Mobile Education: a Literature Review


Information and communications technology (ICT) has recently emerged and continues to provide learning processes and outcomes with numerous benefits, especially in higher education. Most literature suggests that the use of mobile phones has grown remarkably fast with most learners having mobile phones that can facilitate the them-learning process (Bottentuit, 2008). Several studies have identified the potential benefits of mobile technologies in supporting the learning process using m-learning (Manair, 2007; Guenter et al., 2008).

This phenomenal growth has turned the learning process into an “anywhere” and “anytime” process and experience. The establishment of wireless networks and mobile technologies in the learning environment presents new and emerging means to easy access to learning information through shared services. Manair (2007) and Guenter et al. (2008) noted that the use of IT devices in learning processes promotes the process of accessing learning environment and materials, and facilitates the learner-centred process because of learning “at anywhere” and “anytime” (Hourcade & Berkel, 2008).

However, these developments continue to pose significant challenges to students, educators, and IT specialists in designing the optimal mix that incorporates technologies and pedagogy. The purpose of this review is to examine previous studies on the incorporation of mobile technologies in learning environments. In addition, the study focuses on examining the effects of mobile technologies on student perceptions and their impact on generating impetus of quality transmission and acquisition of knowledge.

Literature Review

The effect of mobile technology on improving knowledge outcomes

The portability learning process using mobile devices enabled by wireless connectivity creates significant benefits in terms of flexibility of accessing learning tools and provides them with the ability to transcend beyond the confining walls of a classroom. This gives learners a chance to interact with the real and practical world (Barker, Krull, and Mallinson, 2005). The use of asynchronous tools of discussion creates an interactive format that promotes the contribution of students and achieves effective learning (Barker, Krull, and Mallinson, 2005). The positive impact of these interactive discussions should go beyond the achievement of successful learning impact of such interactions, and it should be extended into the achievement of successful learning (Field, 2005).

The application of mobile learning has been cited as being a rapidly growing educational option of a traditional classroom scenario. Today, most organized educational conferences and other learning processes have focused on the utilization of mobile technology (Lan, Sung, & Chang, 2009). The use of mobile technologies facilitates the interaction process through social networking. This scenario enables students to have a successful interaction with their learning environment (Patten, et al., 2006). Mobile technologies facilitate situated learning that enables learners to access contextualized information and supports the peer-to-peer collaborative learning process (Yang, 2006).

Mobile learning should provide learners with an opportunity to choose where and when to learn. This process allows students to engage in the translation of textbook knowledge into the knowledge of the real world. According to Shih, Chang, Chen, and Wang (2005), self-regulated learning allows learners to identify their optimal learning. This attribute of self-regulated learning provides an opportunity for learners to select a learning environment that enhances continuous performance improvement. Throughout history, the learning environment remained conditioned where classrooms were exclusively information and learning destinations. Therefore, the emerging technologies can be said to generate educational synergies unmatched by these traditional means of accessing relevant learning materials (Lan, Sung, & Chang, 2009). Although it has been witnessed in mobile application technologies and pedagogies, many studies have not examined its effects on improving the knowledge outcomes among students and faculty members.

The study by Lowenthal (2010) attempted to explore the relationship between measurements of behavioural intentions and other determinants such as age and gender as mediating factors. The analysis of the results from the preceding study found that as individuals develop feelings that mobile learning can help in improving his or her learning ability. Therefore, this study reveals the strategic significance of improved technologies that become easily used by learners. In a separate study, Hassan, Ismail and Mustapha (2010) examine the effect of integration of m-technology in the learning process in producing creative outcomes. In their survey conducted in a Malaysian polytechnic, the researchers set out to investigate whether the application of mobile technology had statistical significance for students’ ability to yield creative learning products. The process of developing new ideas involves the process of synthesis and simulation of all activities facilitated by the design process.

Recent developments in information technology, especially mobile technology, have facilitated the search and utilization of information in creating and developing ideas necessary for improving talent and expertise in students. M-learning has generated impetuses for idea generation and challenges of user-enhanced mobile interfaces have continued to impede students’ access to learning material. Therefore, IT departments should develop initiatives aimed at designing mobile technologies that improve learners ability to create new learning opportunities using mobile learning (Lan, Sung, & Chang, 2009). The ability of students to adapt effectively, and use mobile technology in accessing learning materials can improve the learner perceptions. It is critical to design mobile technology software and applications that remain relevant and user-friendly to ensure positive perception.

The IT departments should engage in initiatives aimed at designing technologies that can facilitate the integration of knowledge and skills of learners through collaborative experiences. Critical in this process shall be the ability of the learning community and the IT teams to agree unanimously on the agenda for improved information sharing, and learner usability to ensure positive perception among the learning community.

The effect of mobile technology on learning perceptions of students.

In his study, McAndrew, Taylor & Cloe (2010) noted that the pedagogical theory and practice should emphasize meeting the current demands and learning characteristics of learners. Numerous studies have investigated the effects of various learning tools in creating and sustaining perceptions among the respective users. In his study, Lowenthal (2010) examined the critical factors that influence the learning behaviours of learners’ perception and intention to use mobile technologies in a learning process. These determinants include performance expectancy, effort expectancy, and self-management of the learning process. Therefore, studies on the impact of mobile technology in determining the extent to which students develop learning perceptions remain critical to this study. Advancements in mobile technology have generated greater emphasis from most researchers to determine how they influence the perceptions of learners. McAndrew, Taylor & Cloe (2010) studied numerous concepts, including pedagogical strategy-enhanced learning scenarios, and social networking via mobile technology learning. Their study noted increased levels of peer interactions among learners. In a separate study conducted by (Hourcade & Berkel, 2008), mobile technologies have generated platforms for student networking and collaborative learning, which improve the process of acquisition of relevant skills.

Therefore, the application of mobile technology that enhances usability and relevance concerning the learning needs can facilitate the generation and development of positive learner perception. Although the growth of mobile technology has the potential for enhancing learner ability, slight deviations from the user expectations can lead to a degenerated level of learners’ attitude towards the learning content and process at large. Cheng and Hsu (2008) noted that the inability of feedback-driven mobile applications to provide personalized learning has generated low rates of improved learning outcomes. Therefore, future research should aim at designing learning tools that conform to the contextual learning and feedback functionalities to help learners to access personalized learning materials and provide suggestions for improving learning situations.

In teacher learning and training, Pianesi, Graziola, Zancanaro, & Goren-Bar (2009) suggest that the learning process should emphasize the competencies established via mobile technology. Mobile technologies with specialized user interfaces and devices can facilitate pedagogical theory and practice in terms of improved access to learning materials (Pianesi, et al., 2009). McAndrew, Taylor & Cloe (2010) suggest that the use of mobile learning technologies and interfaces, as well as other software, especially developed, has shown excellent results in unifying the results of work by all the participants of the educational process, forming advanced learning perceptions. Multiple types of research have established that mobile teaching technologies can be beneficial for a variety of educational establishments and studying approaches. Research conducted by McAndrew, Taylor & Cloe (2010) indicated that relevant strategies of mobile learning can help educators expedite the learning process and accomplish better results in the educational process.

Previous studies have suggested, ” the mechanisms of navigation and Tutor-enabled Support System (TSS) and suitable tutorial strategies for increasing learning opportunities” (Pianesi et al., 2009). Mobile technologies should incorporate high interaction strategies to promote learner user experience and enhance social interaction among students and instructors (Hourcade & Berkel, 2008). Wessels et al. (2007) proposed the use of collaborative and cooperative learning as efficient ways of enhancing the learners’ ability to acquire knowledge using mobile technologies.

The effect of mobile technologies (iPad and cell phone) on Quality and Quantity of Learning.

Arguably, the incorporation of advanced technology promotes the process outcome in terms of easy access to learning information. The quality of a learning experience is essential for learners and educators because it is the core of the educational program (Chandran, 2010). Although the applications of mobile technologies have enhanced the production and dissemination of learning information, some researchers documented the cases where these platforms have failed in delivering the expectations of learners and educators. This means that for a technology to result in a positive outcome concerning learners’ performance, it should conform to the new pedagogical processes needed to enhance the learning process (Chandran, 2010). The use of advanced mobile technologies facilitates the transmission of learning content through new forms of mobile technology that incorporates the merits of the internet as an efficient means of transmission of knowledge. These new technologies create new ways of receiving learning materials, which enable learners to benefit from experiences created by new user-enabled applications.

Studies by Chandran (2010) explore the way mobile teaching influences the educational process in multicultural groups in a learning environment. Chadran (2010) establishes that interactive learning technologies utilized by learners enhance effective interaction among both, students and teachers. However, since effective communication is a key to the development of efficient information sharing and gathering, interactive mobile applications may lead to the improved quality of the learning process. Improved technologies using the new application software in iPads and Smartphones provide sufficient impetus for learners to design personalized instruction and learning materials and redesign old learning signs by attributing new and relevant meaning to them via quality device applications (Wessels, et al., 2007).

