M-learning, or "mobile learning", now commonly abbreviated to "mLearning", has different meanings for different communities. Although related to e-learning and distance education, it is distinct in its focus on learning across contexts and learning with mobile devices. One definition of mobile learning is: Learning that happens across locations, or that takes advantage of learning opportunities offered by portable technologies. In other words, mobile learning decreases limitation of learning location with the mobility of general portable devices.

The term covers: learning with portable technologies, where the focus is on the technology (which could be in a fixed location, such as a classroom); learning across contexts, where the focus is on the mobility of the learner, interacting with portable or fixed technology; and learning in a mobile society, with a focus on how society and its institutions can accommodate and support the learning of an increasingly mobile population that is not satisfied with existing learning methodologies.


1970s and 1980s

Alan Kay and colleagues in the Learning Research Group at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center [PARC] propose the Dynabook as a book-sized computer to run dynamic simulations for learning. Their interim Dynabooks are the first networked workstations.1990s

Universities in Europe and Asia develop and evaluate mobile learning for students. Palm corporation offers grants to universities and companies who create and test the use of mobile learning on the PalmOS platform. Palm Education Pioneers project. 2000s

The European Commission funds the major multi-national MOBIlearn and M-Learning projects.

Companies were formed that specialise in three core areas of mobile learning.

  1. Authoring and publishing
  2. Delivery and Tracking
  3. Content Development

Conferences and trade shows were created to specifically deal with mobile learning and handheld education, including: mLearn, WMUTE, and IADIS Mobile Learning international conference series, ICML in Jordan, Mobile Learning in Malaysia, Handheld Learning in London, SALT Mobile in USA.


Over the past ten years mobile learning has grown from a minor research interest to a set of significant projects in schools, workplaces, museums, cities and rural areas around the world. The mLearning community is still fragmented, with different national perspectives, differences between academia and industry, and between the school, higher education and lifelong learning sectors.

Current areas of growth include:

  • Testing, surveys, job aids and just in time learning
  • Location-based and contextual learning
  • Social-networked mobile learning
  • Mobile educational gaming
  • "Lowest common denominator" mLearning to cellular phones using two way SMS messaging and voice-based CellCasting (podcasting to phones with interactive assessments)


The scope of mobile learning includes:

  • Children and students using handheld computers, PDAs or handheld voting systems in a classroom or lecture room.
  • Students using mobile devices in the classroom to enhance group collaboration among students and instructors using a Pocket PC.
  • On the job training for someone who accesses training on a mobile device "just in time" to solve a problem or gain an update.
  • Learning in museums or galleries with handheld or wearable technologies
  • Learning outdoors, for example on field trips.
  • The use of personal technology to support informal or lifelong learning, such as using handheld dictionaries and other devices for language learning.
  • Improving levels of literacy, numeracy and participation in education amongst young adults.
  • To provide audiovisual support in order to enhance training that has been provided in a corporate business or other classroom environment.


Technical challenges include:

  • Connectivity and battery life
  • Screen size and key size
  • Ability for authors to visualize mobile phones for delivery
  • Multiple standards, multiple screen sizes, multiple operating systems
  • Repurposing existing e-Learning materials for mobile platforms

Social and educational challenges include:

  • Accessibility and cost barriers for end users: Digital divide.
  • How to assess learning outside the classroom
  • How to support learning across many contexts
  • Developing an appropriate theory of learning for the mobile age
  • Design of technology to support a lifetime of learning
  • Tracking of results and proper use of this information
  • No restriction on learning timetable
  • Personal and private information and content
  • No demographical boundary


Most personal technologies can support mobile learning, including

Technical and delivery support for mobile learning:

  • 3GP For compression and delivery method of audiovisual content associated with Mobile Learning
  • Wi-Fi gives access to instructors and resources via internet
  • GPRS mobile data service, provides high speed connection and data transfer rate

Realisations and Examples

The Open Source project MLE is a learning software for mobile phones which has been designed for mLearning. The MLE is the client on the mobile phone and is realised in J2ME. As a back-end a LMS (Learning Management System) is required.

Hot Lava Software tools are used at universities and corporations around the world to create J2ME based and Windows Mobile and iPhone mobile learning, testing and surveys.

The MLE and M-Learning is currently tested by a school in Graz (Austria)


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