Learning on the Go

NIU MobileNIU has released its first campus-wide mobile app, NIU Mobile for Apple (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad), Blackberry, Android, and webOS devices.

The app connects students and faculty to NIU resources on-the-go, including the campus directory and calendar as well as athletics schedules and scores. Campus maps can help new students find their way around campus, and Emergency Information is easy to access. There is even a portal to search the library catalog.

NIU Mobile also includes access to Blackboard Mobile Learn, so students can access course materials, post to the discussion board, and check their grades from anywhere. Faculty can also post announcements from the app.

This video provides a demonstration of the NIU Mobile app and highlights its most exciting features. However, Mobile Learning encompasses more than checking grades from a phone or posting announcements while traveling.

What is Mobile Learning?

There are many definitions of mobile or m-learning, ranging from simple definitions such as “e-learning through mobile computational devices” (Quinn, 2000, para. 1) to complex theoretical definitions of mobile learning as a function of its facets (Laouris & Eteokleous, 2005, para. 15). However, across all definitions there are several common themes:

  • Learning occurs outside of the classroom. Students learn from wherever they are, or from contextually-relevant locations (like museums or landmarks)
  • Learning occurs at any time
  • Learning is facilitated by a mobile device, which can include smartphones (like an iPhone or Android device), cell phones (without web browsing capabilities), tablets (mobile devices with larger screens, like an iPad), and even laptop computers

It is important to note that mobile devices are often viewed as the driving force for mobile learning, but that is not necessarily the case. Mobile Learning is really about new ways to access content and engage with students, as well as innovative methods to analyze information and create media.

Why does Mobile Learning matter?

Internet-capable mobile devices are becoming more prevalent, and new devices like tablets are expanding the possibilities for portable devices. In fact, by the year 2015, it is estimated that 80% of all Internet usage will be done from mobile devices (Ericsson, 2010, para. 5). Mobile devices can be used to access information, communicate with others, compose text, and create media.

Mobile learning can be more engaging for students because it accommodates multiple learning styles, particularly the auditory and kinesthetic styles. Because students are not tied to a classroom, mobile learning can be used to augment real-world experiences, like gathering data, making observations, or conducting interviews.

Convenience is also a factor in mobile learning. Students can access materials at any time and from anywhere, which makes learning accessible to students who might otherwise struggle with courses. Also, high-speed mobile Internet is available in locations where traditional high-speed connections have not yet reached. Pilots of mobile learning initiatives have been conducted with students in remote locations and in developing nations, where mobile technology exists but hard-wired infrastructure is not available (Parker, 2011).

What qualifies as a mobile device?

Mobile learning naturally brings smartphones to mind, like the iPhone or an Android-powered phone. These devices have vast capabilities, including accessing Internet content, running a continually growing selection of programs called apps, and creating and editing media like photos, audio, and video. These devices generally have GPS features for location-specific content.

Tablets, like the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or the Motorola Xoom, are more like keyboard-less laptops. They run apps similar to smartphones, but have larger screens and more processing capabilities. Laptops are also considered mobile devices, since students can utilize them from anywhere, although they are certainly less mobile than smaller devices.

However, these high-end devices are not the only options for mobile learning. While many students do not have smartphones, most do have cellphones. In fact, 93% of adults age 18-29 use a cellphone (Voxy, 2011). Most modern cellphones have capabilities that can be used for mobile learning, like text messaging and cameras.

What activities/techniques are possible?

Technique What is it? How can it be used in the classroom?
Text messaging (SMS)
  • Short text-based messages of 160 characters or less
Mobile photos and video
  • Most modern cellphones are equipped with cameras for photo or video, some high resolution (5-9 megapixels)
  • Smartphones can run apps for photo and video editing
  • Students can document locations or events by taking photos with their phones
  • Students can record presentations as practice or post short videos for classmates to review
  • eBooks can be read and annotated on mobile devices or dedicated readers (e.g. Kindle, Nook, etc.) as well as desktop computers
  • eBooks can include videos and other interactive media that print textbooks cannot
  • Faculty can select textbooks that are available both in print and electronically so students can choose
  • Faculty can create eBooks instead of PDF files for course documents


Quick Response (QR) codes
  • Created using free services, saved as images
  • Can direct to a website, display a short message
  • Displayed on posters, cards, t-shirts, etc.
  • Scanned using free apps
  • QR codes can be used for a scavenger hunt, where each code provides a clue to the location of the next code
  • QR codes can be shorthand to direct students to important resources or detailed information
  • Wide variety of available apps with educational uses
  • Use for classroom activities or as optional study aides
A limited list of potential apps (all free and available for multiple devices): 

  • Evernote: synchronize notes across devices and desktop
  • i-nigma: a simple QR reader
  • foursquare/gowalla/scvngr: location-based apps that can be used for scavenger hunts
  • Dropbox: synchronize files between desktop, mobile, and web
  • Much more


Learn More

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is now offering a Mobile Learning Series of workshops. The series began with Learning On the Go: Introduction to Mobile Learning. The presentation from that workshop is available at http://prezi.com/1bxnml5lyi9p/learning-on-the-go/. The series continues with Quick Response (QR) Codes on October 27, 2011 from 10:00 am to 11:30 am and Text Messaging in Teaching on November 17, 2011. Each workshop is independent of the others, so sign up for all or just one! Plus, look for more topics coming in future schedules, including creating and using eBooks, location-based learning, podcasting, mobile media, and more.


Ericsson (July 9, 2010). Mobile subscriptions hit 5 billion mark. Retrieved from: http://www.ericsson.com/jm/news/1430616

Laouris, Y. & Eteokleous, N. (2005). We need an Educationally Relevant Definition of Mobile Learning. Proceedings of the 4th World Conference on mLearning. October 25-28, Cape Town, South Africa. Retrieved from: http://www.mlearn.org.za/CD/papers/Laouris%20&%20Eteokleous.pdf

Parker, J. (2011). Mobile learning toolkit. Retrieved from: http://jenniferparker.posterous.com/mobile-learning-toolkit

Quinn, C. (2000). mLearning: Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. LiNE Zine. Fall. Retrieved from: http://www.linezine.com/2.1/features/cqmmwiyp.htm

Voxy (2011). Are we wired for mobile learning? Retrieved from: http://voxy.com/blog/2011/02/are-we-wired-for-mobile-learning/?view=infographic

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 http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/impala/presentations/Berlin/The%20Potential%20Use%20of%20Mobile%20Devices%20in%20Higher%20Education

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 http://www.pewinternet.org/Press-Releases/2009/Mobile-internet-use.aspx

Quinn, C.  mLearning. Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. Linezine. Fall2000. Retrieved from http://www.linezine.com/2.1/features/cqmmwiyp.htm.

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.