Presentation: Distance Students Usage of Multiple Devices for Learning

My presentation at the eLearning Update Conference, at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg on 7 September 2016. The presentation shares the initial results from a survey of UOC students regarding their learning behaviours using multiple devices.


Mobile Learning Summer Vodcast Series

Dr Rob Power, from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and IAmLearn committee member, presents a YouTube summer vodcast series on Teaching and Learning with Mobile Technology. He interviews several mobile learning experts regarding key issues and trends in mobile learning.

Deploying Mobile Technologies in Education

  • Date: 8 June 2016
  • Link:
  • IAmLearn founding director, and Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI) member Dr Mohamed Ally talks about the arguments for and against integrating mobile technologies in formal education, and key considerations when implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program.
  • Key points:
    • Context: changes in technologies (focus on tablets, phones), student expectations for mobile learning, access OERs.
    • Institutions need to include mobile learning in strategic plans.
    • BYOD/T: there are both drawbacks (delivery cope with different devices, cater to students using multiple devices, changes in devices) and benefits (technology maintenance, students familiar with own devices).
    • May be a need for mobile device built specifically for education.
    • Issues/Challenges: Infrastructure issues – power and internet; training of teachers; designing materials for mobile access.

Defining mLearning

  • Date: 21 June 2016
  • IAmLearn president Dr Aga Palalas discusses the difficulties in defining what exactly mobile learning is, why mobile technologies are important in teaching and learning, and the role of IAmLearn.
  • Key points:
    • IAmLearn: forum for research and development in mobile and contextual learning.
    • Defining mlearning: different contexts of mlearning, needs of learners, subjects, devices (laptops included or not?), mobility.
    • Learning is not truly always and everywhere.
    • Seamless connectivity: formal and informal learning.
    • Mlearning key concepts: flexibility, portability, convenience.

Future Trends in Mobile Learning

  • Date: 22 June 2016
  • Link:
  • Former IAmLearn president Dr Marcus Specht about the future of mobile learning, including the increasing roles of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) applications, and wearable technologies.
  • Key points:
    • VR: create a virtual world, AR – connecting real world with virtual aspects e.g. museum guide, use visual channel with augmented audio channel.
    • Wearables: sensors, display, computing power – used alone or with other devices to create body area network.
    • Trends: consolidation of technologies, scalability, wearables with visual augmentations.

Scalability and Sustainability in Mobile Learning

  • Date: 11 July 2016
  • IAmLearn vice-president John Traxler, the “world’s first professor of mobile learning,” discusses scalability and sustainability with mobile learning projects, and their implications for teachers and educational institutions.
  • Key points:
    • mLearning has not changed enough, still focused on elearning background. But mobile experiences or expectations are diferent to computers.
    • Scalability – moving from small to big? But issues become diferent (capacity, culture, organisation change). On the other hand, when we talk devices, they are already scaled.
    • Learners learn differently when consider greater scale. Look at how other big projects worked (not moving small to big).
    • Must understand the importance of context.
    • Mobiles are pervasive.
    • Where is the agency in learning? Students have the devices, services, networks.
    • Use of mobiles is social, they are used differently, we require less focus on aspects of psychology, more on sociology.

Mobile Technologies and STEM

  • Date: 12 July 2016
  • Dr Mike Sharples of the Open University of the UK discusses the use of mobile technologies to facilitate STEM education, and scientific inquiry using the Sense-it app.
  • Key points:
    • STEM Education – using technologies like remote laboratories, online and mobile learning.
    • Project focus: connect in and out of class, website and Sense-it app (15 sensors on your phone) – citizen science experiments. Also working with schools for practical explorations.
    • Encourage the “try it yourself” approach.

Teacher Preparation and Pedagogical Approaches to Mobile Learning

  • Date: 18 July 2016
  • IAmLearn members and Ohio State University researchers Dr Dean Cristol and Dr Belinda Gimbert discuss the challenges in preparing teachers to integrate mobile technologies in teaching and learning practice, and their work investigating pedagogical approaches to mLearning.
  • Key points:
    • A few years ago, schools not using technology, for example, please turn off cellphones.
    • Now it is slowly changing, but teachers do not know how to integrate technology into teaching.
    • Training teachers: Usage of technology to be embedded into learning to be a teacher (not just focus of one course).
    • Professional development: cannot impose things, need to know what they know and what they want and customise to individual needs.

User Interface Considerations for Mobile Learning

  • Date: 22 July 2016
  • Geoff Stead, Director of Digital and New Product Development at Cambridge English discusses user interface and accessibility considerations for mobile learning instructional design and resource development.
  • Key points:
    • The interface is affected by the context of use (what the learner wants).
    • Mobile first instructional design: can refer to responsive design by website designers, but more broadly means optimising for all devices.
    • Not all content should be pushed to every device, but look at device specific features.
    • Improve accessibility: granularity (smaller pieces of content), strip out the pedagogy, focus on multiple devices (not on a specific device), incorporate social aspects (easy to share, curate, comment), be where your learners are (do not need to always build own channels).
    • Native or web apps? Depends on the needs, usually cheaper for mobile web first.
    • Future: in-app search, more devices, AR.

