Why Mobile Learning?

Last month I took my daughter on her first college visit. As a senior in high school, she was impressed by the size of the campus, the plethora of courses and fields of study, and the diversity of the students. What impressed her most though, and me as well, was the large number of students we witnessed using their mobile devices as learning tools.

The odds that you are reading this blog on a mobile device are roughly 51%, and growing larger and larger by the year (Bosomworth, 2015). In fact, since 2000, mobile’s share of total internet usage has jumped from 12.5% to just over 50%. This begs two questions for educators and other learning professionals, why is mobile device usage rising so rapidly and how can we leverage this in education?

This blog will first discuss the growing prevalence of mobile devices in education. Next we will examine how learning can be enhanced through incorporating mobile usage. It will then discuss the drawbacks. Lastly, it will compare the pros and cons of the three most common mobile devices: laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

The Growth of Mobile Learning

A couple of items really stand out to me from this presentation. First, 39% of organizations are already making use of mobile learning technology. This means that the technology is already well past the early adopter stage. For an organization new to mobile learning, there are reams of data available on what works and what doesn’t. This significantly shortens the learning curve for new adopters.

Second, 46% of workers would choose their smartphone over other device types if they could choose only one. Additionally, 30% would choose the iPhone and another 22% the iPad. Content developers should take note. Apps that are hard to use on smartphones will fail and apps that are not available on Apple devices will also fail. A smart developer might develop for the iPhone first and then adapt to other devices.

One drawback stands out. Less than 10% of organizations employing mobile learning fail to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of their material. I find this statistic a little troubling for two reasons. First, it is a massive no-no is instructional design and second, it is fairly easy to build instant assessment into any mobile learning application. These designers should know better.

The Pros of Mobile Learning

Mobile learning offers several advantages over traditional in-class education. In no particular order, these are: access, cost, situational and contextual learning, and communication (Walsh, 2015).

Access is fairly obvious. That is why it’s called mobile learning. Mobile devices can be taken anywhere. Students can learn during their commute, while eating, while waiting in line, while exercising, etc. This provides a very large advantage over traditional delivery methods. Cost can be an advantage for both the students and the institution. The vast majority of students already own at least one mobile device. Electronic content such as e-textbooks and apps is much more affordable than hard covered texts. For the institution, delivering content electronically is much more cost effective than building classrooms, hiring security and maintenance staff, etc.

One of the best advantages of mobile learning is that it promotes situational and contextual learning. Ina n example from Walsh (2015), he describes a med student using his tablet to access material while conducting his rounds. This made his learning directly applicable to the problem he was facing at the time and allowed him to implement his learning immediately. Classroom learning cannot do that.

Lastly, mobile learning promotes communication between students and their teachers as well as between the students themselves. By using apps such as Twitter, Facebook, and others; students can ask questions and discuss assignments whenever and wherever they are; even during the middle of a lecture.

Drawbacks of Mobile Learning

Mobile learning is not without its drawbacks. The absolute largest of these is the fact that it is completely reliant on technology (Walsh, 2015). In your battery runs out, or you are in a poor connectivity zone, you cannot learn. A standard text does not have this limitation.

Other potential drawbacks include the possibility of distraction and the technology infatuation. The first occurs when students are too busy checking their social media, playing games, or surfing the internet to actually study. At least with a traditional textbook a student can hole up in their dorm or the library. With mobile technology the distraction travels with them.

Technology infatuation occurs when the instructor begins to spend more time developing the look and feel of the content rather than focusing on the content itself. Look and feel are important, but not to the detriment of the material.

Three Delivery Devices

Currently, there are three devices on which mobile learning can take place: laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Each has advantages over the others and each has its disadvantages. Although, I would like to add that technology changes fast and the differences between these three device types is becoming smaller by the year.


