shen, 2012).

It is my opinion that M-learning will be much more powerful when we begin to incorporate the use of the features of devices (photos, geo-location, augmented reality, voice, and video).  I envision connecting with my web-enabled television and smart device to engage with my education in a whole new way when compared with how this content is delivered today.

Second Screen
Figure 1: The TV and Mobile Connection



Gedik, N., Hanci-Karademirci, A., Kursun, E., & Cagiltay, K. (2012). Key instructional design issues in a cellular phone-based mobile learning project. Computers & Education, (58), 1149-1159.

Sarrab, M., & Hamza Aldabbas, L. (2012). Mobile learning (m-learning) and educational environments. International Journal of Distributed and Parallel Systems, 3(4), Retrieved from

Wang, M., & Shen, R. (2012). Message design for mobile learning: Learning theories, human cognition and design principles_1214 . British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(4), 561-575. doi: doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01214.x

[Web log message]. (2012, February 20). Retrieved from

Originally posted: September 23, 2012  – Blog rebuilt: April 20, 2014

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