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Mobile Learning’s Impact on Instructional Design

It seems the common catalyst for emerging learning theories like Connectivism, Online Collaborative Learning, Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs), Online Networked Learning Environments, and other online-oriented paradigms is the importance of establishing social presence in the learning environment. As Downes (2008) points out: the focus of a personal learning environment “is more on creation and communication than it is consumption and completion.” Under these theories, learning no longer must be treated as an information-transfer activity, but rather an exploratory activity allowing learners to relate new concepts to existing knowledge and experiences.

So how does Mobile Learning fit into this equation? According to Peng et al (2009), mobile learning is based on the idea of ubiquity, which ‘refers not to the idea of “anytime, anywhere” but to “widespread”, “just-in-time”, and “when-needed” computing power for learners.’ In other words, mobile learning assumes that modern learners are continuously in motion, and allows students to learn the right thing, at the right time, in the right place. This immediacy could increase the effectiveness of authentic and situated learning tasks by giving students the ability to approach a topic in real time, as they go about their daily routine. Utilizing mobile learning strategies would allow a learner to access their PLE and take advantage of their social capital in this same real-time fashion.

When it comes down to it, Mobile Learning is simply a way to access the learning environment from a myriad of different devices in different locations. However, the power of Mobile Learning exists in the ability to unhinge the learning environment from the traditional confines of a hard-wired computer, and an identifiable “study space.” With mobile devices, learning can take place in a “just-in-time” format, much like lifelong learning and real world applications, and learners can more easily access and participate in their communities of inquiry.


What does Mobile Learning mean for Instructional Designers?

Embrace Ubiquity – Use it to your advantage

Whether or not you formally design curriculum for mobile learning, it will exist. Learners will find ways to consume content and learn in different environments. So embrace that concept!

As an instructional designer, understand that learners have the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere, and that they are no longer restricted to an identifiable space. Find ways to send learners out into the world to experience what they are learning. Which would you rather do, read about a river ecosystem or visit a river to do a real-life ecosystem analysis?


Just-in-Time Learning

Just-in-Time Learning provides learning opportunities to learners when and where they need it most. More importantly, it empowers learners to take control of their own experience. It allows them to explore a content area at their own pace and consume content when it is most beneficial.

With Mobile Learning, students have access to your curriculum whenever and wherever they need it. So think about how that may change the way you implement activities. Instead of providing text-book like content, provide the resources necessary for learners to seek out the information they need. And don’t do it all yourself! Look at online resources like YouTube and TED, and guide your learners to seek out the information they need.


Importance of Professional Learning Communities and Social Learning

With Mobile Learning comes the undeniable popularity of social media. Social media has created a culture where people have near-instantaneous contact with any other person, anywhere in the world. By focusing on Mobile Learning, instructional designers can take advantage of this culture to further improve learning opportunities.

One example is to encourage learners to participate in Professional Learning Communities. These communities are made up of people from around the world who share a common interest. Many communities include professionals in the field, researchers, and even hobbyists, so learners and novices will usually be welcomed with open arms. Being a part of one of these communities offers an opportunity to assimilate trending knowledge into your own learning experience.

Check out my article on Connectivism for more information on PLCs and creating learning environments that focus on the creation of cognitive flexibility. Also take a look at Alex Hatcher’s article on Social Learning for more details on why Social Learning works, and how to implement it in your curriculum.


Metacognition – Learning to Learn

In order to ensure learners are learning what they need to at any point in time, we first must understand HOW students learn. More importantly, we need to understand how to make students aware of their own learning processes. Metacognition is the ability of the learner to understand how their thought processes work, and how to regulate those thought processes to maximize learning potential. Mobile Learning becomes exponentially more meaningful is learners are not just going through the motions, but really understand how their thought processes are leading to long-term knowledge creation.


When all is said and done, Mobile Learning increases our flexibility as designers to implement meaningful, real-life learning scenarios. It allows us to break down the walls of the classroom and send our students out into the world. It allows us to deliver content when and where students need it most.

How have you implemented Mobile Learning in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below!



Downes, S. (2008) The future of online learning: Ten years on. Message posted to the Half an Hour Blogspot website:

Peng H., Su Y.-J., Chou C. & Tsai C.-C. (2009) Ubiquitous knowledge construction: mobile learning re-defined and a conceptual framework. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 46, 171-183.

Kegan Remington, an Instructional Designer from NAU, specializes in Active Learning Pedagogy and the development of dynamic, collaborative, technology-enhanced learning environments. With a decade of experience in education, Kegan’s career is focused on developing high-fidelity learning materials, integrative learning environments, and promoting effective instructional techniques for the 21st century learner.

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