The impact of mobile learning research on practice in a global context
Submitting InstitutionOpen University
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
Our research on learning using mobile technologies has impacted on:
- the process of developing new mobile learning platforms within Nokia
and Guinti Labs
- the work by UNESCO, Nokia and Pearson on the Education for All
challenge and policy briefing for UNESCO on mobile learning for social
- the use of mobile learning to improve English teaching in Bangladesh.
The English in Action project is now impacting on over 4500 teachers.
Within the pilot, teachers' and pupils' use of English exceeded 70% and
80% respectively, and pupils' English scores increased significantly.
Funding is secure to 2014 to reach 12,500 teachers and 2.8 million
pupils. This mobile learning model is now being established in Nigeria.
Research on mobile learning within the Centre for Research in Education
and Educational Technology (CREET) characterises learning as a
collaborative, social process of knowledge construction, which is
powerfully influenced by the technologies available in any specific
context. MOBIlearn (2002-05) was the first major research project on
learning with mobile technologies, involving 24 international partners.
Taylor at The Open University (OU) led its key `User Requirements and
Evaluation' package to develop educational and usability requirements for
diverse learning contexts, and to evaluate the MOBIlearn platform. This
research theorised `context' as a central concept in mobile learning, and
identified aspects of physical, technological, conceptual, social and
temporal mobility. Subsequently, Taylor and collaborators proposed a
theory of learning for the mobile world (Sharples et al., 2007) which
explores relationships between the learner and mobile technologies, and
the ways in which these interact to advance understanding.
The Personal Inquiry (nQuire) project (2007-10) built on this, as part of
the UK Technology Enhanced Learning research programme, and developed a
model of mobile science inquiry, linking schools and informal settings.
This work has been revised and extended to adult learning within the
OpenScience Laboratory (2012-13) and to informal learning by young people
through a grant from the Nominet Trust (2013-14). The Mobile Assistance
for Social Inclusion and Empowerment of Immigrants with Persuasive
Learning Technologies and Social Network Services project (MASELTOV)
(2012-14) extends this research. It has constructed an `incidental
learning framework' which integrates learning services on smartphones with
peer and volunteer support. It uses mobile services which are
location-based, context aware, and enable opportunistic informal learning.
These are combined with measures of learner progression and achievement.
Our research has addressed mobile learning which crosses contexts, where
curriculum, timetable, and assessment are flexible. In 2004, the
educational charity JISC commissioned a study of mobile learning practices
across the post-16 sector in the UK led by Kukulska-Hulme, which addressed
both on and off campus learning. Our contribution to the EU-funded MOTILL
project (2009-10) focused on mobile lifelong learning, and developed a
practice Evaluation Grid which included analysis of support for learning
across settings. Sharples has further investigated learning across formal
and informal settings and the ethics of research into mobile, ubiquitous
and immersive learning. Surveys and interviews with adult mobile learners
(2005-13), including an international survey of five institutions in 2010
(Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2011), have produced new knowledge about emerging
learning practices with phones and tablets, and a framework for next
generation designs for mobile-assisted language learning.
Another strand of research has focused on international contexts where
there is limited access to technology and connectivity. The Digital
Education Enhancement Project (DEEP) (2001-05) led by Leach and Power
investigated the use of new mobile technologies to support teachers'
professional development within rural classrooms in Egypt and South
Africa. It explored the effect of context on mobile learning, including
local educational and language practices, and pointed to the importance of
integrating professional development into daily classroom practices (Leach
et al., 2006). The research and development project, English in Action
(EIA), led by Banks and Power and funded through UKAID (2008-14) builds on
this work, and on conceptualisations of practice focused teacher
knowledge. It aims to improve English language teaching in Bangladesh. The
research arm of the project has involved baseline studies; quantitative
and qualitative studies of the extensive pilot phase; field trials of
three low-cost models of mobile phone equipment in two rural locations;
and conceptualisation of a school-based implementation model for learning
using mobile phones which can be delivered at scale (the `trainer in your
pocket') (Walsh et al., 2013).
M. Sharples (since 2011), Professor of Educational Technology; A.
Kukulska-Hulme, Professor of Learning Technology & Communication; J.
