Mobile learning research/projects

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Mobile Learning initiatives in IET – past and present

The Institute of Educational Technology (IET) has been an important centre for mobile learning research for over a decade. Key projects and lines of investigation are listed here, beginning with current or recent work.


International Association for Mobile Learning

The membership organization to promote excellence in research, development and application of mobile and contextual learning. It organizes the annual mLearn international conference series. Mike Sharples was founding President of the Association and Agnes Kukulska-Hulme was President in 2010-13.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Mike Sharples


MASELTOV: Mobile Assistance for Social Inclusion and Empowerment of Immigrants with Persuasive Learning Technologies and social Network Services (2012-14)

Collaborative multi-partner European project funded with support from FP7, exploring the potential of mobile services for promoting integration and cultural diversity in Europe. Development of innovative anytime, anywhere support and social computing services on smartphones for immigrants from outside the EU, including assistance with language learning. The project is coordinated by Joanneum Research in Austria. IET is leading on the development of an Incidental Learning Framework.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Ann Jones, Eileen Scanlon, Mark Gaved


Elmo - ongoing research partnership with Sharp Labs Europe

This collaborative project involving Sharp Labs Europe and Oxford University Press has developed a tool for learning English vocabulary from e-book reading that adapts to the learner's ability. It is now marketed in Japan as TADOKU Academy (TADOKU means 'Extensive Reading').

Partnership with UNESCO Mobile Learning initiative

Mike Sharples presented a keynote talk at the First UNESCO Symposium on Mobile Learning at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in December 2011. Nokia, UNESCO and Pearson Foundation held an 'Education for All' (EFA) challenge to find innovative applications of mobile phones for learning; Mike Sharples was a member of the EFA Jury. Agnes Kukulska-Hulme has authored a UNESCO Policy Brief on Mobile Learning (2010).

Contact: Mike Sharples, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme

Interviews with informal language learners using mobile devices (May 2010- ongoing)

The aim is to gather empirical data on the role of mobile devices in supporting lifelong learning, specifically informal language learning among adults. This data will illuminate how mobile learning is changing language learning, since learner-driven innovation is more likely to effect change than efforts made by language teachers who are notoriously technology-shy. The research focuses on (1) personal motivations for using a mobile device, including physical mobility and lifelong aspirations; (2) the extent to which the device ‘opens up’ learning, i.e. multiplies or changes the opportunities and ways to learn; and (3) constraints on use and progress, e.g. personal, technological, social, economic and environmental. Whilst focusing on languages, this research also has wider implications for other disciplines and professional fields where independent lifelong learning really matters.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Bea De los Arcos

Out There In Here (2010-11)

Funded by the EPSRC, and working with Microsoft and OOKL Mobile Software, the ‘Out There and In Here’ project explores the possibilities for new technologies to support distributed, synchronous collaborations between students in the field, and others based in a laboratory. For this project, geology fieldwork in a higher education context provides the test domain for design and evaluation of a prototype system, from which wider issues with developing interdependent learning experiences across mobile and static contexts can be identified and analysed. We plan to link students carrying mobile devices in the field, connected via mobile networks, to students in a ‘command and control’ style laboratory, using an interactive table-top, projected displays and other technologies. Lecturers use ipads to maintain an awareness of students in both locations. The system will support access to a range of relevant resources. The review and organisation of data, synthesis of reports with specific / abstract information and the development of hypotheses that are then voted upon.

Contact: Anne Adams

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XDelia Project (2009-2012)

This pan-European research project is investigating people’s behaviours, habits and emotional states when they make financial decisions. The aim of the project (Xcellence in Decision-making through Enhanced Learning in Immersive Applications) is to develop new, technologically supported approaches to training and non-formal learning in real-world settings. It will deliver new approaches to decision-making research based on wearable sensors and serious gaming technology. xDelia involves CIMNE, the Forschungszentrum Informatik, The Open University, the Game and Media Arts Lab at Blekinge Institute of Technology, the Erasmus Centre for Neuroeconomics, the Personal Finance Research Centre at Bristol University, and Saxo Bank.

