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Editor’s Note:
Cell phones, pocket computers and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) offer web access, text messaging and voice options for Mobile learning (M-Learning). These technologies offer new opportunities for interactive communications and learning at a distance.

M-Learning – A New Paradigm in Education

Nitin Upadhyay


Teaching and learning will continue in a world of words. Mobile educational systems have started to emerge as potential educational environments supporting life-long learning. The role that communication and interaction plays in the learning process is a critical factor. The modern day mobile phone users are experiencing dramatic change in the way they can use their mobile phones. This paper intends to identify and discuss the strategic assumptions behind the current thinking on the m-learning paradigm and to explore the relationships with e-learning development. Mobility and communication are essential for satisfying several needs associated with learning, working, socializing, political participation, entertainment and other activities.
M-learning has now emerged as a new wave of development, based on the use of mobile devices combined with wireless infrastructure. Much of the current literature on m-learning reveals all the strengths and weaknesses associated with the more mature e-learning communities.

Keyword: m-learning, e-learning, mobile education, mobile learning paradigm.


M-learning has now emerged as a new wave of development, based on the use of mobile devices combined with wireless infrastructure. Mobile Learning has a strong foundational base when it comes to how the student will learn when there is an interaction of the learning material, technological platform, and the wireless network. Just like wireless technology which was built on numerous technological advances, M-Learning also is a combination or a hybrid of more than one system. In this case, M-Learning relies on pedagogical theories and strategies of the Behaviorist, the Cognitivist, and the Constructivist Learning groups. The acceptance of e-Learning or web-based learning is due to growing availability of commercially available Learning Management Systems (LMSs) such as WebCT, BlackBoard, Learning Space, IntraLearn , Top Class, eCollege, Click2learn, Authorware, LearnLinc ,Virtual-U, Web Course in a Box, UniLearn and WebBoard [1].

Using mobile devices such as Palm handheld computers connected to web servers on campus, students can truly experience the freedom and productivity of mobile handheld computing [2].

"Behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist theories have contributed in different ways to the design of online materials, and they will continue to be used to develop learning materials for online learning. Behaviorist strategies can be used to teach the facts (what); cognitivist strategies to teach the principles and processes (how); and constructivist strategies to teach the real-life and personal applications and contextual learning. There is a shift toward constructive learning, in which learners are given the opportunity to construct their own meaning from the information presented during the online sessions. The use of learning objects to promote flexibility and reuse of online materials to meet the needs of individual learners will become more common in the future. Online learning materials will be designed in small coherent segments, so that they can be redesigned for different learners and different contexts. Finally, online learning will be increasingly diverse to respond to different learning cultures, styles, and motivations" [3].

Emerging technologies are leading to the development of many new opportunities to guide and enhance learning that were unimaginable even a few years ago. There are already about one million courses on the internet, 30,000 of them compiling with a scientific definition of online, 22,000 of these are listed on the telecampus portal, with many of them making didactic use of the World Wide Web [4].

M-Learning – A paradigm shift

As our society is entering a knowledge-based, Internet/Web-driven economy, college education becomes a necessity for any individual who wants to be competitive and successful, regardless of his or her age, gender, and race (Fisher, 1997; Holstein, 1997). The wireless technologies of the mobile revolution have seen the worldwide proliferation of wireless communication devices [5].

As part of a growth trend in the e-learning market, mobile learning is evolving into a dynamic, interactive and personalized experience for employees. Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC predicts the e-learning market will grow from $6.6 billion in 2002 to nearly $25 billion by 2006. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the UK-based business information arm of the company that publishes "The Economist," expects e-learning and traditional learning to become indistinguishable in the near future. More than 150 million Americans carry a mobile phone. According to IDC, that number will grow to more than 180 million by 2007 [6].

It has been pointed out that access to technology makes technology an integral part of daily learning [7]. It has often been suggested that access on its own will not fulfill the promise which many have meant lies in the use of ICT in school [8], but where several criteria for the successful integration of ICT play a role[9].

