Mobile devices for teaching and learning in higher education

Mobile learning can be seen as the application and use mobile technologies like smartphones, laptops or tablets to support learning processes. With the appearance of smartphones and tablets, the possibilities of using these devices in educational practices have raised. There have been many studies that have analyzed and identified how the use of these devices can help in improving students’ experiences of learning during instruction and while studying independently.

When it comes to using mobiles devices independently (which includes studying after instruction or preparing for classes), scholars (like those included in a systematic literature review by Nguyen et al, 2012) have highlighted that most of the students that use mobiles applications, used mobile applications that allowed them to organize their materials and time effectively. Some of these applications were:

  • Calendars —for time management
  • Note taking apps — to organize their ideas for studying or to revisit class notes
  • E-mails — for communication with peers and professors
  • Reminders (sometimes integrated with calendars apps) — for time management and organization
  • Book/document readers — to read digital materials and save money in printing
  • Instant messaging and video call apps — to communicate with peers

When it comes to the use of mobiles devices to support curricular outcomes, especially during instruction, research has found that, among the possibilities that mobiles applications offer, information seeking, multimodal content creation and collaboration are one of the most remarkable affordances of these devices. By the time the literature review done by Nguyen (2012) was done, many mobile applications were available. However, today (2019) the set of applications have increased and many of the “standard software/applications” that were only available on regular computers or laptops have now a mobile version (e.g. Microsoft Office, Google Drive app, Prezi, Skype, among others). This evolution of mobile apps opens up doors for a more diverse set of educational practices that can be taken into consideration by educators in higher education (and even some of them are applicable to K-12 contexts).

The many possibilities offered by mobiles devices and apps can become outstanding support to educators while designing their curriculum. In fact, one of the most critical questions we should ask ourselves is “how are we designing our curriculum?”. Are we focusing on the use of technology for its own sake or are we using technology to support our curricular outcomes by integrating these technologies?. As repetitive as it may sound, every technology should be included to support our students’ experiences and our curricular goals.


  1. Great post, John! You make some great points about the utility of mobile devices in educational settings. What is your experience in using these devices in your teaching? Have they indeed facilitated information seeking, multimodal content creation, and collaboration, as the research claims? Have they enabled your students to learn the content better?

    1. Hello Daniel! I have not used mobiles devices as the "main approach" or device of a class. However, I have allowed flexibility in the classes by letting students use their mobile devices during the instruction. Some of them, indeed use them for information seeking purposes and others take advantage of mobile apps (like google drive, or Microsoft Office for mobile devices) or Web applications through the Web browser (such as Padlet, Kahoot, Piktochart, among others). So, I do think mobiles devices, especially nowadays, have become very versatile given the multiplatform characteristics of many Software, it does make mobile apps to be able to replace—not to a 100% though—regular computers.


  2. Being an old-fogey, I am still most comfortable typing on a keyboard, so have to say that I find it hard to use mobile devices for serious academic purposes that require a lot of reading and writing (though I know that you can use keyboards with mobile devices that are larger than phones). I agree that certain tasks can easily and successfully be done with mobile devices, e.g., creating multimodal content, gathering information, collaborating with others (if it doesn't require lots of typing/writing). So, depending on the learning goal, the curriculum, and the actual task that the learner needs to accomplish, I think mobile devices can be good tools. But there may be certain learning tasks that might be better accomplished with computers or laptops (especially in higher ed).


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