Mobile Learning Trends in Higher Education

While online instruction has been an increasingly common component of the university environment for several years, a recent innovation has been making its presence felt in higher education. Advances in computer and communication technologies resulted in the development of portable digital devices that change pedagogical possibilities. Cell phones, personal digital assistants, netbooks, iPods, digital still and video cameras, MP3 players, GPS, and portable e-books enhance establishing and participating in online communities of learners. The pedagogical application of these devices has lead to the development of ‘Mobile Learning’, a rapidly expanding area of instruction. According to Quinn (2000), Mobile Learning is defined as “the intersection of mobile computing (the application of small, portable, and wireless computing and communication devices) and e-learning (learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology) (para. 8).” Quinn predicted mobile learning would one day provide learning that was truly independent of time and place and facilitated by portable computers capable of providing rich interactivity, total connectivity, and powerful processing.

Some essential features of Mobile Learning are that it is dynamic, operates in real-time, is collaborative, is comprehensive, provides multiple paths for learning, and aids in building learning communities forged by participants (Leung & Chan, 2003). Indeed, the emphasis in Mobile Learning is placed on the interaction between learners/instructors/content and the technology used. This suggests to some investigators that learning is a social process (Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2007). For example, users can post content and have it instantly disseminated to a community of learners, who in turn, review the content, provide feedback, suggest refinements, and collaborate in team or group activities to an unprecedented degree.

A recent survey of U.S. adults reveals a significant increase in the use of mobile devices to access online sources (Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 2009). Thirty-two percent of Americans have used a cell phone or Smartphone to access the internet for emailing, instant messaging, or seeking information, which is an increase of one-third since 2007. The findings also reveal a 73 percent increase in Americans using mobile devices to access the internet.

Some academic institutions have begun incorporating mobile devices in the development of curriculum for both face-to-face and online instruction. Potential uses of mobile devices in higher education include providing recordings of entire lectures, textbook materials, journals, songs, music, novels, and radio programs to students via podcasts. These devices are used to access multimedia materials, produce student presentations, assignments and projects, facilitate field studies, and conduct tutor/peer/self-evaluation (Nie, 2006). Professional organizations have also been observed using mobile devices to facilitate their tasks and activities. For example, public health workers in developing countries are increasingly collecting health information with PDAs rather than with the traditional paper and pencil method for a speedier dissemination of data.

Collaboration with Mobile Devices was a featured topic in the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center sponsored ‘Teaching with Technology Institute’, held in June of 2009. Faculty Development is continuing to pursue an interest in current pedagogical and technological advancements by developing workshops in mobile learning. Please check the Faculty Development website to learn more information as well as new offerings in this area.


Leung, C.H., Chang, Y.Y. (2003).  Mobile Learning: A New Paradigm in Electronic Learning. Proceedings of the
3rd IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’03)

Nie, M. The potential use of mobile/handheld devices, audio/podcasting material in higher education.  Retrieved from

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  Mobile internet use increases sharply in 2009 as more than half of all Americans have gotten online by some wireless means Retrieved from

Quinn, C.  mLearning. Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. Linezine. Fall2000. Retrieved from

Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2007) A theory of learning for the mobile age. In R. Andrews and C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of elearning Research (pp. 221-247). London: Sage.

Online Tutorials

Online Tutorials

Online tutorials can be an effective strategy to enhance teaching, whether instruction is entirely web-based, or supplements a traditional face-to-face class. While the design of online tutorials range from passive and basic to interactive and sophisticated, many times design decisions are made by costs, resource demand, and time considerations.

Simple web-based tutorials can be designed to display content in a text and/or image format. Students passively view website material much as they would read a textbook. Indeed, these tutorials have come to be labeled ‘electronic page turners’. A related format is the ubiquitous PowerPoint Slide presentation, requiring students to view slides in either a manual or automated manner. A voice narration can be added to enhance the experience, but ultimately, this type of tutorial demands minimal interaction from users.

Other online tutorials utilize technology that record all onscreen activity. An example is tutorials created with the Sympodium Smart panel display, an increasingly common item in on-campus smart classrooms. In addition to displaying PowerPoint slides, faculty can incorporate text, images, video, audio, and Flash-animated lessons. Faculty can also draw freehand shapes, equations, and figures. Most of the content can be manipulated (magnified, cloned, hidden, etc.). Several years ago, a math instructor at NIU developed a tutorial describing Inverse Trigonometric functions. Using the Smart Notebook software ‘Record’ feature on the Sympodium Smart panel display, the instructor was able to document a session writing out lesson notes (primarily mathematical equations) with an accompanying voice narration. Figure 1 displays a screen capture of the online video tutorial that students could review, pause, and skip ahead or behind, as many times as needed.

Figure 01

More recently, another faculty member used a similar technology to recreate the ‘Intro to the Course’ lesson, one of only three planned face-to-face sessions in a primarily online course. After the initial face-to-face class meeting was cancelled due to inclement weather, the faculty member developed a tour of the course website, which contained a myriad of elements. Every aspect of the tour was recorded, along with voice narration, as it would have occurred in the face-to-face classroom session. Figures 2 and 3 exhibit how an area of the website is zoomed in upon for added emphasis.

Figure 02 Figure 03

Other tools go beyond recording online activity. The software program ‘Articulate Engage’ allows faculty to develop tutorials that require a higher degree of student/content interaction. Using pre-designed templates, content can be presented in one of 10 different interaction styles including Process (allowing users to discover the steps of a linear process), labeled graphics (identifying the key elements of an image), and a timeline (discovering the events of a timeline) [See Figure 4].

Figure 04

Other than the selection and refinement of appropriate content, most of the tutorials mentioned in this article do not require a significant time or resource commitment to develop.

However, online tutorials can be quite sophisticated and comprehensive, demanding a high degree of interactivity from students. Tutorial features can include multiple layers of content, multimedia files, hyperlinks to relevant websites, quizzes, Flash-based games/instructional modules, and case studies with decision-branching sequences. While the quality can be exceptional, these tutorials ‘projects’ can be costly and time consuming, requiring a design team made up of content experts, instructional designers, artists and programmers. An example of this type of tutorial is the NIU Responsible Conduct of Research website that allows users access to participate in a series of online tutorials ( Users can explore research integrity issues in the areas of data management, research mentoring, collaborative research, peer review, and authorship.

While there are resources on campus that can assist faculty to develop sophisticated and elegant online tutorials, staff in the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center can assist instructors on developing basic, yet fairly interactive online tutorials. For information contact Faculty Development.

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