Mobile Learning Has Stalled

Prof John Traxler is a keynote speaker at JISC’s Digifest 2016 and wrote an article about his presentation entitled What killed the mobile learning dream?. In this piece he argues that the mobile learning dream, of offering completely personalised anytime anywhere learning, has died. What has resulted instead is (a nightmare?) mobile access to VLEs used as repositories i.e. students reading notes on the bus. He argues for a rethink to take advantage of greater possibilities and opportunities in mobile learning.

Causes for the dream being stalled

#1 Early on – Small Scale

  • Expensive projects – involved giving (expensive) devices to students, but could not afford to continue to subsidise equipment for all, so not financially sustainable
  • Small projects – do not provide much information on how to scale up
  • Short term projects – do not provide much information around sustainability
  • Early adopter / enthusiast projects – do not provide much information around working with the majority of educators

#2 Now – Bring Your Own Device

Students (in most cases) now have their own devices, so learnings from previous small scale projects do not apply. Additionally, there is a wide variety of devices and they change rapidly.This ushers in a new set of questions

  • Is there a specific range of technologies they can bring?
  • What’s the nature of the support offered?
  • Have we got a network infrastructure that won’t fall over when 20,000 students turn up with gadgets?
  • What kind of staff development is needed to handle the fact that not only will the students turn up with many different devices but tomorrow they’ll have changed to even more different devices?

BYOD also means bringing their own services and connectivity. It is no longer the university network that makes the rules for access.

Issues of control and the role of teachers

This points to a larger issue of control. Students have their own hardware, software and connectivity. They now bring different habits and expectations about how and what they learn. It is not solely accessing what is provided on a VLE. So this begs the question… What is the role of the lecturer and the university? Particularly if we consider students can access content and apps from anywhere and in different formats (video, audio, social etc). Another question is how to support students with digital literacy?

Focus on opening outwards and upwards

The dream is now to open outwards and upwards. Universities ought to be:

  • Challenging our students to find, or providing our students with, the best learning materials
  • Collecting and orchestrating the best of what is out there already
  • Wanting our students to learn by discussion and interaction (not locked within a VLE)

Comment: One of the issues I often wonder about in my study is if I am asking the right questions. I think here the questions about the range of technologies students can bring, the changes in these devices and the types of support they need are all linked to my question of understanding how we can support online students who are using multiple devices for learning. So that students can take advantage of technologies to help them learn seamlessly. Is this still the right dream to have?


Traxler, J (2016). What killed the mobile learning dream? JISC. Available:


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