Mobile learning technologies: Important, but challenging.

In a presentation on mobile learning technologies late last year, Cailin Pitcher from Citrix stated, “Education is at a tipping point.” (Studio B Productions, 2013). The prominent statement was that mobile educational technologies create a permissive environment for evolution to student-centered, ubiquitous learning. Senior fellow Bryan Alexander supported this in the Studio B Productions (2013) presentation by offering, “On-demand learning turns the world itself into a potential classroom…” This statement is irrefutable, but the timeline of the transition offered by Pitcher may already require reevaluation.

Importance of mobile learning technologies in a learning commons environment

Parallel to the speed of technological innovation, and as evidenced by survey results, I believe we are beyond the tipping point. Impact Instruction Group (2014) found that, “The largest investment increases are in mobile learning (39%) and games/simulations (31%), each increasing 17% over last year.” While some may be reluctant to welcome change, progressive educators are continuing to recognize efficacy associated with use of mobile technologies for 21st century learning. Beyond the tipping point, we are now in an ongoing process of evaluating extensive options available to enhance this new paradigm. While games and simulations are obviously gaining traction in educational realms, augmented reality has also demonstrated a purpose (Nesloney, 2013). Regardless of which specific technologies are used, there is an obvious need for mobile hardware with compatible software to make u-learning possible. This applies within any educational environment, but the importance is perhaps amplified within learning commons. Especially for public learning commons that have a more diverse customer base, this creates challenges that should be mitigated though needs assessment prior to implementing or expanding mobile technology availability.

Challenges in incorporating or expanding mobile technologies

Ryan Faas (2013) was speaking to the corporate world in his article that reveals a need for accountability, security, charging, updating, and relevance when planning to deploy mobile learning technologies on an on-demand basis. These focal points have equivalent applicability within learning commons that use on-demand deployment methodology. Taken collectively, these pose another challenge, especially within budget-limited organizations that fail to view education as a valuable investment. Initial and ongoing financial support is necessary.

Accountability is necessary since the devices have a value beyond replacement cost. Labor required to reprogram a similar device with the necessary software to make it safe and usable for the purpose intended must also be considered. Faas (2013) mentions that accountability systems can be automated, either partially or in totality. Regardless, ongoing costs will be incurred in the accountability system as well as human resources to oversee it. The proportion of these expenses depends on the degree of automation.

Security is certainly another area that deserves attention. While this also relates to the aforementioned costs beyond simple repair or replacement, consistency and trust is necessary for the program to be a success. One would eventually reject a device that repeatedly crashed due to a virus. Similarly, a security breach that compromises one’s information could easily become a reason to revert to traditional resources that restrict learning by space and time. An additional consideration in this area is ensuring that content accessed is professional and age-appropriate. Blanket restrictions are not always the answer and finding an effective tradeoff may be difficult, though. Faas (2013) gives the example, “For some users, say a hotel concierge or flight attendant, the ability to access additional sources of information may be important in responding to a customer’s needs or requests.”

Charging is a topic that doesn’t require much elaboration. Yet, recognizing that user satisfaction is a key to success in any venture, a discussion regarding standard versus extended life power sources should ensue prior to implementation. Of course, there are inherent costs with this, as well as a need for accountability and human resources to inventory reserve stock.

Updating the system is something that will require some degree of human contribution. Of course, there are automated updates that occur. One should be cognizant, however, of the additional need to remove unnecessary or outdated software and files to maximize system performance, as well as add items as user preference or need dictates. These updates contribute to Faas’ recommendation to for relevance. This again relates to user satisfaction, which is a prime determinant of whether the program will be a success or not.

Mobile technologies in 21st century learning environments

Today, we are already beyond the tipping point and well into 21st century, student-centered, ubiquitous learning. In learning commons and other educational environments, mobile learning technologies allow for ongoing modernization of education.

Use of mobile learning technologies is associated with significant challenges, though. User satisfaction is a prerequisite for success. The educational environment that will use or expand use must be attentive to user needs and preferences and have the resources in place to be responsive to dynamically changing requirements. Costs will be incurred for mobile learning device accountability, security, charging, and updates. These must be weighed against user preferences and then factored into a plan to ensure sustainability.



Faas, R. (2013 Aug 7). How to run a mobile device “library” for workers who don’t need them 24/7. CiteWorld. Retrieved from

Nesloney, T. (2013 Nov 4). Augmented reality brings new dimensions to learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from

Impact Instruction Group. (2014). 2014 Learning & development technology trends are changing the way we learn. (2nd Annual) Retrieved from

Studio B Productions (2013). Mobile education – lessons from 35 education experts on improving learning with mobile technology. Retrieved from


Nicholas S. Favazzo, 2013

Nicholas S. Favazzo is graduate student in the Educational Technology MA Program at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL.


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