Similarly, Chandran (2010) suggests that mobile blogging systems used in community learning can be a successful tool in enhancing quality interaction in the learning process among learners and the teaching fraternity. Mobile technologies should be developed to enhance shared services for effective and collaborative learning. The independent design of IT infrastructures that fail to accommodate the learners’ collaborative exercises may fail to realize the maximum benefits because of the significance of learning communities in creating value. Therefore, pedagogical strategies can be incorporated into the learning theory and practice via the application of advanced learning mobile technologies. These learning tools have continued to receive numerous accolades for their ability to transform a learning environment from a restricted location toward “any time” and “anywhere” notion (Wessels, et al., 2007).

Therefore, the ability of technology to break the limits of distance and time can enhance increased participation of students as well as improved quality. However, users of mobile phones remained constrained in respect of screen size and battery life. Chandran (2010) noted that when mobile technologies are utilized in the distance and e-learning processes, they improve the students’ performance over time regardless of the cultural background of the learners. Therefore, the application of mobile technologies remains an independent factor in the learning process aimed at promoting the value of the outcome as shown in improved student participation and performance (Lai, 2007).

The distinction between mobile learning and e-learning

Comparing e-learning and mobile learning, (Wessels, et al., 2007) signals the supremacy of mobile learning over the e-learning approach in delivering learning outcomes among students and educators. The users’ intention to select e-learning is driven by the need to acquire specific knowledge and skills where the user devices are tethered or connected to something (Thomas, n.d.). Ordinarily, e-learning offers a learning situation that is more formal and structural compared to mobile learning, which allows the learner to customize the learning service to meet his or her needs (Wessels et al., 2007). Although mobile technologies are a feasible solution to the challenges faced by conventional e-learning practice, their limitation to the size of the screens compared to PCs and e-learning content makes it unlikely to become a more sustainable commercial practice. The transition from m-learning has seen a creation of learning “anywhere” and “any” time for learners as contrasted to conventional e-learning. Studies have suggested appropriate strategies to enhance m-learning processes. According to Peng et al. (2009), mobile technologies should utilize the Ubiquitous Performance-Support System (UPSS) that integrates digital and physical resources, as well as data-driven decision-making technologies to help learners in the process of knowledge acquisition. These technologies have attempted to provide solutions to the challenges provided by the historical classroom situations, including the support of instant student guidance and independent learning.

The future of mobile learning

In the recent past, e-learning has increased its usage in distant education, which focuses on learning across various contexts. These applications are primarily concerned with the utilization of ICT platforms and the mobility of the learner (Wessels, et al., 2007). The cost and accessibility of information and other learning materials continue to reduce with the ever-increasing utilization of improved mobile devices. The use of e-learning is instantaneous, especially where students access similar content leading to immediate feedback. The evolution of mobile networks in carrying out communication and learning processes has led to the development of platforms that enhance access to knowledge, collaboration, and performance support for students. Mobile and e-learning programs share significant similarities. The growth in the development and use of mobile technologies as witnessed over the last decade confirms that its use is expected to increase considerably (Rekkedal & Dye, 2007).

Previous studies and analyses of literature show that learning centres, students, schools, and educators have increased their utilization of mobile technologies in promoting their educational engagement. However, the analytical surveys for the change in perceptions of students using mobile technologies indicate that individuals are more willing to engage the advanced technologies to improve their knowledge creation and development. Currently, the harmonization of the pedagogical practice and learning procedures with the IT platforms used in mobile technology implies sustainable mobile technology in the feasible future (Rekkedal & Dye, 2007).

Recent changes in the development of device technology and the rate of utilization and changes in market dynamics have developed to converge with the developments in some components of pedagogy. This convergence of these two critical elements of educational practice and device development necessitates the need for educational professionals to engage constantly in the processes of designing and developing mobile device technologies. A Survey of the Learning and Skills Development Agency reveals an adoption rate of approximately 90% among people aged 15 o 19 years and about 81% among ages 20 to 24.

The ever-changing strategic demands of the learning environment are influential in determining the future of mobile technologies. The evolving learning circumstances with an increasing focus on expanding the participation of learners through promoting new audiences remain a fundamental element in dictating the future applicability of portable learning technologies, including mobile technologies Gaved et al. (2010). Wireless technology is envisaged to becoming more affordable, faster, and commonly adopted in the future as individuals, homes, and corporate move toward adopting and utilizing Wi-Fi technologies, and sharing technological devices and networks around places of work, as well as homes.

The fast-growing technologies in the mobile industry shall see the development of future versions that facilitate learning. This should focus on information accessibility, organization, entertainment and effective communication to realize a more robust and efficient learning platform enabled by advancements in mobile technologies (Rekkedal & Dye, 2007).