It has been pointed out that school learning is characterized by memorization and reproduction of school texts, and where teacher talk dominates and students’ activity is largely limited to answering questions formulated by the teacher [10]. In such a learning culture, drawing on examples of mobile telephony in classrooms, one can say that their role can be regarded as that of an “intruder” in the learning culture, a disturbance [11], and as such a disruptive technology. Mobile technology actually offers the appropriate educational environment to assist learning activities both inside and outside the classroom [12].

As Paul Harris in Goin’ mobile states mobile learning is the ability to enjoy an educational moment from a cell phone or a personal digital assistant [13].

Today’s ICT has significantly extended the scope for learning anywhere, anytime and the term m-learning has gained serious strength and influence in describing the future of education [14]. From a pedagogical perspective, mobile learning supports a new dimension in the educational process. Features of mobile learning include [15]:

  • Urgency of learning need;

  • Initiative of knowledge acquisition;

  • Mobility of learning setting;

  • Interactivity of the learning process;

  • ‘Situatedness’ of instructional activities; and

  • Integration of instructional content.

Mobile learning technology

The new paradigm is more proactive and pushes information to people; the components that mobile learning system includes [16]:

  • authoring tools for content capture and conversion for mobile delivery

  • mobile game and simulation templates

  • mobile learning management, which registers and track mobile learning use

  • mobile learning content management systems that download and manage a repository of mobile content

  • enterprise application integration tools, such as CRM and HRIS.

From courseware to performance-ware: The stand-alone learning content model needs to transform to a context-driven, task-sensitive, performance-support model. Examples include guided tasks, instructions, job-aids, and reference-ware. In addition, standards need to be defined to interchange performance-objects, which are delivered within the context of a job-task, with leaning-objects, which focus on modular course content.

From course management to business workflow: Business workflow and processes become the delivery platform for mobile learning and performance support.

From instructional design to performance-based design: Compiling content and courses transforms into job, task, activity, and business application context analysis. This links workflow to granular content.

From mouse-and-click to pen-and-voice interface: New forms of interactivity include small or non-existent keyboard interfaces. In the future, pen-based handwriting-recognition and voice-recognition tools to capture and access information will become the norm.

From centralized server to peer-to-peer networks: Peer-to-Peer networks facilitate communication, collaboration, and resource sharing at the edge of the Internet--compared to the traditional client/server networking model.

According to Empowering Technologies learning technology is moving towards mobile learning era. The evidence is overwhelming that mobile learning is beginning to take hold [17]:

  • Over 50 percent of all employees spend up to half of their time outside the office.

  • The average employee had less than three days of training in 2004.

  • The number of Mobile phone users has doubled since 2000.

  • Mobile phone subscribers around the globe will total nearly 1.5 billion by the middle of 2005, that's about one quarter of the world's population.

  • Worldwide mobile commerce market will reach $600 billion by 2005.

  • There will be more than 2 billion wireless internet subscribers worldwide by 2006.

  • Multi-purpose handheld devices (PDA and telephones) will out sell laptop/desktop computers combined by 2005.

  • Most major US companies will either switch to or adopt wireless networks by 2008.

Devices to be used

“The hypothetically perfect device would be small and fit easily into one’s pocket. The screen should fold out to A4 paper size and have paper readability. Wireless connectivity should be of high speed, the user should be always online with the possibility to switch seamlessly between wireless zones and phone networks. The device should have an integrated phone and support all the major office formats for reading and writing as well as “pdf” format. Security should be high, and if the device is lost the data should be made useless with no risk to the owner. The perfect device should render standard web pages perfectly and offer the ability to strip out advertisements etc. and display useful content only. The web pages should be readable offline as well as online. This should facilitate an understandable on-the-fly text-to-voice and voice-to-text feature. The following list describes a close-to-perfect handheld device [18]:

  • Always online connectivity

  • Bluetooth for connection with other devices

  • Built-in video cannon for displaying presentations etc.