Taylor, Professor of Learning Technologies; E. Scanlon, Regius Professor
of Open Education; P. Lefrere (until 2008), Senior Lecturer; J. Leach
(died 2007), Professor of Teacher Learning and Development; F. Banks,
Professor of Teacher Education; Dr T. Power, Senior Lecturer; Dr M.M.C
Shohel, Research Fellow (since 2009); and Dr C. Walsh (since 2010), Senior
References to the research
1. Kukulska-Hulme, A., Sharples, M., Milrad, M., Arnedillo-Sánchez, I.
and Vavoula, G. (2009) `Innovation in Mobile Learning: A European
Perspective', International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning,
vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 13-35. ISSN: 1941-8647.
2. Kukulska-Hulme, A., Pettit, J., Bradley, L., Carvalho, A.A.,
Herrington, A., Kennedy, D., and Walker, A. (2011) `Mature students using
mobile devices in life and learning', International Journal of Mobile
and Blended Learning, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 18-52. ISSN: 1941-8655.
3. Leach, J., Ahmed, A., Makalima, S. and Power, T. (2006) DEEP
IMPACT: an investigation of the use of information and communication
technologies for teacher education in the global south: Researching the
issues. Department for International Development (DFID), London, UK.
4. Sharples, M., Taylor, J. and Vavoula, G. (2007) `A theory of learning
for the mobile age' in Andrews, R. and Haythornthwaite, C. (eds) The
Sage Handbook of E-learning Research. London, UK: Sage, pp. 221-47.
5. Shohel, M.M.C. and Power, T. (2010) `Introducing mobile technology for
enhancing teaching and learning in Bangladesh: teacher perspectives', Open
Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, vol. 25, no. 3,
pp. 201-15. ISSN: 0268-0513.
6. Walsh, C., Shrestha, P. and Hedges, C. (2013) `Mobile phones for
professional development and English teaching in Bangladesh', International
Journal of Innovation and Learning, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 183-200.
All journals named above employ an anonymised peer review process.
2001-05: £100,000 awarded by DFID to Prof J. Leach and Dr T. Power for a
project entitled `DEEP (Digital Education Enhancement Project)'.
2002-05: £185,000 awarded by the European Union (FP5) to Prof P. Lefrere
for a project entitled `MOBIlearn'.
2005-14: £2,000,000 awarded by DFID to Prof F. Banks and Dr T. Power for
a project entitled `English in Action'.
2009-10: £28,695 awarded by the European Union (FP7) to Prof A.
Kukulska-Hulme for a project entitled `MOTILL (Mobile Technologies in
2012-14: €368,072 awarded by the European Union (FP7) to Prof A.
Kukulska-Hulme for a project entitled `MASELTOV (Mobile Assistance for
Social Inclusion and Empowerment of Immigrants with Persuasive Learning
Technologies and Social Network Services)'.
Details of the impact
Partnerships with external companies have translated research insights
into the development of new mobile learning tools. A partnership with
Giunti Labs (now called eXact Learning) used research on context-based
services: as Fabrizion Giorgini explains `part of the MOBIlearn technology
had a concrete impact on the first version of our Mobile product. In fact
we re-used part of the player for Win Mobile devices and part of the
location-based services that used the RFID technology.' It laid the
foundations for further versions of the platform and the company's
subsequent mobile products. Another partner, Riitta Vanska, acknowledges
the role of MOBIlearn in convincing Nokia to develop mobile learning:
`MOBIlearn gave me trust to push mobile learning in Nokia and after that
the piloting and concepting work for mobile learning got more attention. I
would almost say that all the projects (even MoMaths) have some elements
coming from the learning from that project' (Riitta Vanska, originally
Nokia, subsequently Pearson). The Nokia Education Delivery platform on
mobile phones, influenced by MOBIlearn, was used in its MoMaths project,
and a partnership with the Pearson Foundation and UNESCO to benefit
developing countries. Sharples has provided continuing consultancy to
Nokia on mobile learning.
In 2012 Nokia, UNESCO and the Pearson Foundation initiated an
international Education for All challenge to find innovative applications
of mobile phones for learning, with Sharples on the Jury. Kukulska-Hulme
and Sharples are widely referenced in the UNESCO/ Nokia paper `Mobile
Learning and Policies' (Vosloo, 2012), identifying lessons learned.
