The :) and :( of M-Learning

Mobiles are considered an essential element of the teenage lifestyle (Twiss, 2009). Barrett (as in Text to M Learn, 2010) even goes as far to suggest that students are far more attached to this little piece of technology that they carry in their pocket than they are to their teacher (APN Educational Media, 2010). Attwell (2010) concurs and suggests that at any age mobile phones are now an extension of our identities and are therefore meaningful contexts in which to learn about ourselves, our world and each other. It has also become clear that learning is no longer required to occur within a traditional four walled classroom (Attwell, 2010).

The power of mLearning is its ability to situate learning in a hugely contextualised, authentic and meaningful manner. The learning happens where you are, when you are there. Laurillard (2007) suggest that it greatly enlarges the environments teachers can operate in, and the amount of time that students can spend on their learning (as in Attwell, 2010). Kerr’s study at Howick College revealed the power of situated learning in his project involving his geography class (APN Educational Media, 2010). He conducted a design experiment which Cochrane suggests is the only way to effectively gather data about the impact of mLearning in education (Cochrane, Exploring mobile learning success factors, 2010). The students were able to use their mobile phones to collect data on field trips, use their cell phones to transfer study notes via Bluetooth or SD card and communicate with their peers and teacher. Kerr found that through the use of mobile technology the students’ learning came alive and increased the level of learning opportunities because learning was owned by the students, and could occur anywhere and at any time (APN Educational Media, 2010).

Courtesy of

Another powerful example of mobile learning in action was Switalla’s study on the potential for podcasts to enhance language learning (as in Dyson, 2012). Students recorded their mihi (a personal introductory speech) onto an I-pod and then their teacher created a podcast from it. The students were able to listen to these podcasts, correct their pronunciation and re-record. These were then shared with their parents via the internet or in the classroom, the power of this use of mLearning was that the students were enabled to create their own knowledge, rather than following pre-determined forms of knowledge (Dyson, 2012).

The prevalence of mobile phones has in the past been seen as a distraction, a nuisance or something that requires confiscation (Murray, 2011). Twiss, Kerr and many other authors in favour of mLearning suggest that this prevalence should be seen as powerful and meaningful way to engage students in their learning in order for it to become seamlessly integrated into their everyday life (Twiss, 2009).

Twiss (2009) was interested in the potential for mobile phones to be used as a replacement technological device in schools that did not contain highly ICT rich learning environments. Her study provided three teachers and their class with cell phones with unlimited internet, calls and texts. The biggest advantage was the easy and instant access to the internet including in particular Google and YouTube. One participant stated “It was like having Google in their pockets” (Twiss, 2009, p. 1). The students thrived with the abundance of quickly accessible information, however Twiss (2009) was aware that despite of this, students considered “digital natives” did not have the requisite critical thinking skills to discern what was worth being concerned about (Twiss, 2009).

Hayes (2012) saw the greatest benefit of Mobile learning to be that it worked for life challenged students (Hayes, 2012). In his study, the classes had low attendance, whilst his students were dealing with their problems outside of the classroom. Through the utilisation of mobile devices, students could situate the learning where they were and deal with it at a time that suited them (Hayes, 2012). The increase in attendance via mobile interaction increased to almost full attendance. Mobile learning is like a game platform, students return to the classroom, to recharge or obtain a booster (from the teacher or their peers), share their ideas and improve their strategies to create new knowledge (Barrett as in Twiss, 2009). Sharples et al (2005) suggest that learning is now a contextually bound and collaborative activity, it happens as people on their own or in groups try to solve problems that they come across (as in Attwell, 2010). The beauty of mobile technology is its ability to share information regardless of their location (Attwell, 2010).

The Challenges

A future focussed pedagogy as is outlined in the NZC requires several operational and structural requirements to be met (Cochrane, Secrets of mlearning failures: confronting reality, 2012). Schools will require well run wireless networks with ultra-fast broadband, these networks in term will need to be able to support a wide range of student devices. A popular idea is that of BYOD (Bring your own device), however whilst schools can largely control what occurs on school owned mobile devices, it is very difficult to control what is considered someone’s private property (student devices) (Naismith, Lonsdale, Vavoula, & Sharples, 2006). There is a lack of applications that support control over content and the amount of data used by students. Schools need to develop strong cloud-based resources and collaborative learning spaces, teachers and students need to be adept at blogging and use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter for education. A future focussed pedagogy includes collaboration between students and schools (Bolstad, et al., 2012).

Another huge challenge that was identified by Cochrane, Bolstad et al and Naismith et al was that of sustained and development of deep teacher content, content-pedagogical and technological-pedagogical knowledge (Cochrane, Secrets of mlearning failures: confronting reality, 2012; Bolstad, et al., 2012 &Naismith, Lonsdale, Vavoula, & Sharples, 2006). Cochrane’s (2010) paper on failed m Learning projects in New Zealand revealed that the biggest downfall or caveat to the implementation of effective mLearning was a lack of content knowledge of the teachers/lecturers and/or their perceived value of the new technology for the course outcomes (Cochrane, Secrets of mlearning failures: confronting reality, 2012).

Wright (2010) and Bolstad and Gilbert (2008) suggest that without adequate and critical use of e-learning or m-learning tools, educational outcomes will not be affected. They firmly believe and advocate that it is the teacher’s actions and pedagogical content knowledge of how to enhance learning with the tools that matter (Wright, 2010 & Bolstad, et al., 2012). A teacher using all the new “fads” without the requisite relationship building and learner centric teaching philosophy will not be enhancing student outcomes, instead merely providing busy work (Bolstad & Gilbert, School ICT Innovations: 21st Century learning or digital busywork?, 1998). On the other hand a teacher who does not engage with these tools, but has a deep, reflective and critical knowledge of pedagogy, content and pedagogical content will have students who achieve far greater results (Bolstad & Gilbert, School ICT Innovations: 21st Century learning or digital busywork?, 1998).

