Home CLASSROOM IDEAS Mobile Learning: Definition, Examples, Advantages and Disadvantages

Mobile Learning: Definition, Examples, Advantages and Disadvantages

What is Mobile Learning?

Mobile learning, also called mlearning, is education or training that is conducted on and delivered through portable devices like smartphones and tablets.

History of Mobile Learning

Alan Kay is the name behind the introduction of the mobile learning concept in the 1970s. He got into Palo Alto Research Center of the Xerox Corporation and teamed up with a few other workers to bring ‘Dynabook’ to life. Dynabook was a handy personal computer that was meant to teach children through an improved digital approach. However, this device failed to impress because of a lack of technological backing in that era. 

It wasn’t until 1994 that IBM Simon, the first smartphone ever, was introduced by Mitsubishi Electric Corp; this device was quite similar to Dynabook. Promoted as a handy personal communicator, this smartphone heralded an absolutely new era during which hundreds of similar devices were introduced by various manufacturers. 

What Influences Mobile Learning?

While it gained traction in the early 2000s, he idea of making portable tools dates back to the 1200s when the Chinese invented the abacus. Mobile tools appear throughout history, with items like the Geiger counter (hand-held radiation detection; 1928), Texas Instrument’s original calculator (TI-30; 1976), and the BlackBerry (albeit a very primitive one; 1999). The iPhone debuted in 2007, and ever since, companies, universities, app developers, and people themselves have been developing programs, books, games, and tools that can be used on mobile devices.

But how does that relate to learning and development? Here are a few key items that influence mobile learning.

Bite-Sized Learning

The shift toward micro-learning and creating learning that can be digested in bite-sized “chunks” has been a heavy influencer of mobile, even though this concept exists largely due to the shift to mobile itself.

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Mobile learning stands to become the primary means for delivering this type of learning. Mobile also makes delivering of many kinds of content possible (videos, slideshows, copy, instructional guides). As videos, slideshows, and chatrooms become a greater part of learning, the demand for mobile learning will only increase.


E-learning has, in many ways, revolutionized learning, and with training and development programs incorporating technology into their programs, mobile learning has become a focal point. This is most helpful in university classroom, manufacturing companies that require anytime access from anywhere, and large corporations that need out outline procedures and instructions that can be accessible from many members of the company.

A Millennial-Dominated Workforce

Mobile learning appeals to the millennial workforce and future workers who will also be raised on technology. With this generation and those that follow being raised with instant-access to information, the ability to pick up any device and get answers in seconds will be key. Social platforms like Twitter and YouTube have vastly changed how individuals get their information and seek out learning and entertainment.

Responsive Design

Responsive design means that the interface will adapt to multiple device sizes, whether it’s a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Responsive design goes hand-in-hand with mobile learning, and will only become more important as learning trends continue to shift toward mobile it. Courses MUST be responsive in order to be user-friendly.

mobile learning - girl reading from tablet
Learning can be accessed anywhere and at any time.


Mobile learning can create a new dynamic for learners, as formal on-boarding programs can now be supplemented with on-the-job, instant-access learning chunks.

Some advantages:

  • Learning can be accessed anywhere and at any time
  • Mobile learning caters to the shift toward micro-learning
  • Information is more readily accessible when needed for on-the-job training
  • Learners can collaborate through online forums and chats
  • Mobile can incorporate all learning styles
  • Appeals to millennial learners

One of the key advantages is that the courses can be accessed anywhere and from multiple devices. This means training doesn’t have to stop after onboarding. Smartphones and tablets can be brought into manufacturing warehouses and corporate stores, and even carried in transit with workers, giving them access to learning and guidance they need.

This also facilitates interaction during lessons and training, the opportunity to provide instant feedback and Q&A, and the ability to put out new learning content that automatically populates to learners.

While there are many advantages to mobile learning, there are some disadvantages.


For as many advantages of mobile learning, there are also disadvantages, like technology limitations, battery life, and distractions.

Mobile learning disadvantages:

  • Battery life, device failure, updates, and crashes are all a concern
  • Courses and learning objects MUST be responsive design
  • Internet access and overall connectivity
  • Mobile devices mean more opportunities for distraction
  • Responsive design and device and software compatibility
  • Multitasking might not be the best for learning retention
  • Cost of devices

Mobile learning can both complement and conflict with formal education, but the key concern with mobile learning is technology-related, from battery life to crashes and compatibility.

Mobile Devices in Teaching and Learning
An insightful video by Educause on mobile devices in teaching.

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Education born and bred. I have worked as a teacher for many private language schools, as a test centre administrator, as a teacher trainer, as an educational consultant, and as a publisher. I am an advocate for literacy and a huge proponent of using technology in the classroom. I have a BA in English and an MBA in Marketing. I mostly write about English Language Teaching. I live in sunny Athens.


  1. Bite-sized learning is the new reality. We must realize that students don’t read online or on their phones: they browse.


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