Learning & Development Blog

what is mobile learning

Mobile Learning: More than just Mobile + Learning

Mobile learning is creating a lot of excitement in the learning community. According to a report published by Ambient Insight Research, the US market for mobile learning products and services reached $958.7 million in 2010. They project that revenues will reach $1.82 billion by 2015.

They cite a “perfect storm” of catalysts that are driving the adoption of mobile learning, including:

  • The increase in number of content distribution channels (such as App stores)
  • Rapid evolution of wireless handheld devices
  • Growing number of mobile learning tools and platforms
  • The sharp increase of new learning content and apps
  • Growing number of buyers and users

So everyone wants mLearning. But… what is mobile learning, exactly? Elliott Masie’s Learning Consortium defines mobile learning quite broadly:

“We define mobile learning… as ‘knowledge in the hand.’ It includes the use of mobile/handheld devices to perform any of the following:

  • Deliver education/learning
  • Foster communications/collaboration
  • Conduct assessments/evaluations
  • Provide access to performance support/knowledge”

Speaking of accessibility, there’s the issue of developing “device-agnostic” content to accommodate Android, iPhone, and other platforms. Given the pace of technology’s advances and the fact that developing content is fairly tech-heavy process, it’s easy to get lost in the technology as opposed to the actual learning.

Mobile Learning Performance Support

But instead of focusing on the technology (and its perceived limits), we in the learning community should think about the huge potential of mobile learning to engage the user, and provide “just in time” content in manageable, “bite-sized” packages.

There are a variety of terms used to describe the nature of mobile learning. 

  • Spontaneous
  • Private
  • Portable
  • Situated [meaning that learning takes place in the same context in which it is applied]
  • Informal
  • Light-weight
  • Context aware

By focusing on the advantages mobile learning provides, we can begin to think proactively about how to leverage mobile learning strategy to capitalize on these benefits.

Case Study #1

Here’s an example:

Eric Tremblay published a study where a cell phone-based audience response system (ARS) was used in a science classroom by students as part of the lecture. While this study was conducted in a university environment, the results translate to corporate environments:

“Survey results show that students who either used or watched others using such a system enjoyed the activity, reported less boredom in class, found the activity made the class more interactive and were more emotionally engaged in the classroom. In addition, the activity was not considered to be a waste of either the students’ time or learning time. From an instructor perspective, the resulting change of pace and the renewed student attention during a lecture was a positive outcome of the cellphone ARS.”

Case Study #2

In another example published in Elliott Masie’s 2008 report, Merrill Lynch launched an initiative called GoLearn, which offered three mandated courses via smartphone. Over a seven-week period the learning materials were sent to over 2,100 investment bankers and support staff.

“The outcomes exceeded the goals. Higher scores were obtained in half the time. Bankers who completed the training did so in 54 [fewer] minutes and tested higher on the final assessment tests than the remainder of the firm. Mobile users also completed their training twenty days earlier than those who trained via MLU [Merrill Lynch University]…Overall the mobile learners obtained a 12% higher completion rate in 30% less time than the control group.


170 employees responded to a survey indicating:

  • 99% felt the format and presentation supported the learning
  • 100% would complete more training in this format
  • More than 75% praised the benefits of convenience, time management and training with no distractions”


The challenge for our industry is to capture these advantages in the constantly shifting world of technology. But it may be that very shift that keeps mlearning so interesting and engaging for users. By focusing on the advantages that mobile learning can provide for learners rather than on the limitations of the technology, we can capitalize on learner engagement inherent in mobile technology to provide learners with the best and most convenient learning tools possible.

free training audience analysis template


Adkins, Sam. "The US Market for Mobile Learning Products and Services: 2010-2015 Forecast and Analysis."

Tremblay, Eric. "(2010) Educating the Mobile Generation – using personal cell phones as audience response systems in post-secondary science teaching. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 29(2), 217-227. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.". http://editlib.org/p/32314. Retrieved 2012-02-24.