Review of Clark Quinn’s (2011) Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends.

mobile Learning

mLearning is one of the most highly discussed disruptive innovations in recent years, taking over more and more of the discussion on online e-Learning. The eLearning Guild‘s 2011 Mobile Report by Clark Quinn has given a helpful summary of the latest trends and concerns in the realm of mobile learning which I will proceed to review here. 

Definition of mobile

Quinn (2011) defines mobile as “Any activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating information, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on a regular basis, has reliable connectivity, and fits in a pocket or purse” (p. 3). Mobile devices are characterized by being with you all the time, constantly accessible and giving you the internet, phone calls, photography, and much more at your fingertips.

See Quinn’s blog, Learnlets, for an updated definition of mobile.

mLearning definition

Quinn defines mLearning as “the intersection of mobile computing and e-learning, that includes anytime, anywhere resources; strong search capabilities; rich interaction; powerful support for effective learning; and performance-based assessment.” (in 21 Inspiring Quotes & Thoughts on mLearning).

Distinguishing between smartphones and tablets

Quinn (2011) distinguishes between mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Though tablets are also mobile devices, they are less likely to be constantly with you due to their size but are more likely to be used in a learning situation (especially since they are easier to read and browse on as compared to a doing the same thing with your smartphone). Quinn argues that it is “the convergence of capability, regardless of form factor, [which] is what is fueling the mobile revolution” (p. 4) as the latest devices come standard with rich features and capabilities  including connectivity (Bluetooth, WiFi, GSM/CDMA), input (touchscreen, keys, buttons), output (Video, vibration, audio) and sensing (camera, microphone, GPS).

Mobile devices offer a variety of channels that support learning, including SMS/MMS texting, email, document reading, audio/video capabilities and interactivity. Quinn observes that “the result is a context-aware computational device that augments our capabilities, both
for formal learning, and for informal and performance-support needs” (2011, p. 5).

Effective mLearning

Quinn considers the elements leading to effective learning as being:

  • introducing the learning,
  • presenting appropriate concepts,
  • demonstrating the application of those concepts within contexts,
  • allowing the learner to practice that application in other contexts, and finally
  • closing off the learning experience (Quinn, 2011, p. 7)

However, he adds that too often instructional designers combine all those events into a single learning event rather than spacing out the practice over time. People forget much more easily if they are simply given all the learning in a single massed practice event. Rather, Quinn suggests a process of ‘slow learning’ whereby the practiced is spaced out over time allowing for optimal “retention until needed and transfer to appropriate learning learning experiences over time” (ibid).

In Quinn’s Learnlets blog post on Extending Learning, he gives a fascinating graph on how mLearning can contribute to the retention of knowledge through spaced learning, alternating practice and testing to avoid the “forgetting curve”:

Spaced Practice

From: Quinn, C. (2013). Extending Learning [Online]. Available at: [Accessed August 20, 2013].

Augmenting Learning and Activating Knowledge

Quinn argues that mobile devices can be used as learning tools to augment formal learning in a variety of ways. Mobile devices can be used as reference tool, supporting further investigation of content taught in class, or by providing extra examples and practice to extend the learning experience over time. Quinn believes that “activating the knowledge a little bit over time is more effective than a large amount of activation at one time, owing to our cognitive architecture” (2011, p. 7).


Quinn, C. N. (2011). Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: August 18, 2013].

eLearning Guild

Quinn’s Learnlets Blog

21 Inspiring Quotes & Thoughts on mLearning



Liberating Structures and Instructor Roles

“By transforming learning into an engaging, interesting and enjoyable activity for both students and professors, [Liberating Structures] increase the learning capacity of all students and the teaching ability of all professors.”

Liberating Structures Website

Adult educators can often be faced with disengaged workers, dysfunctional groups and wasted ideas. They will perhaps unthinkingly adopt conventional structures to organize how the students they teach will work together. As an ESL teacher for over 10 years, my experience has been that often the classroom can get very teacher-centric, with the format of discussion being the teacher speaking and the classroom either listening passively or repeating verbatim what the teacher says. More adventurous teachers may choose to do pair work or task-based learning in groups or teams. These efforts often do serve a useful purpose in getting students to talk to each other and practice their English, but done unsystematically and without careful planning it can also lead to a stifling of inclusion and decreased engagement.

The problem is that teachers can use conventional structures that are either overly structured and thereby inhibiting (especially teacher-focused presentations or micro-managed discussions) or the other extreme which is disorganized and poorly structured groupings that fail to engage students in the learning at hand.

What I like about Liberating Structures is that it provides instructors with very specific ways of engaging students in learning, particularly discussion, problem solving, and a host of other activities. In fact it offers 33 liberating structures that are simple and easy to apply. Specifically they are “easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination” and “quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone” (from Introduction to Liberating Structures). The idea is for these liberating structures, once set up in the classroom, to spark creativity and out-of-the-box thinking through structuring the way students interact while at the same time liberating students to discuss content matter freely.