  • Camera for documentation in the field

  • Flash support

  • Full size keyboard available

  • Full WI-FI connectivity

  • Large storage capacity (Large is a relative term changing with time)

  • Screen of acceptable size and readability

  • Large battery capacity

  • Messaging client for peer-to-peer communication

  • Non-volatile memory for backup

  • Phone ability

  • Read Adobe Acrobat documents

  • Read/write common office formats

  • Scanner and printer built in

  • Small compact device

  • Support multimedia content as well as flash, java and java script etc.

  • Synchronize and check e-mail with common mail clients.

  • Text-to-voice screen reader and Dictaphone

Many obstacles exist in terms of implementing any significant m-learning applications, based on current mobile technology capacity. These obstacles can be summarized in the following form [19]:

  • Limited memory and storage are major inhibitors.

  • Screens are generally too small for the use of any sophisticated applications.

  • Intermittent connectivity is a major barrier.

  • Cross-platform solutions are not yet possible.

  • Links to learning management systems or enterprise systems are in an embryonic stage of development.

  • The industry is plagued by proprietary solutions.

  • Transmitting across different browsers and platforms is almost impossible.

  • Existing applications are not easily integrated to the mobile technology environment.

  • Start-up costs are invariably high.

  • Tracking outcomes is difficult.

  • Security is a major issue.

  • Cost of accessing major third-party networks is punitive.

  • Multiple permissions are necessary in terms of negotiated access.

  • Continuous technology development militates against stability and sustainability in terms of mounting viable m-learning applications.

Designing Course Structure

The application developer needs to consider the user when designing the mlearning course content and structure. The following simple principles are recommended [20]:

  • Keep it Simple

  • Avoid large amounts of data

  • Avoid underlined text as this will be mistaken for Links

  • Use Selection Lists for data entry

  • Consistency - place links in same place throughout application

  • Always provide link to Start page or Index

  • Use Titles on Cards to ease navigation

  • Use Tabloid format - headlines and summaries

  • Use short words

Advantages of Mobile Learning

No other learning approach matches the integrated, continuous flow of m-learning [21]:

Seamless access to learning resources: With mobile learning, you can learn and study anywhere - from the classroom to your desktop or laptop to your pocket. A true mobile learning system allows users to take a course on any device.

Freedom, power, and choice: M-learning students can choose where, when, and how they will study. The new range of options includes online synchronized, online self-paced, downloaded courseware, and computer-based training. M-learning offers new levels of freedom with the ability to exercise control over learning patterns.

Organized productivity: With only a cell phone, handheld device, PDA, or hybrid unit, users can access administrative functions, download courses, and review their learning history through a learning management system. M-learning offers an efficient way for learners to access key information and maximize their time.

Flexible, portable convenience: The ability to customize learning schedules is a key advantage to m-learning. Learners are not restricted to a specific physical environment, a particular delivery channel, or a fixed set of times for undertaking training and education. Using the latest technology, students can update their knowledge base on a just-in-time basis to prepare for meetings or presentations.

The technologies involved in e-learning and m-learning (computers, laptop computers, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants)/handhelds/ palmtops, smartphones and mobile phones can be arranged on a continuum (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Relationship of m-learning to e-learning


"In the longer term, as we realize that learning should move from an organizational function to an individual necessity, m-Learning will likely move from a hosted service to device-resident applications we can carry with us wherever we go. Eventually, the learner will not know, nor care, where the learner model is kept, where the content resides, nor how the communication is handled. This will happen as cost drops, product power improves, and design takes into account a wider range of learning styles and lifestyle needs. And that will be true mobile learning" [22].