One barrier to the development of this type of technological-pedagogical content knowledge is fear. As Sharples (2005) suggest, some educators see new technologies that are introduced to their classroom as “disruptive”, as they challenge pre-established forms of thinking, and concepts about teaching (as in Attwell, 2010). This is threatening and without adequate support many educators abandon technology in favour of the status quo.

Melhuish and Falloon (2010) assert that teachers should not be afraid to be critical of new technology but nor should they be afraid to give it a try (Melhuish & Falloon, 2010). They suggest that if the education sector ignores the potential of mobile technologies in schools in favour of more arcane methods, it will merely reinforce the “younger generation’s attitude that education is becoming irrelevant to their daily life” (Melhuish & Falloon, 2010, p. 3).

Cochrane (2010) suggests that the easiest and best way to stop this occurring is to create and develop a meaningful and substantive community of practice (Cochrane, Exploring mobile learning success factors, 2010). A successful community of practice included regular and sustained exposure to the technologies selected in a supportive environment. Wenger, McDermott and Synder (2002) project with the inclusion of mobile phones in an architectural course failed because of the lack of time and preparation for the use of the mobile technology (as in Cochrane, 2010).

Cochrane (2010) asserts that much of the success associated with M Learning is to do with failed projects informing the re-design and implementation of another project (Cochrane, Exploring mobile learning success factors, 2010). Reeves (2005/2009) suggests that new E-learning initiatives that are described as successful very rarely bring about major pedagogical shifts, and show little impact on achievement when compared to traditional modes of teaching and learning (as in Cochrane, Secrets of mlearning failures: confronting reality, 2012). One could suggest that this is because the pedagogy behind positive practice does not change.

Shulman (as in Mishra & Koehler, 2006) previously developed the idea of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). In essence the art of knowing what to teach and how to teach it. The TPCK model takes this PCK into account and adds a third element to it – technology (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). An excellent teacher can be someone who DOES NOT use e-learning tools but instead uses a blackboard or chalk on concrete or buckets of water and cups. Mishra and Koehler (2006) suggest that now the form of technology is changing, in terms of Mobile Learning it is mobile phones, tablets or laptops (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

Concluding Thoughts;

The challenge for educators is to develop strong and supportive communities of practice in order to take full advantage of the learning opportunities that are afforded by mobile devices. However, as Melhuish and Falloon (2006) wisely advise “the use of or the device should not be the focus of the learning” but instead be seen as part of a rich learning environment, and as a means to enhance excellent teaching and learning (Melhuish & Falloon, 2010, p. 12).

If you would like to read any of these articles, please see the reference list below:

Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality Teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis. Wellington: Minstry of Education.

APN Educational Media. (2010). Texting to M-Learn. Education Review NZ: ICT and Procurement.

Attwell, G. (2010, November). Research on Mobile Learning. Retrieved from Pontydysgu: Bridge to Learning:

Bolstad, R., & Gilbert, J. (1998). School ICT Innovations: 21st Century learning or digital busywork? Computers in NZ Schools, 10 (3), 3 – 9.

Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., with, McDowall, S., Bull, A., & Boyd, S. (2012). Supporting Future Oriented Learning and Teaching – a New Zealand Perspective. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Claxton, G. (2002). Powerful learners and their learning minds: Developing the mind to learn. In Building learning power: Helping young people to become better learners (pp. 13 – 43). Bristol: TLO.

Cochrane, T. (2010). Exploring mobile learning success factors. ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 18, No. 2,, 133–148.

Cochrane, T. (2012). Secrets of mlearning failures: confronting reality. Supplement: ALT-C 2012 Conference Proceedings (pp. 123-134). Auckland: Centre for Teaching and Learning, Auckland University of Teaching, Auckland, NZ.

Dyson, L. E. (2012). Student-Generated Mobile Learning: A Shift in the Educational Paradigm for the 21st Century. The Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Mobile Learning Group, 15 – 20.

Fletcher, J., & Brooks, D. (2006). What makes for successful integrated use of ICT in a low decile primary school? Set (1), 9 – 14.

Hayes, A. (2012). Reflections: Glass & Mobile Learning. The Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Mobile Learning Group: anzMLearn Transactions on Mobile Learning, 5 – 9.

Kessler, S. (2011). 4 Ways Mobile Tech is Improving Education. Retrieved from

Livingston, A. (2009). The Revolution No One Noticed: Mobile Phones and Multimobile Services in Higher Education. Educause Quarterly, 32(1).

Melhuish, K., & Falloon, G. (2010). Looking to the future: M-learning with the iPad. . Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, Leading, Technology,, 1 – 16.

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teachers College Record Volume 108, Number 6 , pp. 1017–1054.

Mortimer, N., Farrell, J., & Khan, B. (1997, December 13). Control of learning implications for web based instruction. Retrieved from

Murray, C. (2011). Making the Move to mobile learning. Interface New Zealand.

Naismith, L., Lonsdale, P., Vavoula, G., & Sharples, M. (2006). REPORT 11: Literature Review in Mobile Learning and Technology. Bristol BS1 5UH: Future Labs.

Twiss, T. (2009). Mobile Phones in the Classroom. Education Review.

Wright, N. (2010). e-Learning and New Zealand schools: a literature review. New Zealand: Ministry of Education.


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