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A review of considerations for BYOD M-learning design.


Use of mobile phones worldwide is on the rise. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2012 [+ or -] 86% of the world's population had a mobile phone subscription, with a large part of that growth being driven by developing countries (International Telecommunication Union, 2012). One review of mobile learning literature noted that mobile phones and personal digital assistants made up 75% of the devices used in education (Wu et al., 2012). The ubiquity of mobile phones, personal digital assistants, and portable tablets all offer a great opportunity to expand access to learning through mobile learning (mLearning).

The Association of Educational Communications and Technology defines electronic learning (e-learning) as the use of electronic media and devices through networks or interactive telecommunications systems to connect learners, resources, and instructors. This encompasses any delivery format, and would encompass mobile learning through wireless connectivity allowing learning anytime, anywhere. This characteristic of m-learning is essential since it transcends fixed location learning and static models of communication (El-Hussein & Cronje, 2010; Nyiri, 2002). Traxler (2005) defined mobile learning as "any educational provision where the sole or dominant technologies are handheld or palmtop devices" (p. 262), and this included mobile phones, smartphones, personal digital assistants, and tablet personal computers or portable laptops, but not desktop computers. Like Nyir, Traxler has noted that personalized connectivity and freedom of time and space constraints for learning separate e-learning from m-learning, and that modern ideas of mobile learning encompass society's changing vision about when, where and how one learns (2007). For this paper, the definition of a mobile device will include any portable and handheld device that has 3G or WiFi access, including devices such as the iPad or Samsung Tab.

Many institutions are starting to implement a "bring your own device" (BYOD) policy, in which students and teachers are given minimum specifications for the electronic devices they must choose, but are otherwise allowed to purchase their own personal devices (Edudemic, 2012). There are both advantages and disadvantages to a BYOD initiative. Some of the advantages are that the school saves money on providing devices, as well as allows students a choice in the kind of device they will use. Some disadvantages, however, are that m-learning design must consider that learners will be accessing the content from a variety of different devices (Faas, 2012). This means that fewer native apps can be used, and there may also be some disparity and inequality in student access since not all devices are created equal when it comes to usability. It is recommended to have a list of not only minimum specifications for student-bought devices, but to have a list of recommended devices as well to help ensure that all students could access the learning content from their device types.


Mobile learning affords many benefits to learners. Some of the benefits of m-learning are increased access, convenience, anytime learning, anywhere learning, as needed learning, quick reference and troubleshooting, personalized learning, autonomous learning, and social media integration (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler 2007; Parsons & Ryu, 2006; Stone, 2012). The most important m-learning benefit is autonomy, as it supports the success of the other benefits; with autonomy the student is able to take advantage of the anywhere, anytime, when needed, convenience of personalized learning. The best student autonomy comes from good instructional design that offers clear self-guided access to the learning content on a variety of devices.

Poor m-learning design leads to confusion, and can interfere with student learning. It is important to note that while m-learning is created to be autonomous, it still requires human intelligence and critical analysis in the initial design to make it successful. The design and organization thus becomes the keystone to successful learning, and integral to the overall direction of learning content that is focused on clear learning objectives and goals (Allen & Sites, 2012; Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2005; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). Poor design will hallmark poor student autonomy, which in turn can lead to poor student achievement. Important design considerations or potential barriers for a BYOD situation include file type, organization, length of learning content, culture and language, connectivity, motivation, and assessment. Each of these will be reviewed in turn with examples of ways to address the consideration when designing mobile learning for a BYOD learning context:


Careful consideration should be taken in designing any files to be opened. For example, PDF files do not open well on most mobile devices, and even on an iPad they have limitations. There are other file types that are more ubiquitous across devices, and these would better suit a BYOD context, such as ePUB, which has reflow and resize text thus making it suitable to all screen sizes. Standardized file formats such as ePUB will afford greater usability and access to the learning content across different devices. For files hosted online and not downloaded, choose cloud-based hosts that resize, compress, and publish a file type that will be easily opened on most mobile devices, such as using YouTube for video files. Test all file types on the most commonly used mobile devices before implementing it.


In many m-learning situations the instructor is not present to guide the student. The organization of the content should thus be clear, succinct, and facilitate easy discovery of the necessary information through self guidance (Allen & Sites, 2012; Stone, 2012). The better the organization of the learning content then the higher the student autonomy. Start by analyzing the learning goals, and then mapping that back to the main topics that will support those goals, and then break those main topics further into supporting subtopics that can be ordered and arranged to guide the learner, step by step.


Due to the small screen size of mobile phones, the limited downloading capabilities, and differences in content access across different devices, it is essential to design m-learning content as simple and succinct as possible. Break the learning up into small, chunked, lessons of 3-5 minutes, called learning nuggets. Order the learning nuggets logically to allow self-guidance and autonomy. Avoid unnecessary text and explanations. Keep it succinct and to the most important content. Always remember the adage: people will use about 20% of what they learn for about 80% of what they do. Does the content offer that necessary 20%? If not, cut it down to the key information.


Different contexts and regions of the world will have to consider different cultural norms and language constraints. In a paper on recommendations for m-learning in Latin America, Kim, Miranda, and Olaciregui (2008) noted that any mobile learning model must consider the "population of learners, their learning conditions and needs, and must factor in relevant environmental, cultural, and political dimensions" (p. 4).

I work in the United Arab Emirates, where design of online learning requires special design approaches through the use of learning examples and videos relevant to the global region, as well as language and vocabulary used that is simplified for the English as a second language speaker to more easily follow and understand. For example, where possible, closed captioning should be used on videos to ease the comprehension of English as a second language students that may not have the instructor present to answer questions. Or, a second example is that in utilizing a case study it should be about a company that students are familiar with and covers ethical considerations relevant to their cultural perspectives. Cultural and language considerations will be applied differently in each country or region, but should always be analyzed in conjunction with the intended audience for the learning content.


Survey students about connectivity outside of the WiFi enabled school zone. If some have low or no Internet connectivity outside of the school grounds, then consider learning nuggets and materials that can be downloaded to the phone for offline learning. Keep the files sizes small, such as not putting in too many high-resolution images or uncompressed large videos.


Adults want to know the reason why they need to learn something, or else they resist taking time for busy schedules to apply time to it (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005). The goals, needs, and objectives should be clear and focused such that the learner sees the purpose and value of the learning. This is acquired in part through good content organization and creating high quality learning nuggets. Motivation could also be affected by the lack of social interactions with the instructor and peers. One way avoid this would be to integrate groups and discussion forums from other popular social web tools, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. These types of Web 2.0 tools manage their own applications that work well on most mobile devices, thus saving the headache of technical support. In doing so, then the designer lowers the transactional distance through high social interactivity while maintaining student autonomy and learning-place flexibility (Moore, 1997, 2007; Park, 2011).


One drawback to not only BYOD learning but also m-learning is the ability to assess the learning. Submission of assignments, feedback, and testing for content knowledge and mastery are more difficult to do in this delivery format. Some possible solutions would be face-to-face or proctored exams and presentations of projects scheduled around the mLearning. Some may feel that having face-to-face requirements defeats the entire purpose of self-directed m-learning. In this case, groups may brainstorm virtual and self-directed assessment methods that continue to attend to the self-directed nature of m-learning. For example, one solution would be to ask the student to exhibit their learning via video as proof of skill mastery or content mastery, then uploading that to YouTube, and submitting the link to the professor for grading. A third solution could be that the student creates a full website about a project they are completing, including the outline, an essay, a video of project steps or related events, and perhaps interviews with experts in the field or with stakeholders in the project. A third solution is an online exam (multiple choice, ordering, matching, etc.) for autonomous testing that is proctored by a trusted community member. There are many online cloud-based document storage tools that can also be used for assignment submission, such as Google Drive, Box, or DropBox. Overall, a reliable and trustworthy form of assessment is required to test student achievement, and ultimately to analyze the success of the m-learning curriculum design.


Analysis of the learning goals, topics, and outcomes will help focus the content. Then choose tools, file types, and technologies that will enhance (not detract) from the learning content. Then evaluate the overall design, and break it down into small, chunked learning nuggets--small snippets of learning that added up lead to the overall learning goals.

A good way to understand what design considerations are required for a BYOD m-learning course is to test it as a student. For example, create an account at the Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative (OLI), where there are open courses on many topics, all with interactive and high quality learning content integrated with a variety of technology tools to enhance student learning. If all the participants have a computer and good connectivity then they will have equal access to a great open course. However, I participated in a recent implementation of the OLI course in conjunction with The University of the People, where many of the students came from rural developing regions of the world, many students were unable to access the OLI site due to limited access to the Internet, slower connectivity, large files they could not access, and some complained of the lack of mobile-ready content at the OLI open courses that did not work on iPhones and iPads (due to flash-based modules rather than HTML5). Access to any learning content is affected by the quality of the mobile device, and not all mobile devices are created equal. The best way to consider the quality of the design is to test it out on a variety of devices as a student, and to evaluate the connectivity and devices the students will use.

Barriers should be examined in full during the initial analysis of goals, prior to the design stages. In understanding the barriers, possible pitfalls and interferences with learning can be avoided. Through understanding what the goals, considerations, barriers, and context will be, the best design and content can be implemented more successfully. Test, test, and test again. Try the content out in a variety of situations, with variable connectivity, and on multiple devices. This way any limitations in access to the learning content can be identified and solved prior to implementation. Through a thorough analysis of both the design and possible barriers, a high quality and fully accessible learning plan can be designed and implemented.


* Pinterest: Mobile Learning/BYOD/COD: http://pinterest.comlNelearn/mobilelearning-byod-cod/

* Scoopt.It: BYOD and Mobile Learning:

* UpSide Learning: Mobile Learning and the BYOD Movement:

* Higher Colleges of Technology GED4 mobile learning design and delivery guide:

* JISC Mobile Learning infoKit: mobile-learning/


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Michelle Estable, Ed Tech Specialist & Team Lead, Higher Colleges of Technology (ADMC), PO Box 25023, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Telephone: +971 2 404 8270.

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Title Annotation:bring your own device; mobile
Author:Estable, Michelle
Publication:Distance Learning
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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