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The Mobile Learning Ecosystem

Virtual events
Many components go into a successful mobile learning experience. Together, they can be seen as a “mobile learning ecosystem.” Components include a large variety of mobile devices with many features and capabilities, several types of content, a handful of different operating systems or platforms, a network of mobile communications providers with different standards, offerings, and price structures, a developing suite of tools for content creation, mastering mobile learning a set of new concepts and uses for mobile learning that we are just beginning to understand.

Mobile devices come in many shapes and sizes and have many ways of connecting to and distributing information. Input devices include microphones, cameras, keypads, small keyboards, clickable scroll wheels, mini joysticks, touch pads, touch screens, voice, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, Near Field Communications, infrared, accelerometers, sensors, magnetic field detectors, and styluses. Output methods include text, sound, video, images, digital signals, LED lights, and various forms of 2D and 3D projection onto surfaces or directly into the eyeball. Work is underway on devices that stimulate the senses of smell and taste using a mobile device.

Mobile Learning Applications 

Learning designers and developers have many choices for how to facilitate learning using mobile technologies. The specific techniques that you choose to implement in your mobile learning design will depend on your learning theories, your experience at training or teaching, and the characteristics and needs of the learners you are trying to train. Mobile learning applications can be broken into five broad categories.

Content Transmission and Retrieval

Learning materials relevant to an employee can either be created by the training and development department and “pushed” to the learner, or can be retrieved by a user at “the point of need.” Because of the nature of mobile learning, it is best if learning materials are in the form of small “nuggets” of information, rather than large-scale productions or courses. For most workers, mobile learning is something that is usually done in small amounts, but several times during the day. Notifications can be used to alert employees to a required or important piece of information they need to consult.

Capturing Data

In contrast to e-learning, mobile phones and tablets are bidirectional, allowing users to employ them as data-gathering and storage devices as they move about. An inquiry-based pedagogy makes sense for mobile learning and turns a mobile device into a research tool. First-person documentation activities can include maintenance of a learning portfolio, monitoring and trend tracking of local phenomena, and the creation of user-generated content.

Communicating and Interacting with Others


Because mobile devices can be networked, they are great for communicating, coordinating actions, and collaborating with others. Networking allows for texting, social media, voice communications, group games, simulations, experiences in virtual worlds, and real-time mentoring, as well.

Computing Algorithms

Mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets can also be thought of as computers in their own right. Many of these are more powerful than many desktop computers just five or ten years ago and, because of that, they can be programmed to do almost anything. This has spawned a mobile app industry that has exploded, with over two million separate pieces of software available in various app stores on the Internet. Thousands of apps now available can be used for mobile learning.

Contextual Inquiry

Not only can mobile devices retrieve information from databases, but they can also be used to interact with “smart” objects and/ or other mobile technology–connecting people in a person’s immediate environment. Additionally, the ability of many devices to detect a user’s location and orientation allows for new kinds of informational experiences, such as augmented reality and geofencing.

In addition to these five categories of mobile learning experiences, mobile applications can also be used to manage learning activities in the classroom or in the field. Live information on emergencies and instructions on what to do in those situations can be conveyed to a group of dispersed users very quickly. And mobile extensions of more traditional learning management systems allow the tracking of mobile learning by existing learning and development software.


Editor’s note:  This post is an excerpt from  Mastering Mobile Learning: Tips and Techniques for Success, co-published by Wiley and ASTD. This excerpt has been adapted with permission from the publisher,  Wiley, copyright © 2014.


About the Author

As managing director of Float Mobile Learning, Chad Udell strategizes with Fortune 500 companies and their learning departments to help deliver mobile learning to employees. Chad also works with universities and other learning organizations to develop their unique visions of where and how to use mobile learning. Chad's focus is on understanding an organization's business drivers and goals and then creating the strategy that can best deliver solutions. Chad is recognized as an expert in design and development, and he speaks regularly at national conferences on design, development and mobile learning. He has been a faculty member of Bradley University for more than five years.

About the Author

Gary Woodill is a Senior Analyst with Float Mobile Learning, as well as CEO, i5 Research. He has been involved with computers in education since 1974, when he was introduced to the PLATO system for computer-assisted instruction in his Master’s studies in educational psychology. In 1984 Gary received a doctorate in applied psychology from the University of Toronto, and in 1993 he co-founded an educational multimedia company that developed educational CD-ROMs for children. In 1998 he designed an adaptable learning management system and has developed more than sixty online courses for various corporate clients. Gary is co-author of Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds and author of The Mobile Learning Edge, both published by McGraw-Hill in 2010. He is also the author of numerous articles, research reports, and white papers on emerging learning technologies.

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