There is research in the field of mobile learning on how teachers can design mobile learning activities to engage learners and promote learning.

Before we get to that, let’s take a step back and consider what the mobile device really is – a communication device.  Talking, texting, browsing, emailing, uploading, downloading, surfing the web are some of the different ways we can communicate using our smartphones and tablets.  It makes sense then that mobile learning is connected to the conversation theory.

Developed by Pask in 1975, conversation theory posits that knowledge is constructed through conversations and as such, students learn through communicating with other individuals and objects in their surrounding contexts.  The mobile device “acts as a system in which knowledge can be created and shared” (Crompton, 2013, p. 53).

This idea, the idea that mobile devices can act as venues for meaningful conversations, is key to developing successful mobile learning activities.  To do so, there are several design considerations that classroom teachers need to keep in mind, all of which are informed by the research on mobile learning (Herrington, Herrington, & Mantei, 2009; Naismith & Corlett, 2006).

1. Promote Enriching Conversations

Teachers need to first make sure that their mobile learning activities promote conversations within and between contexts.  These activities would include elements of collaborating with others to construct common knowledge and carrying conversations across contexts (Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2007).

2. Choose between Apps or Built-in Features

Mobile learning activities can include not only the use of apps (educational, productivity, or otherwise), but also the built-in features of mobile devices such as the camera, video recorder, microphone, note pad, and so on.  More often than not, these universal components are overlooked when thinking about the use of mobile devices in the classroom.

3. Create Micro-interactions

Micro-interactions are bite-sized interactions.  These include several quick and simple tasks for students to accomplish.  These tasks would align well with the type of interactions that occur on mobile devices.

4. Prepare Flexible Materials

Flexible materials are those that can be accessed in different contexts.  Teachers should take advantage of cloud-based services such as Google Drive and Dropbox and sync content across devices.  These applications also allow easy sharing of teaching materials and learning artifacts.

5. Develop a Seamless Flow of Learning

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the strategies to follow when designing seamless learning activities.  Seamless learning involves creating continuous learning experiences across time, settings, contexts, and social groups  in an attempt to connect learning that occurs within school to learning that occurs beyond classroom walls.

6. Facilitate Learning

Teachers need to make sure that the use of mobile devices in their mobile learning activities, facilitate learning and not hinder it or create technological obstacles.

7. Produse

Produse = produce + consume.  Mobile devices can be used to produce and consume knowledge.  Teachers need to design learning activities in such a way that their students use mobile devices to create learning artifacts (i.e., produce) and to access information (i.e., consume)



Chan, T.W., Milrad, M., et al. (2006). One-to-one technology-enhanced learning: An opportunity for global research collaboration. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning Journal, 1(1), 3-29. doi: 10.1142/S1793206806000032

Crompton, H. (2013). Mobile learning: New approach, new theory. In Z. L. Berge & L. Y. Muilenburg (Eds.), Handbook of mobile learning (pp. 47-57). Florence, KY: Routledge.

Herrington, J., Mantei, J., Herrington, A., Olney, I.W., & Ferry, B. (2008). New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile technologies and new ways of teaching and learning. Full paper presented at the ascilite Melbourne 2008 Conference. Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from

Naismith, L. & Corlett, D. (2006). Reflections on Success: A retrospective of the mLearn conference series 2002-
2005. mLearn 2006 – Across generations and cultures, Banff, Canada. Retrieved from

Sharples, M., Taylor, J. & Vavoula, G. N. (2007). A theory of learning for the mobile age. In R. Andrews & C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.). The Sage handbook of e-learning research (pp. 221–247). London: Sage.

This information was presented at the MAET Mobile Learning workshop (#MobileMSU) on Saturday February, 22nd, 2014.  You can find the presentation file here.  

In addition, the author presented this content at the March 11th, 2014 Bridge webinar series hosted by the MAET program at Michigan State University.  You can find an archive of the conversation here.  

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