Saturday, September 3, 2011

Studies Show: Recent Research on Mobile Learning

Every day around the world, thousands of research studies are produced on every conceivable subject. So, when I checked out the Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) recently, that there were over 1,700 research items listed for mobile learning or ubiquitous learning. (BASE is free to use, and many of the articles listed are “open” and accessible. For most of the others, there is usually an abstract describing the results of the study – thanks to Stephen Downes,, for blogging about this resource).

Much of this academic research does not inform current practice in mobile learning in enterprise settings. One reason that there is little crossover between empirical research and corporate training is that academic studies are often difficult to read, are based on complex theories, or, contain lots of statistics and other forms of mathematics that are unfamiliar to the average training manager. Being a former academic who taught research methods, I propose to dip into some of this literature and review studies that I think might be useful to those who are trying to formulate new methods and approaches to mobile learning, and highlight recent studies of interest to learning and development professionals. While most of the studies that I looked at apply to higher education, there are a number that can be generalized to the training field. Here are five studies from the past two years that I found particularly applicable to enterprise mobile learning:

Akkerman, S. and Filius, R. (2011). The use of personal digital assistants as tools for work-based learning in clinical internships. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(1), 325-341.
Comment: this study investigates both the perceived potential as well is the actual role of PDAs supporting a range of work-based learning activities. What is interesting here is how PDAs can be used as “boundary objects” between higher education practices and workplace practices. We all know that sometimes what is taught in university college classes is not exactly how things work in the real world. By taking college level materials into the workplace, supervisors can see what the students are being taught, and professors can see how the students act in the workplace. This can help bridge the gap between the two worlds that students inhabit.

Ardito, C., Buono, P. (2009). Enabling interactive exploration of cultural heritage: an experience of designing systems for mobile devices. Knowledge Technology and Policy, 22(1), 79-86.
Comment: given the small screens that are available for mobile learning, the role of a mobile learning designer is particularly important. This field study discusses issues around designing, developing, and evaluating mobile systems. In particular it describes the reaction of students to a mobile learning system called Explore! which is used to learn ancient history during a visit to archaeological parks. The design that was used seems to make the experience more complete and culturally rich.

Brett, Paul (2011). Students’ experiences and engagement with SMS for learning in higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 48(2), 137-147.
Comment: while graphic design is important, especially when using visual materials, often educational information can be conveyed in simple text messages. This study is an evaluation of students’ experiences and engagement with Short Message Service (SMS) messages, otherwise known as texting, for learning purposes. The study also shows that not all research has positive results – in this case, the results were mixed. Positive experiences were reported for administrative communications, learning support, and communications between students and instructors. On the other hand, students felt that SMS messages from instructors were an intrusion into their personal time, increased their phone costs, and did not have any learning benefit.

Chen, C. and Li, Y. (2011). Personalised context-aware ubiquitous learning system for supporting effective English vocabulary learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 18(4), 341-364.
Comment: there are dozens of academic studies that show the value of mobile learning for teaching English as a second language (ESL) or for teaching other languages to native English speakers. This study researched whether it made a difference in teaching English that the mobile learning system knew the location of students in order to supply them with learning materials that related to their particular geographical context. The results of this study showed that the language performance of those who used the personalized English vocabulary learning system with context awareness was superior to those who use the same system without context awareness.

Coulby, C., Hennessey, S., Davies, N. and Fuller, R. (2011). The use of mobile technology for work-based assessment: the student experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 251-265.
Comment: mobile-based assessment is another area where there are dozens of studies which can be reviewed. This particular study evaluated the use of competency-based assessment using personal digital assistants (PDAs) with medical students in their final work placements. The study reports that the student experience was positive, and resulted in an increased, improved level of feedback, which allowed students to improve their skills during the work placement.

The above examples are just five research studies in the thousands that are available on mobile learning. They show the range of what kind of issues come up in the research literature.

Now it’s your turn! What are your questions about mobile learning? Send them to me, and I will try to find research studies that provide answers for you in the next installments of Studies Show. You can reach me at gwoodill [at]

This article was originally posted at

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