The world of mobile and wireless computing is evolving fast and learning technology is moving towards mobile learning era. In order to have proper functioning of the mobile Internet for learning, the e-learning community must focus on the performance and productivity issues rather than traditional lecture style training or courseware. To enhance the mobile learning environment, course content and learning methodology should encompass use of quizzes to test knowledge, summary of main learning points, and interaction with other students and the tutor.


[1]   Abernathy, D. J. (2001). “Get Ready For M-Learning.” Training & Development 55(2): 20-22.

[2]   Bunnell, D. (2002). “Just around the corner: The next technology revolution.” Upside 14(3): 62-67.

[3]   Ally, M. (2004). Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning. In T. Anderson & E. Eloumi (Eds). Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca, AB. Athabasca University.

[4]   Anonymous (1998). “Merging the Intellectual and Technical Infrastructure of Higher Education: The Internet Example.” The Internet and Higher Education 1(1): 10.

[5]   Landers, P. (2002). From E-Learning to M-Learning, Ericsson.

[6]   Nancy D, Christopher V. K (2004), Human Resource Executive

[7]   Soloway, E. et al (2001) Learning in the Palm of your Hand

[8]   Bransford, J., Brown,A.L., & Cocking, R. (2000) How People Learn. National Research Council, Washington DC. NationalAcademy Press

[9]   Dwyer, D.C. (1993) Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow.

[10] Miettinen, R (1999) “Transcending traditional school learning: Teachers’ work and networks of learning” in Engeström, Y., Miettinen, R., Punamäki,R., (1999) (Eds) Perspectives on Activity Theory. USA: CambridgeUniversity Press.

[11] Mifsud, L., (2002) “Alternative Learning Arenas – pedagogical challenges to mobile learning in education”. WMTE proceedings: IEEE publication.

[12] Fleischman, J. (2001), Going Mobile: New Technologies in Education, Converge Magazine.

[13] Paul, H. (2001), “Goin’ Mobile” – Learning Circuits ASTD Magazine All about eLearning.

[14] Donna, A. (2002), “@ work; Get ready for m learning” – On line teaching 4 libraries.

[15] Chen, Y.S., Kao, T.C., Sheu, J.P. and Chiang, C.Y. (2002). A Mobile Scaffolding-Aid-Based Bird-Watching Learning System. In M. .Milrad, H.U. Hoppe and Kinshuk (Eds.), IEEE International Workshop on Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education(pp: 15-22). Los Alamitos. USA: IEEE Computer Society.

[16] Harvey, S. (2003)Leveraging Mobile and Wireless Internet”. ASTD’S Source for E-Learning.

[17] Empowering Technologies (2001). The Mobile Learning Era. Last Retrieved December 2005, from www.empoweringtechnologies.net/mobile.htm.

[18] Desmond, K. (2005). Mobile Learning: The Next Generation of Learning. Distance Educational International. pp: 123-124.

[19] Neil, M.(2003). The M-Learning Paradigm: An Overview. A Report for the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Vodafone Group Foundation.

[20] Paul, L. (2002).The advantages and disadvantages of using WAP in developing mlearning course. Last Retrieved December 25, 2005 from http://learning.ericsson.net/mlearning2/project_one/wap_article.html.

[21]. Kember Wireless Business and Technology Magazine at www.wbt2.com.

[22]Quinn, Clark (2000). mLearning: mobile, wireless, in your pocket learning. LineZine Magazine. Learning in the New Economy. Last Retrieved December 19, 2005 from www.linezine.com/2.1/features/cqmmwiyp.htm.

About the Author

Nitin Upadhyay is an acknowledge teacher and prolific writer. He is currently working as Faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, BITS, PILANI-GOA Campus. He has created a definite niche for himself in the field if Computer Science by contributing eight books. His research and creative zeal has enabled him to contribute research papers for journals and conferences

Nitin Upadhyay
Faculty, Department Of Computer Science & Information Systems
GOA, India

E-mail: nitinu@bits-goa.ac.in, upadhyay.nitin@gmail.com Phone (M): 9326815639

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