Mobile Devices & Apps

Tina Barsghian

When students can access classroom content from anywhere, mobile learning is one way teachers are engaging learners.  “Mobile devices & apps are increasingly valued as important learning tools in K-12.  Once banned from the classroom, mobile devices & apps have become such compelling tools that schools are beginning to rethink standing policies, and some are even beginning to implement ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) programs” (Johnson, 2012, pg. 4). As we consider how m-Learning helps students have access to knowledge at anytime and anywhere, we also must acknowledge where the term m-Learning originated, and why and how this new educational trend began.


Mobile Learning emerged as new mobile devices were invented and became affordable to the public.  Portable cellular phones (mobile phones) were available as early as the 1970s and 80s (Eddy, 2011).  However, the real mobile-learning trend began to take shape as mobile technology gained Internet, thus transforming them to “smart phones.”  The Internet mainstreamed in the mid 1990s.  It was inevitable that these two worlds would converge (Chapman, 2009).  In 1993, Apple launched their “Newton Message Pad” while IBM showcased their “Simon” (Eddy, 2011).  These two devices were, in essence, the first smart phones publicly available.  The Palm Pilot, a handheld digital organizer, was invented in 1997 and revolutionized the business industry.  For the first time, people could upload and store important meetings, emails, and phone messages with their cell phone.  In 2002, the Blackberry became the next portable device competitor.  The Blackberry was a mobile smart device that combined a number of functions including emails, web browsing, text messaging, schedule management, and a mobile phone into one portable handset (Eddy, 2011).

By 2007 the public had a totally new kind of smart phone, the iPhone (Eddy, 2011).  The iPhone is Apple’s smart phone.  It is highly interactive with its touch screen capabilities and access to the Internet.  Later, “Bill Gates himself debuted [his] Compaq Tablet PC at a tech fair in 2001, predicting that tablets would dominate the PC market within five years” (Smith, 2010).  The introduction of portable tablet technology and smart phones has allowed consumers to have a computer in their pocket.  This innovation greatly impacted thinking.  People began to demand that information be brought to them, as opposed to seeking out that information.

With all these innovations in technology, mobile devices, which were once shunned by educators, are now being thought of as valuable educational tools.  However, there are still “debates about how to precisely define mobile learning.  The difficulty in reaching a consensus is partially because of the rapid evolution of this as a field” (Tribal Education Limited, 2009).

Teachers can now solve accessibility issues that were once a struggle.  Since smart phones and mobile devices are portable, fast, capable, and advanced, educators see the value of bringing these devices into the classroom.  “The potential applications of mobile [devices] are vast, and range from graphing complex mathematical equations to storing and sharing notes and e-book annotations” (Johnson, 2012, p. 4).

Educational applications for smart phones are no longer limited to iPhones and Apple’s “App Store.”  Google launched its Android smart phone in 2008, which could download applications through the “Google Play” store (Eddy, 2011).  “Apps in particular are the fastest growing dimension of the mobile space in the K-12 sector right now, with impacts on virtually every aspect of informal life, and increasingly, potential in almost every academic discipline” (Johnson, 2012, p. 4).  Many educators are opening their classroom to the BYOD model and beginning to realize that m-Learning is a valid way to connect with their students in and out of the classroom.  “With a steady flow of new apps that take advantage of the continual stream of enhancements to these tools, as well as key advances in electronic publishing, and the convergence of search technology and location awareness, mobile devices & apps grow more and more interesting with each passing month” (Johnson, 2012, p. 4).

Overall, it is easy to see why the field of m-Learning is an exciting and innovative field.  “Mobile learning, through the use of wireless mobile technology, allows anyone to access information and learning materials from anywhere and at anytime” (Ally, 2009).  When teachers can connect personally and conveniently with their students, it enhances the student-teacher relationship.  It also allows educators to provide tools, apps, and resources for their students that can be accessed without limits.

Current Mobile Learning Trends

The top four mobile learning trends for 2012, as determined by The Association for Educational Publishers (AEP), all focus on devices and their abilities to make learning content more accessible (Educational Publishing, 2012).  The practice of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was among this group, and is largely due to three things: educational applications, eBooks, and an “increased proliferation of tablet and smart phones in the market” (Educational Publishing, 2012).  NMC Horizon Report 2012: K-12 edition also indicated that “mobile devices are growing rapidly at all levels in education, and are a current trend” (Johnson, 2012).  These devices include tablets, smart phones, and MP3 players with Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) connection.

