What is mobile learning?

Posted by Greten on 02 Feb 2021 under Terms

Mobile learning, also called m-learning, is the use of tablet computers, smartphones, and other mobile devices in learning activities. Mobile learning can have several forms such as, but not limited to: an elearning course accessible through elearning, ebooks with formats compatible to mobile devices or adjust automatically to fit screen size, educational mobile applications, and mobile applications or websites used in learning activities in a physical classroom.

Even though m-learning is a popular buzzword and parallels elearning, I prefer the expanded term "mobile learning". M-learning starts with a consonant but pronounced as "em-learning", which makes one wonder whether to use "a" or "an" in phrases like "a/an m-learning lesson". Also, "em" and "mobile" have only two-syllable difference, unlike the "e" and "electronic" in elearning, and thus shortening it is pointless.

Elearning in mobile devices

A pink smartphone on a smooth black surface.One of the ways people can use their mobile devices is by accessing elearning lessons. Since smartphones and tablet computers are designed as miniature portable computers, most of the elearning lessons accessible through computers are also accessible through these devices.

With the recent web design trends leading towards responsive and mobile-first, many elearning lessons and platforms are accessible to both computers and mobile devices. For example, many subscription-based elearning providers such as LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare use videos that you can watch on your computer and your mobile device. Elearning authoring tools, such as Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline also allows you to publish your lessons as scalable HTML content if you published your lesson as HTML5 module.

However, videos and scalable HTML content are optimal only when you orient your mobile device in landscape. Storyline has a responsive mobile player that rearranges the interface elements surrounding your main lesson slides. On the other hand, Captivate has responsive design projects that allow you to provide different arrangements of slide objects in your Captivate lesson based on the learner's device and whether it is in portrait or landscape orientation.

When the Wuhan virus pandemic (also called COVID-19) strikes most parts of the world, schools suddenly shifted to virtual classrooms. Teachers and students conducted their classes using videoconferencing tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Since these videoconferencing applications are also available in mobile devices, some students opted to take their class using tablets or smartphones.

The trend towards responsive web experience has blurred the line between mobile learning and computer-based elearning.

Educational applications

There are many educational applications available on mobile devices. All you need to do is open Google Playstore or Apple Appstore and search a subject such as science, math, or English. The results contain several practice applications and games that claim to help you obtain mastery of a subject or exercise your skills in the subject in a game format. There are also mobile applications that replicate some of the devices used in studies such as a periodic table of elements for chemistry and a graphics calculator for calculus.

A black periodic table of elements appearing as mobile application.

The effectiveness of these applications in enhancing the learning experience varies. As an educator, you may use the reviews as the basis of your selection process if you want to recommend these applications to your learners or incorporate them to your classroom activities.

Websites and applications in aid of classroom learning activities

The third form of mobile learning is the use of mobile devices to aid traditional classroom activity. Most of the educational applications mentioned in the previous sections are for the use of individual learners. Still, nothing prevents a sufficiently creative teacher from using them to make the traditional classroom more interesting, like using one of the educational games to start a contest. An individual student can also use the mobile application equivalent of periodic tables and graphics calculator in their classroom provided there's no rule against their use.

However, some websites and applications are for the use of several people at once. Kahoot, for example, is a platform that allows a teacher to facilitate a contest where learners have to answer the questions the fastest to earn points. Kahoot is available both as a website and a mobile application.

Responsive ebooks

Before, the popular format for ebooks is the PDF file. The process of publishing a book has a PDF file as one of its output. It's the file prepared in the editorial and layout process and sent to the printer. The publishing companies can sell the PDF file as an ebook while selling the hard copy at the same time. PDF looks nice and neat, and it replicates the layout and feel of the printed books.

List of ebooks on a smartphone

However, if you are using mobile devices, it can be difficult to read a PDF file depending on your device's screen size. If you try to see the whole page, you cannot read the very small letters. If you zoom in, you can read only a small area on a page without seeing its surrounding elements. Hence, the solution is to use a responsive format such as EPUB. The responsive format means the book adjusts its content layout and pagination to fit your mobile device. If your screen is smaller, you get a book with more pages but less content per page. If your screen is larger, you get a book with a larger page, more content per page, and fewer pages. EPUB and any other responsive ebook format is the ebook equivalent of websites' responsive design.

Other ebook formats provide the same responsiveness as EPUB, such as Apple's Ibook format (.ibooks) and Amazon Kindle format (.azw, azw3).

With these responsive ebook formats, studying by reading ebooks using a mobile device counts as mobile learning. Some ebooks also allow limited elearning experience such as animating some of their illustrations.


Mobile learning is more than elearning on mobile devices. It covers several ways of using mobile devices to learn, including self-study, online classes, and even traditional classroom settings.


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Last updated on 15 Feb 2021.

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Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning