Mobile Expectations

What do students want from mobile learning platforms? Though there are a multitude of mobile content management systems, content providers, and digital libraries, there are few studies that focus on the user’s expectations and intent towards digital content within a formal learning environment. To address this gap, a recent study investigated graduate students’ perspectives on using mobile devices in an online course. The authors also discuss critical success factors in the context of a research framework for using instructional technologies.

Participants’ survey results suggest that students prefer to use a mobile device if they can easily access the content without running into technical challenges, and if the learning activity is linear, like a single lecture video. If students have to switch between activities or modes, however, mobile devices become more of a hindrance.

The challenges with implementing mobile technology in formal learning settings are primarily linked to usability and user expectations. Previous research demonstrates that students often expect e-reading platforms to respond like computers, and they are disappointed with slow or cumbersome interfaces. Users’ mental models also reflect the ubiquity of tools like Google and social media apps; when learning applications are clunkier than expected, students are quick to abandon them. Additionally, strategies for navigating and utilizing digital resources aren’t the same as for print—though people may try to transfer their habits from one to the other, which can result in frustration or even just a failure to take full advantage of the affordances offered by digital resources. Finally, mobile devices are designed for linear reading, but students often take a nonlinear approach to learning (i.e., browsing, scanning, and skipping around texts), so delays in page jumps can be annoying and even quite limiting.

Increasingly, research is uncovering differences in reading comprehension when students read content presented linearly on a mobile device versus print materials. Current studies tend to focus on how ebooks can improve reading comprehension; this study reaffirms that students primarily need to be able to find what they need, and navigate to and from (and within) the content with ease. So far, e-readers and tablets have been widely adopted by college students because of cost and portability, but implementing mobile-based instruction requires more consideration of how students are using their devices. Ultimately, the goal is that students are challenged by learning the materials—not by the delivery of digital content.

Hyman, J. A., Moser, M. T., & Segala, L. N. (2014). Electronic reading and digital library technologies: Understanding learner expectation and usage intent for mobile learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(1), 35-52.