The potential I see for Liberating Structures in terms of the instructor’s role is that it transforms the instructor into not only a facilitator and a guide-by-the-side but truly an empowering force in enhancing classroom dynamics so that individual brilliance and the communal wisdom of the group is unleashed. By adopting and implementing liberating structures in the classroom, the teacher is essentially distributing control to the participants and allowing them to shape the direction of the learning as the lesson unfolds.

For more information on Liberating Structures and for some great resources and videos on how to apply LS in your classroom, visit Also click here for a list of Liberating Structures on .pdf 

Reflections on “Emerging Trends and Roles of the Adult Educator” in PIDP 3100

New Insights

I find that Liberating Structures posits a fascinating new approach for instructor roles in facilitating learning. I feel like I have just barely scratched the surface on this potential. Normally I am used to the familiar shift in thinking from a TTT (Teacher Talking Time) focused lesson to a more student-centred lesson, or a teacher as facilitator rather than “sage on the stage”.  But what I am not used to is really thinking through the structuring of how students will communicate with each other, discuss ideas, brainstorm problems, re-organize or self-organize, etc. I see the power in an approach such as Liberating Structures that gives some shape or intentionality to how instructors should organize students in discussion and other social learning contexts.

As a next step what I would like to do is investigate further, from an instructional design standpoint, how something like LS can be integrated into an online educational context and what that would involve on the part of the instructor/instructional designer in terms of organizing students or facilitating student behaviour/interactivity.


Mobile learning (mLearning) is definitely a huge trend, as I’ve explained in my latest blog post and also in these 21 Inspiring Quotes & Thoughts on mLearning. As a Learning Eco-systems Support and Solutions Architect at Sauder Learning Services, my challenges is to take all the innovation, discussion, hype, novelty, effectiveness and productivity-enhancing qualities of mLearning and conceptualize how to channel that into integrating with an LMS such as Blackboard Learn in a large institutional context such as UBC. In order to do one would need to engage with stakeholders in implementing a mobile solution to the various learning eco-systems present in the institution, and come up with feasible solutions for how to practically and effectively put learning in the mobile device hungry hands of 40K plus students.


In completing the webconferencing portion of this project, I interacted with Jodi who is a Sessional Instructor in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria. Her blog for the course is at My takeaway from our discussions on mLearning is how relevant and also prevalent the use of mobile devices is in diverse fields, including hers being social work. We discussed how instructors in higher educational context can be faced with students bringing mobile devices to class and how that would effect learning. We also discussed the role of the instructor in terms of how to set boundaries or discuss effective use of mobile devices in the classroom.
Reflect on the Web-Conference experience. How was it? What was
one thing that you learned?

Reflections on Mobile Learning Trends and Opportunities from mLearnCon 2013 pre-conference Google Hangout


mLearnCon 2013 put on a pre-conference Google Hangout On-Air “Mobile Learning Trends and Opportunities” hosted by David Kelly from the eLearning Guild. Here are some summaries of what the participants talked about.

Brian Doegen, Senior Manager, Global Learning Technology at PwC talked about how mobile learning in the corporate context is now about Informal Experience and Performance Support. Issues and trends he mentioned were expectations of new joiners and expectations of millenials in terms of how mobile-ready the corporate learning context will be, or how corporations will deal with BYOD policies. New hires, especially millenials, want to use their own devices to learn just-in-time and on-the-job. Brian Doegen went on to ask, “Are we future proofing our capabilities”?

Clark Quinn, Executive Director at Quinnovation, who has written on Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends, notes that mobile is a real opportunity, a platform that can support a bunch of things. It can augment formal courses but it’s not about delivering courses but rather it’s about performance support, it’s about being social. He notes that we’re still at the “shiny object stage” but there’s real opportunity to move forward.

Paul Clothier, Chief Learning Guru at TapLearn, talked about how mobile learning is an evolution of e-Learning, the next step, and how in many ways mLearning is a whole new world. Whereas eLearning is targeted at one domain, mLearning is much more ubiquitous, about performance support rather than courses on phones. From an Instructional Design point of view, we have to totally rethink how we support learning and display information. In terms of new trends, companies adopting BYODs must support them – that is opening up mLearning to a much wider audience, which brings along challenges. As well, mobile devices are an integral part of our lives – we walk around with them all the time. That brings with it a whole bunch of opportunities.

Sarah Gilbert, President of meLearning Solutions, talked about how ubiquitous smartphones help trainers be there whenever a person has a question. Now we have an opportunity to design things that answer a person’s question when they need it. That performance support can help them when they need it. Oftentimes we just need a simple text answer to our question. We shouldn’t be developing long eLearning courses, but make things available on their mobile devices. We should get rid of paper manuals, do more things with video instead of screenshots.

 Other resources on Mobile Learning from MLearnCon:

Check out the mLearnCon Hashcast

Also David Kelly’s Curated Resources