Kukulska-Hulme produced a UNESCO-commissioned Policy Brief on `Mobile
Learning for Quality Education and Social Inclusion', and chaired an
industry-sponsored global Policy Makers Forum (2013). As a result of the
MOTILL project, 24 formal declarations were signed by institutional and
national policymakers, committing to the development of mobile learning
across Europe. Sharples and Kukulska-Hulme are past presidents of the
International Association for Mobile Learning which brings together
researchers and industry professionals to take forward practice.
The significant international reach of this research impact is
demonstrated through English in Action (EIA) funded through the UK's
Department for International Development DFID (2009-14). The goal is to
contribute to the economic development of Bangladesh through enhancing the
English language competence of teachers, pupils and adult learners. EIA
has already impacted on 4690 teachers through mobile learning, changing
their educational practice, and aims to impact on 10.5 million children by
2017. It is a partnership with the Government of Bangladesh, Mott
McDonald, BBC Media Action, two local NGOs (Underprivileged Children's
Educational Programme and Friends in Village Development Bangladesh), and
the University of Dhaka. The success in Bangladesh has led to a national
programme, directly modelled on EIA, being established in Nigeria.
EIA has delivered school-based teacher development enabled by mobile
technologies. The project initially used an iPod and then, drawing on
insights from our research, shifted to a low-cost mobile phone kit,
without internet connectivity. Mobiles are preloaded with learning
resources, including over 400 audio and video clips, which are aligned
with local educational practices, and a video narrator provides guidance
and prompts for application to classroom practice. The contribution of the
research arm to achieving this impact has been noted in the DFID 2013
annual review: `sound evidence from research and from activities on the
ground are produced and continually fed back to inform practice and adjust
directions' (p. 25).
The project pilot reached 690 English teachers and 132,700 students. EIA
is currently working with 4000 teachers, with a new cohort of 8500 already
recruited. Following a positive annual review in May 2013, DFID is
constructing the case for £19 million additional funding to mainstream the
programme within national teacher development, estimated to reach at least
76,500 teachers and 10.5 million primary and secondary school children by
2017. Already the Diploma in Primary Education in Bangladesh has been
redesigned to incorporate the EIA materials with changes being rolled out
to training colleges from 2013.
Independent evaluations (quantitative and qualitative) undertaken by
Trinity College (London), University of Dhaka and the Education Inspectors
of the Government of Bangladesh, provide strong evidence of project impact
in terms of change in teacher and student attitudes, practice, and English
Language competence. The external assessment of teachers and students
using Trinity College English Language scales has shown significant
improvement on baseline studies. Almost all primary teachers achieved the
English language competence to teach Class 3, while secondary teachers
achieved competency to teach Class 6. Performance of pupils achieving
initial Trinity grades increased to 50% (primary) and 67% (secondary).
Talk in English increased significantly. Within primary classes it reached
72% for teachers and 81% for pupils and within secondary it reached 79%
for teachers and 85% for pupils. The use of mobile devices has been `shown
to facilitate access to learning, as well as improving the quality of
teacher education and training' (Shohel and Power, 2010, p. 213) which in
turn is resulting in changes to classroom practices.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- EIA evaluation reports on pilot phase available from
http://www.eiabd.com/eia/index.php/pilot-phase-reports (accessed 16
- Study 3a (2012) - includes quantitative data from Trinity College
London on attainment of Teachers and Students.
- Study 2a2 (2012) - includes quantitative data on sustained change in
practices collected by Institute for Education and Research, Dhaka
- Annual review of EIA by DFID (May 2013) available from
http://projects.dfid.gov.uk/project.aspx?Project=107480 (accessed 17
- EIA was awarded the `local innovation' award at the 2013 ELTons
(British Council Innovation Awards).
- Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2010) `Mobile learning for quality education and
social inclusion', Policy Brief published by UNESCO IITE. PDF available
at http://iite.unesco.org/policy_briefs/ (accessed 16 October 2013).
- Vosloo, S. (2012) `Mobile Learning and Policies: Key Issues to
Consider', UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning. Available
4th November 2013).
- Senior Manager, Mobile and Learning Solutions, Nokia (subsequently
- Head of Research & Development at Lattanzio Learning S.p.A, (was
at Giunti Labs during MOBIlearn).