As an accompaniment to their Mobile English series, Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney provide an informative overview of mobile and hand-held learning.

What is mobile learning?

Mobile learning comprises any kind of learning which is done on mobile and hand-held gadgets either in or out of class, or learning which takes place ‘on the go’, as part of class time, or outside. Although mobile learning is often taken to be synonymous with the use of mobile phones, it is increasingly associated with other devices such as tablets, portable games machines, ebooks and other devices which allow people to continue more traditional approaches to learning as they move through their daily lives. As such it fits comfortably into definitions of blended learning.

In this series, we will be concentrating mostly on mobile phones (from the basic to smartphones) as these are more likely to be readily available to you and your learners.

How do I get started?

An easy way in to mobile learning is to assess which gadgets you already have in class. As many schools struggle to afford technology investments, the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) option is becoming more attractive as a way of integrating technologies into the learning process. There’s a very good chance that your learners will already be carrying around the gadgets you want to use, so check what they have first.

Learners may be surprised to be asked to take out and turn on their mobile phones in class (particularly if your school has had a no mobile policy for some time – see here for more details on changing policy), so the first thing to do is to ensure they know why you’re asking them to do that. Take time to explore what their gadgets can do, and how they might use them in the service of their learning. Look at the different features of each phone and brainstorm possible uses.

Starting off like this can give learners plenty of ideas for using their phones. And, of course, these ideas are infinitely more exciting if your school can provide wireless access to these devices.

Have your students talk about what they do with their phones – the sort of use they make of them on a daily basis and the apps they use. As they do, try to pick up on anything that might be useful in their learning.

What sort of things can I do?

In this series we’re providing you with a sample set of six activities that will help you and your learners get started, and – hopefully – activate an awareness of the potential of these devices. The first five activities involve exploring the potential of different features on their phones, and the sixth is a larger project that weaves together all the skills you and they have picked up over the course of the initial five.

In these activities we have tried to limit ourselves to default applications on modern phones, so that neither you nor your students will need to purchase anything extra, such as apps or other equipment. This is not to say that there aren’t good apps available to language learners, but we feel that the creativity and potential for language production found in the default applications is more than enough to get started.

If you do want to explore apps for language learning, you might like to explore Shaun Wilden’s blogthe Macmillan apps (including the ELTon award-winning Sounds) and the British Council’s own collection of Learn English apps.

Where do I go from here?

It’s easy to get started with an activity or two, but in order for mobile learning to become a successful, integrated part of your teaching life you’ll need to make some decisions: when, where, how, what … For answers to those questions and more, check out Nicky’s blog post: Mobile Learning #2: The Issues.

Good luck with trying out the activities. We’d love to hear how they go and any other thoughts or questions you may have, so please do leave your comments.

Gavin and Nicky co-run an internet consultancy specializing in online teacher training and development ( Their publications include: The Internet & The Language Classroom, How to Teach English with Technology, Teaching Online and Digital Literacies.

More about mobile learning

Edited highlights from Macmillan Education’s mobile learning debate at IATEFL 2012