Contact: Grainne Conole, Gill Clough

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Personal Inquiry PI Project (2008-10)

The University of Nottingham and the Open University are partners in a £1.1m ‘Personal Inquiry’ project to help school students learn the skills of modern science. Funded by the UK ESRC and EPSRC research councils, the project is developing a new approach of 'scripted inquiry learning', where children aged 11-14 investigate a science topic with classmates by carrying out explorations between their classroom, homes and discovery centres, guided by a handheld computer. Other partners in the project include local secondary schools; ScienceScope (a company that develops school sensing and datalogging equipment); Nottingham Museums and Galleries; and Milton Keynes City Discovery Centre.

Contact: Eileen Scanlon, Ann Jones

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MOTILL Project (2009-10)

‘MOTILL - Mobile Technologies in Lifelong Learning: best practices’, is funded by the European Commission within the National Lifelong Learning Strategies programme. MOTILL aims to investigate how mobile technologies may impact on the diffusion of a social model where learning and knowledge are accessible to all. The project involves 4 European partners (Italy, UK, Hungary, Ireland) and is engaging with national policymakers to raise awareness of research evidence and best practices. The project methodology includes the collaborative creation of a database of annotated research publications and the development of evaluation criteria for the identification of effective practices in the use of mobile technologies for lifelong learning.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, John Pettit, Alice Peasgood, Rob Farrow

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ERA - Enabling Remote Activity (2006-2010)

ERA is a cross-university project that enables remote participation by students in field trips. Using a wireless transient network, stills and video cameras, and two way audio communications, students are able to gather data and interact with colleagues in difficult to reach locations. The project has supported Earth Science summer schools in 2009 (Durham, course SXR369) 2008 (Kindrogan, course SXR339), 2007 (Heath and Reach, based on second level course materials), and 2006 (Kindrogan course SXR339) providing local network access and internet connectivity to the field. This year (2009) we have been given a JISC Rapid Innovation Grant to investigate "Portable VoWLANs", exploring VoIP in the field, and JANET funding as part of the "Portable WLAN" call

Contact: Mark Gaved, Trevor Collins

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Mobile language learning with audio on L120 Ouverture (2008-10)

This pilot project was part-sponsored by the Learning Innovations Office. The project targeted two groups of students owning a range of mobile devices and registered on the Open University course L120 Ouverture Intermediate French 09B. The aims were to find out if students use the audio resources of the course (currently provided on DVD-ROMs) on mobile devices such as mp3 players or iPods for independent use; where, when and how often they use the audio resources on their mobile device; whether they use interactive downloadable web-based quizzes with integrated audio accessible on mobile devices such as Smartphones, PDAs and iPhones; where, when and how often they use the web-based quizzes with integrated audio on their mobile device.

Contact: Valerie Demouy, Annie Eardley, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Rhodri Thomas

An international survey of mature students’ uses of mobile devices in life and learning (2008-9)

This research was part of a set of studies concerned with learner-driven innovative practice with mobile technologies and the interface between formal and informal learning. It built on previous work in IET investigating student use of personal devices for learning, work, social interaction and entertainment. This phase of the research included an international survey focusing on students registered on selected Masters and doctoral programmes in the UK, Sweden, Portugal, Hong Kong and Australia. The research gives an account of everyday uses and more unusual deployments of personal technologies by students from departments of education and technology. It illuminates learner choices and preferences, attitudes towards work–life boundaries, evolving social and cultural practices, and the impacts of technological change.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, John Pettit

Read more… mLearn’09 conference paper:

Geolearners: Informal Learning with Mobile and Social Technologies (2006-2009)

This doctoral research was completed in the Institute of Educational Technology. The research examined the ways in which mobile and Web 2.0 technologies have been used by ordinary people to create, store and share knowledge. It focused on a distributed, online community of Geocachers and looked at how they link the virtual social spaces of the internet with the physical spaces that surround them, and how these connections offer a range of collaborative learning opportunities. The findings revealed that geocachers combine mobile technologies with Web 2.0 technologies in innovative ways, devising location-aware activities to connect physical and social contexts, creating a space in which both deliberate and unintentional learning could occur.

