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