Design and Analysis

The analysis of the literature used in the research shows that a majority of the studies utilized an experimental study approach to establish the research findings. Studies conducted by McAndrew et al. (2010), and Hassan, Ismail & Mustapha (2010) utilized quasi-experimental design in their study to evaluate the challenges facing the evaluation of mobile technology in learning. Studies that utilized the experimental approach include Lowenthal (2010), Lan, Sung, & Chang (2009), Barker, Krull, and Mallinson (2005, Cheng and Hsu (2008), Chandran (2010), and Rekkedal & Dye (2007).

Lai (2007) used 34 fifth grade students at an elementary school to compare the respondents’ performance in terms of knowledge creation through mobile learning technologies. The experiment aimed at justifying the hypothesis those mobile technologies enhances knowledge creation using the experiential learning process. In similar but independent research, Lowethal (2010) set out an experiment to measure the expectancy efforts, behavioural intention, and expectancy used in s study conducted by Wang, Wu, and Wang (2009). The study conducted by Lai (2007) would have been more rigorous had the researcher utilized larger sample groups to measure the effect of mobile technologies in influencing knowledge acquisition. The analysis shows that no experimental studies that administered s survey instrument stated their sampling procedures and techniques used. Therefore, these studies fail to demonstrate internal research validity as a method of verifying the plausibility of the research findings. The experimental studies used the ANOVA technique in comparing different study groups. This technique aimed at determining student characteristics in terms of their experience with m-learning.

Summary of critique

Previous studies on mobile learning focused on formal and informal scenarios that dealt with their role in enhancing students’ learning condition. However, these studies have failed to examine the effects of integrating informal and formal synergies to understand the overall impact of m-learning on students’ perceptions. In the wake of the growing ubiquitous mobile technology, ownership and use of mobile phones continues to increase at a faster rate in formal and informal environments. However, literature gaps exist despite the attempt by previous studies to investigate the potential of m-learning in stimulating learning progress. Little attention has been directed toward exploration of such learning scenarios in promoting knowledge and skill acquisition, and generation of positive perception of learners. This research aims at identifying research gaps that remain critical to the development of a seamless educational framework that incorporates mobile learning.

Research Questions

  1. What is the effect of mobile learning instruction on students’ knowledge creation?
  2. What is the effect of mobile learning instruction on students’ perception of the quality of instruction?
  3. What is the interaction between students’ knowledge creation and students’ perception of the quality of instruction while participating in mobile learning instruction?


  1. Barker, A., Krull, G., & Mallinson, B. (2005). A proposed theoretical model form-learning adoption in Developing Countries. Proceedings of m-learning.
  2. Chandran, S. (2010). E-Education in Multicultural Setting: The Success of Mobile Learning. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, 70, 419-422.
  3. Chen, C. M., & Hsu, S. H. (2008). Personalized intelligent m-learning system for supporting effective English learning. Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 153–180.
  4. Field, R. (2005). Favourable conditions for effective and efficient learning in a blended face-to-face/online method. Proceedings of ASCILITE 2005.
  5. Gaved, M., Trevor, C., Mulholland, P., Kerawalla, L., Jones, A., Scanlon, E., Littleton, K., Blake, C., Petrou, M., Clough, G., and Alison, T. (2010). Using netbooks to support mobile learners’ investigations across activities and places. The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 25(3), 187–200. doi:10.1080/02680513.2010.511949.
  6. Hassan, I. S., Ismail, M. A., & Mustapha, R. (2010). The effects of integrating mobile and CAD technology in the teaching design process for Malaysian polytechnic architecture students in producing the creative product. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 9(4), 162-172. Web.
  7. Hourcade, J. P., & Berkel, T. R. (2008). Simple pen interaction performance of young and older adults using handheld computers. Interacting with Computers, 20, 166–183.
  8. Lai, C.-H., Yang, J.C., Chen, F.C., Ho, C. W., & Chanet, T. W. (2007). Affordances of mobile technologies for experiential learning: The interplay of technology and pedagogical practices. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23, 326–337. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2007.00237.x
  9. Lan, Y. J., Sung, Y. T., & Chang, K. E. (2009). A mobile-device-supported peer-assisted learning system for collaborative early EFL reading. Language Learning & Technology, 11(3), 130-151.
  10. Lowenthal, J. (2010). Using mobile learning: determinates impacting behavioural intention. The American Journal of Distance Education, 24(4), 195–206. doi:10.1080/08923647.2010.519947
  11. McAndrew, P., Taylor, J., & Clow, D. (2010). Facing the challenge in evaluating technology use in mobile environments. The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 25(3), 233–249. doi:10.1080/02680513.2010.511959
  12. Pianesi, F., Graziola, I., Zancanaro, M., & Goren-Bar, D. (2009). The motivational and control structure underlying the acceptance of adaptive museum guides: An empirical study. Interacting with Computers, 21, 186–200. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2009.04.002.