Contact: Gill Clough, Ann Jones, Patrick McAndrew, Eileen Scanlon

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Investigating science teachers use of mobile devices in workplace settings (2009)

This project, funded by the Practice-based Professional Learning CETL, was an exploration of the use of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) by students of the MSc in Science course, Contemporary Issues in Science Learning. The project team provided a range of course resources on mobile devices and sought to find out by means of diaries and online questionnaires whether the students felt that the provision of materials in this way increased their use of learning resources in their professional situation. The devices have the potential to provide new ways for teachers to engage with mixed media science learning materials.

Contact: Eileen Scanlon, Canan Blake, Kim Issroff, Gill Clough

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Using PDAs for staff development (2006-2009)

This project researched the use of handheld devices for personal and professional development of all categories of staff in the Institute of Educational Technology. Forty members of staff participated, in two cohorts, using Qtek personal digital assistants/ smartphones. Data was collected through questionnaires, workshops, interviews and other means. The project was part-funded by the Practice-Based Professional Learning CETL. A follow-on project with Health and Social Care faculty began in 2008.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, John Pettit, Daisy Mwanza-Simwami, Mariano Rico

Read more… Kukulska-Hulme, A. & Pettit, J. (2008) Semi-formal Learning Communities for Professional Development in Mobile Learning. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 20 (2). 35-47. doi:

OUAnytimeAnywhere (2009)

This project’s aims were to establish how course teams have re-presented their course materials for access via mobile technologies, to establish whether and how course pedagogies have been enhanced to take account of the affordances of mobile technologies, to develop links with departments and faculties across the OU and identify which course teams would be open to exploring the use of mobile devices on their courses in the near future. A complementary aim was to identify the key research issues relating to the use of mobile learning in informal settings. This project was funded by CREET Strategic Fund.

Contact: Cindy Kerawalla, Eileen Scanlon

Emergent practice among language teachers: Mobile Assisted Language Learning (2009)

During 2009, an exploratory international survey was carried out into the use of mobile technologies by language teachers in the post-16 education sector. This project was sponsored jointly by the TLRG Research Group and the Centre for Education and Educational Technology (CREET). Rationale: The number of research publications concerning mobile assisted language learning (MALL) is increasing, suggesting that more teachers and learners are taking advantage of mobile devices to support language learning. However, discussions with practitioners suggest that these publications represent only a small range of the MALL activities being carried out, and we are interested in finding out more about actual practice. The research aims to tap into unreported use of mobile technologies by innovator and early adopter practitioners, and to identify the drivers for use of mobile devices for learning.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Lesley Shield, Xaviere Hassan

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Practitioners as innovators: emergent practice in personal mobile teaching, learning, work and leisure (2005-2006)

This was an investigation of how personal mobile devices are used by students and alumni from the Masters Programme in Online and Distance Education offered by the Institute of Educational Technology. Data was collected in 2005 by means of an online questionnaire and follow-up interviews by telephone or email with a subset of respondents. The research helped inform those who are interested in the potential of mobile learning, who are designing learning with a specific type of mobile device in mind, or who own a mobile device but may not be making the most of it for their own teaching and learning.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, John Pettit

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Going with the grain: mobile devices in practice (2005-6)

Fifty-seven alumni of a global Masters programme participated in research into their use of mobile devices, examining how far the devices were embedded in the personal and professional lives of these alumni, most of whom were aged 35–54. This links with wider debates about the changing relationship between learners and educational institutions, and the role of mobile devices in enabling individuals to engage in learning conversations. The research uncovered which devices were used by the alumni and for what purposes, and explored the implications of these findings for educators.