“According to a September 2011 study by Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the biggest education technology trends in 2012 will be an increased use of mobile devices with educational apps” (Barber, 2012, p. 2).  Educational applications include literacy tools like storyboarding and writing tools; content applications like Science 360 and Planet Earth 3D; and math applications and games at all grade levels.   There are also applications that turn devices into assessment clickers, access Learning Management Systems, and house eBooks and Portable Document Format (Adobe Acrobat) documents (PDFs).  This is just a sample of the applications designed for educational use, and it is expected to continually evolve.  The 2012 Horizon report states that “with a steady flow of new apps that take advantage of the continual stream of enhancements to these tools, as well as key advances in electronic publishing, and the convergence of search technology and location awareness, mobile devices and apps grow more and more interesting with each passing month” (Johnson, 2012, p. 4).
Among AEP’s top four mobile learning trends for 2012 was the “expanded use of eBooks and online instructional materials as the main learning resource rather than as supplementary pieces” (Educational Publishing, 2012).  Mobile reading devices, along with e-reader applications, are rapidly replacing the use of physical texts within classrooms across the world.  “South Korea has invested $2 billion to replace traditional textbooks with tablets for their K-12 students” (Barber, 2012, p. 2).
The popularity of applications and eBooks has led to a device race that is rapidly increasing the number of mobile tablets and phones on the market.  This competition is making them more affordable, and therefore more feasible for schools to purchase. It is also making BYOD programs possible because students are coming to school with their own device in their pocket.

“According to a 2010 survey on school technology trends conducted by the Irvine-based nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow, a large percentage of U.S. students already have access to mobile devices” (Klampe, 2011).  As smart phones grow in popularity and become more accessible, many schools are lifting their no-cell-phone policies for educational purposes, and it is becoming common to find students using their phones to look up information, research, stream video, take quizzes, and work collaboratively on projects.

Current Issues in Mobile Learning

First, schools need to examine successful adoption practices, and make sure they develop a plan that will lead to effective deployment.  Schools and districts must make important decisions regarding what devices to purchase, what policies to establish, and how to manage and maintain the devices.  It is also important that usage policies are created, and students are taught how to appropriately interact through mobile devices.  Cyber bullying is an increasing problem and it is imperative that teachers consider their students when implementing mobile learning.  A study conducted by the Cyber Bullying Research Center, which included 4,441 students between the ages of 10-18 from a school district in the southern United States, reported that 20% of all students had been cyber bullied, and 20% had cyber bullied someone else (“2010 – February”, 2012).  All students need to be taught how to handle a cyber-bullying situation, and teachers need to be trained in how to teach these skills, as well as how to identify and manage a cyber-bullying situation.

Another challenge in mobile learning is how teachers and schools develop and deliver their content and instruction.  There is much research which indicates that effective technology implementation improves engagement and accessibility to content; this is forcing schools and teachers to keep up with the growing trend.  “Mobile computing or communication devices offer a unique opportunity for teachers and students in different kinds of instructional settings to capitalize on the flexibility and freedom afforded by these devices.  However, these benefits demand new pedagogies and new approaches to delivering and facilitating instruction” (Corbeil, 2007).

As teachers create online lessons and activities, they must consider the devices their students are using to access the material, and what platforms are compatible with their instruction.  For example, if Adobe Flash is required to view their lecture, presentation, or activity, and their students are using Apple products like iPhones and iPads, those students will not be able to access the material because Flash is not compatible with Apple’s mobile devices.  There are an increasing number of mobile devices becoming available every day, and instructors must consider all incompatibilities as they design their instruction.  This is a considerable challenge, especially for less tech savvy individuals.

Teacher Resources


Corbeil, J. R., & Valdez-Corbeil, M. E. (2007, January 1). Are you ready for mobile learning? Retrieved July 26, 2012, from Educause Review Online website:       

Eddy, M. (2011, August 16). A history of mobile productivity. Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Cummins, M. (2012). NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from K12.pdf

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Levine, A., and Haywood, K., (2010). 2010 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition.

Smith, C. (2010, June 15). History of tablet pcs (photos): A pictorial timeline of tablets, from rand to the ipad.Huffington Post. Retrieved from tablet-pc-photos_n_538806.html

Tribal Education Limited. (2009). Retrieved from