Mobile Devices For Microlearning And Spaced Learning

Mobile Devices For Microlearning And Spaced Learning
Summary: The rapid growth of mobile technology is revolutionizing the way that we teach, as well as the way that students learn.

Using Mobile Devices For Microlearning And Spaced Learning

It seems like only yesterday that mobile phones were seen as a nuisance, an unnecessary distraction that students used to play Snake on when teachers weren’t looking. In most schools, mobile devices were confiscated on sight and not returned until the end of the day – or even the end of the week.

Luckily, schools and students are starting to see the value of mobile devices, especially because of the widespread availability of smartphones and tablets. Mobile phones used to be exactly that – a phone that you could carry around with you. Nowadays they’re so much more, and it’s not uncommon to see students using iPads to do their homework or to search for relevant information.

In fact, one survey on mobile learners found that 99% of people said it enhanced their learning and 100% would complete more training on a mobile device. Students with smartphones are twice as likely to study between 6 am and 8 am, and mobile learners study an additional 40 minutes per week thanks to the convenience of having a learning device that they can carry around with them.


Mobile learning, then, is the next major frontier for teachers, students, and academics to conquer. Part of the reason for its appeal is the way in which mobile technology offers up brand new functionality. For example, many apps rely on gamification to turn learning into more of an experience, adding features like badges, accomplishments, and scoreboards to push students to keep playing (and learning).

Another advantage of mobile devices is that they’re always there. We can use them to kill time when we’re waiting for the bus or standing in line at the supermarket. Many of the most popular mobile games in recent years –such as Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Words with Friends, and Draw Something– are easy to pick up and put back down again. You can start playing within seconds of loading the app and a single gaming session can be over in less than a minute.

That’s why mobile devices are perfect for microlearning. As its name suggests, the term refers to a type of learning in which the student is taught in short bursts – they’re given “nuggets” of information that are easier to swallow. The nuggets are then turned into “threads” that group similar pieces of information together into an overall narrative.

For example, students could take a personality quiz, play a flashcard game, watch a short animation, and read a series of short posts within the same application. As long as they all cover the same subject, whether that’s history, biology, or mathematics, it’ll promote a greater understanding of the overall topic. Better still, they’re able to dip in and out of the activities at a time and speed to suit them while still working their way through the curriculum.

Spaced Learning

Spaced learning is like microlearning on steroids, and it revolves around a similar principle. Essentially, students are taught the same content multiple times with a break in between. This is based on research carried out by R. Douglas Fields in Scientific American and is designed to create long-term memories instead of a short-term boost in performance.

Microlearning lends itself to spaced learning by its very nature, purely because of the way we use our devices. Imagine if every time you used your phone it told you who the 22nd President of the United States was. It wouldn’t take long for you to think of Grover Cleveland every time you checked the time.

It’s almost as though mobile devices were specifically designed for students. Tools like push notifications and reminders, which are native to Android and iOS, can encourage people to dive back into the app and continue learning. Meanwhile, built-in hardware like cameras, speakers, and gyroscopes add an additional dimension to the learning experience by opening up brand new possibilities.

On top of that, software developers are getting smarter and smarter, and they keep coming up with new ways to simulate intelligence. In fact, technology is sufficiently far advanced that mobile apps can adapt themselves based on the person that’s using them, monitoring their results over time, and making algorithmic decisions that no human teacher could ever offer.

Let’s say that there’s an app that serves up a “random” learning game to players. If it knows that the user is weak at science but good at mathematics, it could serve up proportionally more science games to compensate. If it knows that the user’s results improves the most when they play a memory game, it could serve up more of those.

Mobile Microlearning For Spaced Learning

As we’ve seen, mobile technology is the perfect medium for microlearning and spaced learning. In fact, Duolingo and Elevate –two of the most successful mobile learning apps– both use gamification, microlearning, and spaced repetition as key elements of their strategies. That’s why they’re so successful.

Throughout history, humanity has always turned to new technology to help out in the classroom. We’ve moved up from abacuses and papyrus to calculators and paper and, more recently, to computer screens and tablet computers.

Mobile devices are so much more than a simple learning tool. Mark Larkin of XpertWriters went so far as to describe mobile devices as “the greatest thing to happen to students since the introduction of chalk and a blackboard”, praising their abilities as both word processors and research tools.

If you’re studying music, there are music apps. If you’re training to become an architect, there are blueprint apps and 3D modeling suites. If you want to be an artist or a photographer, there are drawing apps, photography apps, and all manner of processing tools; many of them free.

There’s no question that using mobile devices for microlearning and spaced learning has a lot to offer, as, they’ll continue to teach students over time. In the future, mobile learning won’t just be for the early adopters. It’ll be standard practice across the globe, including in the developing world.

That day might not be as far away as you think.