Contact: John Pettit, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme

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Case studies and Landscape Study of mobile and wireless learning (2004-5)

These were two JISC-funded projects on the use of wireless and mobile technologies in teaching and learning. The first project produced 10 case studies illustrative of innovative approaches in the use of mobile devices to deliver and support learning in the post-16 and Higher Education sectors in the United Kingdom. The impact of the use of these technologies on physical learning space design was also examined, together with lessons learnt. The case studies were accompanied by video clips and were widely disseminated as part of the JISC Effective Practice series. The follow-on project was a Landscape Study report covering current issues and future uses of wireless and mobile technologies.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme

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Semantic Ubiquitous Technologies for Learning and Exploration (SUbTLE) (2005-6)

Thes SUbTLE project drew on previous experience gained in the CIPHER project on semantic approaches to describing resources and the MOBIlearn project on use of mobile technologies. It carried out three investigations: 1. looking at ways to help provide information to visitors to the OU; 2. Using mobile access to information for school visits to Bletchley Park; and, 3. Incorporating linked activities for learners into a Masters level course. This one year project was a partnership between KMi and IET funded by the Open University's Learning and Teaching Office.

Contact: Patrick McAndrew, Andrew Brasher

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Mobile Learning in Informal Science Settings (MELISSA) (2005-2006)

The MELISSA project was supported within the EU-funded Kaleidoscope Network of Excellence. The project brought together expertise in mobile learning and examined its potential for use for learning of science in particular. The group carried out future technology workshops, joint symposium and meetings as well as producing three reports reviewing the potential, looking at literature, and reacting to the research.

Contact: Eileen Scanlon, Ann Jones, Patrick McAndrew


Tablet PCs in schools (2004-2005)

Several members of IET contributed to a Becta-funded project investigating the adoption of portable Tablet computers in schools in England. The research included a literature review and case studies carried out in schools. Seven primary schools and five secondary schools (including one special school) were selected from over 90 schools in England that were identified as using Tablet PCs in late 2004. In many schools there was a move towards cross-curricular working, and sometimes a greater emphasis on independent research by students.

Contact: Peter Twining, Ann Jones, Eileen Scanlon, Patrick McAndrew, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme

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MOBIlearn Project (2002-2005)

MOBIlearn was a European-led research and development project which involved 24 partners from academia and industry in ten countries. Its aim was to develop, implement, and evaluate an architecture for mobile learning, based on theories of effective teaching and learning in a mobile environment. The focus of the project was supporting learning outside the classroom, including learning in museums, studying for a work-related MBA, and gaining basic medical knowledge. The project’s remit extended to new models of learning, new systems architectures, new methods to adapt learning materials to mobile devices and new business models for sustainable deployment of mobile technologies for learning.

Contact: Josie Taylor, Patrick McAndrew, Mike Sharples

The Appropriation of PDAs as Learning and Workplace Tools: an Activity Theory Perspective (2001-2004)

This doctoral research was completed in the Institute of Educational Technology. The research examined the use of PDAs as learning and workplace tools in different case study settings. One of the case studies involved students on IET’s Masters programme in Online and Distance Education, reading and annotating course materials on Palm PDAs.

Contact: Jenny Waycott, Ann Jones, Eileen Scanlon

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An Investigation into the Educational Value of E-books and PDAs for Studying Course Materials (2001-2)

Funded by an Open University Teaching Fellowship award, this project aimed to find out how IET Masters students on an online course (H802) could use a handheld Personal Digital Assistant as an alternative study medium. The students had access to a set of materials in print and on PDAs, and reported on their experiences of studying with those materials during the summer months, including holidays.

Contact: Agnes Kukulska-Hulme

Read more… Waycott, J. & Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2003) Students’ Experiences with PDAs for Reading Course Materials, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 7 (1), pp. 30-43.