Mobile Games for Adult Learning: What’s the Appeal?

Mobile Game-Based Learning (Image Designed by Thaleia Deniozou)
Summary: This post introduces the potential of using mobile games as effective tools for adult learners living in a society of constant movement, where the massive penetration of mobile technology is an undeniable fact. Examining social practices, technology circumstances of use, the profile of the new learner and changing gaming cultures the emerging potential of mobile games for learning becomes apparent and is here discussed.

Mobile Games for Adult Learning

‘Do you own a smartphone or a tablet?’ ‘Do you play games on the device?'It comes as no surprise that most readers will reply ‘yes’ to these two simple questions. Countless are the times I have observed people around me shooting Angry Birds to mocking pigs or trying to feed the candy eating Om Nom by cutting the ropes in the right order. Perhaps not surprisingly most of these players are not children. Adults of all ages can be spotted engaging to mobile gaming everywhere; waiting in line at the post office, during lunch break, while travelling or even sitting comfortably on their living-room sofas. This tendency supports the fact that the mobile gaming industry is one of the most fast growing while the appeal of mobile games is massive to a wide range of audiences. Coupled with the fact that mobile devices’ penetration in contemporary social life is an undeniable fact, it comes as no surprise that the educational community has started noting the emerging potential. And it is one to watch for.

The simple matter of the fact is that technological innovations that become part of our social life cannot but affect one of its most important facets, and this is education. How people learn is closely related to the rest of their social stance, while it has been proven that educational frameworks utilizing everyday life technology are of great potential, as they can be seamlessly integrated into real life settings and reach learners in their ‘natural habitat’. It makes sense for someone daily using the web to be able to learn through it and it also makes sense for someone caring a mobile device on a daily basis to be able to learn using it. And if this learning can be facilitated by a fun, engaging game environment, that’s even better. This is one of the reasons why mobile learning in general and mobile game-based learning specifically, are emerging as a hot topic in the field of technology-enhanced education and why device appropriate instructional design frameworks are in demand.

My personal take on the subject is that mobile games provide an amazing opportunity for effective and engaging learning, free from space and time restrictions, and pose great potential for adult learners as they allow flexible integration into everyday life, thus reducing barriers to entry compared to traditional classroom settings. Therefore I will briefly here provide a rational for using mobile games for adult learning.

Social Practice

The massive penetration of mobile technology in everyday social life with almost one device per person in the western world and the social changes that follow can’t but have an impact on learning as well. This ‘mobile society’ (Traxler, 2007) informs and is being informed by the changing needs of contemporary adult learners for whom accessibility, flexibility and mobility become key factors for an effective educational solution. Learning can and should be carried out to the real world and remain effective, engaging and relevant, which makes mobile learning strategies such as mobile game-based learning, very appealing for technology enhanced education.

The Learner Profile

Familiarity with game-play on different platforms is common among contemporary learners moving into adulthood who can thus potentially be more motivated by games in comparison to older generations. This could make adults more positive to using games for their learning, reducing common negative connotations of lack of seriousness, when it comes to learning through play. Overall their barriers between learning and play are less distinct. Additionally the learning profile of the members of the ‘Games Generation’ (Prensky, 2001) is different in comparison with past generations as they often find visuals more appealing than text, process information faster and expect quick rewards. In light of these conditions learning facilitated via games (or mobile games in this case) can become an effective solution.

Circumstances of Use

The need for constant movement becomes imperative in a mobile society and explains modern devices’ circumstances of use.  Content from the device can be accessed on demand, anytime and in any location, while it can be personalized and adaptable. However a feeling of familiarity with the device and confidence in accessing such content could be what contemporary adults in motion, from different backgrounds and with different learning needs have in common, thus reducing any negative perceptions towards technology usage. Finally accessing content through the device could make learning dynamically fit around professional, family and other obligations of the adult learner and eliminate barriers to entry.

New Gaming Cultures

Mobile games seam to appeal to a great rage of audiences, while according to a large-scale online survey I conducted as part of my research 49% of respondents answered that they play games on their mobile device (either phone or tablet) more often than on other devices. Mobile games are usually less complex to learn and to play in comparison with traditional video games thus facilitating a lower barrier to entry. Intuitive controls, simpler game-play, shorter game sessions and fun cartoon-like edgy visuals seam to be some of the reasons that make such games appealing to many different users and age-ranges. And it is this exact appeal that makes them a suitable medium for adult learners, maybe even more so than traditional game-based learning.

Concluding it becomes obvious that mobile games, inheriting the benefits of mobile learning in terms of accessibility and those of game-based learning in terms of engagement, do bring a great potential as effective learning environments for contemporary adult learners. Recognizing the massive growth of the sector and the rapid development of mobile technologies, the opportunity is therefore to explore mobile games as serious games and investigate how they can be implemented to best facilitate learning. Therefore further research to advance innovative instructional design frameworks for mobile game-based learning becomes imperative. Besides, mobile games can be used to teach almost anything as long as they are designer right.


  • Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Game-Based Learning. New York: McGraw Hill.
  • Traxler, J. (2007). Defining, discussion, and evaluating mobile learning: the moving finger writes and having writ. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 8 (2).