Mobile Assisted Language Learning

Forthcoming on 9 August.

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:

How effective is mobile learning? #EDENChat

In the run up to the EDEN 2015 summer conference with the theme Expanding Learning Scenarios, the organisers are discussing some of the themes of the conference on Twitter using the hashtag #EDENChat. This week, on 22 April at 20.00 CET the focus was  on the effectivness of mobile learning. You can find the archive of the discussion on Storify. Here are some of the key questions that were asked:

  • Where is mobile learning making the most impact?
  • What examples do you have of successful mobile learning?
  • What ingredients are necessary for successful mobile learning?
  • Are mobile devices better suited to informal learning?
  • What can we learn through a mobile that we can’t learn in classrooms?
  • Do we need to develop a new pedagogy to embrace mobile learning?

Future Trends in Mobile Learning

An article published by Origin Learning entitled Watch Out For These Trends in Mobile Learning: 2015 And Beyond lists the trends to watch in mobile learning. The article was published on 30 March 2015. Although some are not mobile learning-specific, I think it lists the main trends in mobile learning that are being talked about but not yet widely implemented. Below, I summarise the trends listed in this article:

  • Shift from Flash to HTML5 – a better way to create engaging content (videos, animations) and HTML5 links to the development of responsive design (improving learner experiences)
  • Device agnostic design – Design for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) instead of designing native apps (widening access to learning experiences)
  • App Analytics – understanding learner interaction and behaviour to personalise learning experiences
  • Responsive web design and multi-screen usage – explore ways to make content enhanced and responsive to support learning behaviours and provide consistency as learners switch between devices
  • Bite-sized learning for performance support – provide employees with just-in-time and relevant information at the time they require it
  • Augmenting classroom training – using videos and podcasts to reinforce learning
  • Gamification – development of mobile gaming apps for simulations and assessments
  • Geo-location sensitivity – opportunities for learning design models that are authentic, personalised and context aware
  • Augmented reality – using AR applications to support learning by adding a digital layer to the physical
  • Mobile social learning – accessing social networks and learning spaces via mobile devices to drive learner interaction
  • Wearable devices – glasses, watches and wrist bands may be used for learning in the future

Ubiquitous and Seamless Learning

Recently I have been reading articles where ubiquitous or seamless learning is frequently mentioned. I will attempt to use this post to explain what is meant by these two terms.

Mobile technologies enable learners to access learning content wherever they are, whether in the classroom, at home, or even on the way to somewhere. So in effect, any environment could be become a learning environment. Ubiquitous learning uses sensing and actuating devices to enhance the learning environment. For example, when a student approaches an object, sensors detect his/her presence and
transmit information about the object, which is received by the student’s mobile device. This is enabled through:

  • Context awareness – the system providing pedagogical flow and content to the learning environment should be aware of the learner’s situations. For example, through GPS, temperature sensors etc.
  • Context adaptivity – learning content should be adaptable to the particular setting in which the learners are situated.

While similar to ubiquitous learning, seamless learning “implies that students can learn whenever they are curious, in a variety of situations. They can easily and quickly switch from one scenario to another using their personal mobile device as a mediator, and can maintain the continuity of their learning across technologies and settings.” Learners could learn on their own, in groups or large online communities with the support of teachers and experts (Milrad et al, 2013). So there is seamless transition between formal and informal learning. This is enabled through:

  • Seamless adaptivity – the technology adapts to the learner without the learner being aware, e.g, learning content or services that are appropriate to the learner and settings (in the learner’s language, at the right level of difficulty, providing appropriate help etc).
  • Seamless connectivity – ensure the continuity of the learning experience by maintaining the learning across devices and settings, enabling learners to carry on where they left off, and to easily re-establish a learning activity from a previous time, by providing means to search back in time for a learning content or activity and then recall its context and connection.


Gilman, E., Sanchez, I., Cortes, M., & Riekki, J. (2015) Towards User Support in Ubiquitous Learning Systems. In press.

Marinagi, C., Skourlas, C., & Belsis, P. (2013). Employing ubiquitous computing devices and technologies in the higher education classroom of the future. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 73, 487-494.

Milrad, M., Wong, L.-H., Sharples, M., Hwang, G.-J., Looi, C.-K., Ogata, H. (2013) Seamless Learning: An International Perspective on Next-Generation Technology-Enhanced Learning. In Z. L. Berge & L. Y. Muilenburg (eds.) Handbook of Mobile Learning. New York: Routledge, pp. 95- 108.