  1. Physical keyboard – A full size keyboard is just easier and quicker to use.
  2. Storage capacity – Laptops have multiple times more RAM and storage space then other devices
  3. DVD/CD drive – Although cloud computing lessens this advantage, external storage is still commonplace and laptops are the only device that can access it.
  4. Software – The software on your laptop is better. Because of the storage issue related above, laptops use full versions of all popular programs. It is also more likely that any software you encounter can run on your laptop, this is not always the case with other devices.
  5. Compatibility – There are standards around which laptops are built. Whether they be USB ports, HDMI connections, Ethernet, or others; all laptops are the same and all devices designed to be used with them will work with any of them. This is not true with smartphones and tablets (Bradley, 2015a).


  1. Always available – In this modern age, no one leaves home without their cell phone. In fact, even if you choose to use another device, the chances are pretty good that you have you phone with you.
  2. Connectivity – This is a bog one. You smartphone is designed to always be connected if a connection is available. Most laptops and tablets rely on Wi-Fi. Your phone can use Wi-Fi, but also can use your cellular network.
  3. Voice calls – Smart phones are the best communication option. They were designed as communication devices and that is still what they are best at. Try calling a classmate with a question from your tablet.
  4. Text messaging – Same as with voice calls, smart phones are the best device for this method of communication as well.
  5. Versatility – The smart phone is the most versatile of the devices. A good smart phone has all the features of a tablet, and many of the laptop, plus all the communication features it was designed for (Bradley, 2015b).


  1. Portability – Tablets are smaller and lighter than laptops. They can be easily carried from place to place without a massive bag.
  2. Functionality – Tablets have significantly more screen size than a smart phone. If you are reading a couple hundred pages of your text or watch a video with a bunch of charts, your eyes will thank you.
  3. Less cumbersome – Related to its smaller size, tablets are easier to work on when on the go. Trying to work on an airplane, bus, or even when walking around? It can be a real hassle to finagle your laptop out of its case, open it up, and position it so you can both see the screen and use the keyboard. This is not an issue with a tablet.
  4. Battery life – Most tablets have significantly more battery life than a laptop. This is mainly due to having less RAM and storage. But, that is a small tradeoff when you realize you don’t have to lug around power cords and search for a power outlet every couple of hours.
  5. Flexibility – While not as flexible as smart phone, a tablet can take pictures, shoot videos, act as a video communication device, etc. (Bradley, 2015c).


Mobile internet usage is rapidly becoming the norm. Mobile learning is quickly following. Mobile learning offers many advantages over traditional learning. It can take place anywhere at any time, it allows students to seek out and apply knowledge when it is needed, it saves money for both student and institution, and it enables and promotes communication. Several devices can be used to access mobile learning material. Of these, smartphones are the most versatile, lap tops the most powerful, and tablets fall somewhere in the middle. Mobile learning in both education and business offers an exciting new way of transferring knowledge.



Bosomworth, D. (2015). Mobile marketing statistics 2015. Smart Insights. Retrieved from: http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/mobile-marketing-analytics/mobile-marketing-statistics/.

Bradley, T. (2015). 5 ways laptops are better than tablets or smartphones. PCWorld. Retrieved from: http://www.pcworld.com/article/247382/5_ways_laptops_are_better_than_tablets_or_smartphones.html.

Bradley, T. (2015). 5 ways smartphones are better than laptops or tablets. PCWorld. Retrieved from: http://www.pcworld.com/article/247388/5_ways_smartphones_are_better_than_laptops_or_tablets.html.

Bradley, T. (2015). 5 ways tablets are better than laptops or smartphones. PCWorld. Retrieved from: http://www.pcworld.com/article/247387/5_ways_tablets_are_better_than_laptops_or_smartphones.html.

Gutierrez, K. (2013). 20 Eye-opening stats you probably didn’t know about mobile learning. SHIFTlearning.com. Retrieved from: http://info.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/271043/20-Eye-Opening-Stats-You-Probably-Didn-t-Know-About-Mobile-Learning.

Walsh, K. (2015). Mobile Learning in Medical Education: Review. Ethiopian Journal Of Health Sciences, 25(4), 363-366. doi:10.4314/ejhs.v25i4.10.