Saturday, April 27, 2013

Reflecting on the Principles of Effective mLearning Design

I'm participating in a micro-MOOC called Instructional Design for Mobile Learning (#idml13 on Twitter).  During the first official week of the course, participants were presented with a list of six general principles on mobile instructional design described by the University of Oregon's (n.d.) department of Applied Information Management (AIM ).  Those principles are: 
  • Principle #1: Develop a simple and intuitive interface design
  • Principle #2: Integrate interactive multi-media
  • Principle #3: Build short, modular lessons and activities
  • Principle #4: Design content that is engaging and entertaining
  • Principle #5: Design content that is contextual, relevant, and valuable to the learner
  • Principle #6: Design content for just-in-time delivery
This list of principles was developed by the AIM as a set of recommendations stemming from a review of a range of research and literature on effective mLearning design.  I can't argue with any of these recommendations, as they do offer sound, practical guidance for anyone venturing into mLearning instructional design.  These principles are reflective of the eight recommendations for universal instructional design for mLearning presented by Elias (2010, p. 147), which are summarized below: 
  1. equitable use;
  2. flexible use;
  3. simple and intuitive;
  4. perceptible information;
  5. tolerance for error;
  6. low physical and technical effort;
  7. community of learners and support; and
  8. instructional climate.
They are also reflective of the extensive list of tips provided by Traxler and Wishart's (2011, p. 43) Mobile Learning Practitioner's Checklist (in particular, points 8-10 under the Pedagogical Advice subheading): 

Pedagogical advice:
8. Learning opportunities - identify key ‘starter’ opportunities for students to focus on that are relevant to subject being taught.
9. Constructivist approach - build learning opportunities across and between authentic contexts and the classroom.
10. Student autonomy – the need to work with students to enable them to choose the best ways of using their personal devices to support their learning.

Rather than debate the merits of one particular checklist over another (as the all provide relatively similar advice), I'm using this blog post to reflect on just how sound these tips are in terms of Koole's (2009) theoretically-grounded Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME), which is depicted graphically below:

Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) (Koole, 2009)
The FRAME model is fast becoming one of the most widely referenced frameworks for mLearning research design and evaluation.  This is because of its elegant simplicity and simultaneously comprehensiveness.  FRAME draws upon established learning theory such as Activity Theory, social interaction theory, and Vygotsky's zone of proximal development.  FRAME divides mLearning analysis into three primary domains: the learner aspect, the social aspect, and the device aspect.  As depicted above, these aspects overlap in mLearning design, and effective instructional design will not only account for all three domains... it will try to integrate them as closely together as possible.  Using FRAME, we can comfortably assess how comprehensive the six principles proposed by AIM are: 
  • Principle #1: Develop a simple and intuitive interface design (Device Aspect)
  • Principle #2: Integrate interactive multi-media (Device Aspect, Learner Aspect)
  • Principle #3: Build short, modular lessons and activities (Learner Aspect)
  • Principle #4: Design content that is engaging and entertaining (Learner Aspect)
  • Principle #5: Design content that is contextual, relevant, and valuable to the learner (Learner Aspect)
  • Principle #6: Design content for just-in-time delivery (Learner Aspect)
One thing that the AID principles seem to be lacking in their advice is any mention of the Social Aspect described by FRAME.  Obviously, not every learning activity is going to be a group effort... but there must be some form of social interaction (either with fellow learners, instructors or, in the case of MOOCs, wayfinders).  Social interaction is critical for motivation, support, and skill scaffolding.  Both Activity Theory and the zone of proximal development (ZPD) emphasize the benefits of social interaction in learning, and ZPD stresses that learners who more frequently engage in collaborative social interaction in learning efforts gain the skills and confidence to achieve more when learning independently. 

The same exercise could be carried out with either of Elias's (2010) or Traxler and Wishart's (2011) checklists, and would find that the only direct mention of social interaction in either checklist is Elias's reference to a "community of learners and support" (p. 147). 

As part of our activities during week one of #idml13, we were asked to reflect upon one of the principles listed by the AIM and how we could integrate that principle into our own distance / mLearning instructional design.  Rather than reflecting on one single principle from that list, I spent several days mulling over how comprehensive the advice is in light of FRAME and the Collaborative Situated Active mLearning (CSAM) approach that I've been developing.  CSAM draws upon the three domains of the FRAME model and its theoretical grounding in Activity Theory and ZPD (Impedovo, 2011; Kaptelinin & Nardi, 2006).  It also draws upon Moore's (1989, 1991) Transactional Distance Theory and Flow Theory (Chaiklin, 2003; Chen, 2006; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997).  Unlike FRAME (which is designed more as an analytical tool), CSAM is designed more to act as a pedagogical guidepost.  It suggests that mLearning design will be most effective if it includes collaborative, situated and active elements.  By collaborative, I mean that learners need to interact in partnerships with either their peers, their instructors, or their wayfinders in some way (FRAME's Social Aspect and Elias's point #7).  By Situated, I mean that learning should take place in authentic contexts (which directly encompasses principles 5-6 referenced by AIM and Traxler & Wishart's point #9... but also encompasses AIM's principle #4 about being engaging and entertaining).  By Active, I mean that learners must actually do something with the learning content, and not just act as passive recipients (which could be argued to be part of AIM's principle #2 about interactive multimedia design, and is definitely reflective of Traxler & Wishart's point #9 about incorporating constructivist approaches).  Below is the poster on CSAM that I presented last week at Mobile Learning: Gulf Perspectives in Abu Dhabi, UAE:

Now don't get me wrong... I'm not suggesting that mLearning designers dismiss AIM's six principles.  I try to touch on all of them in my own instructional design, and I advise others to do so as well.  A look at the mobile RLO I developed for my recent THE2013 workshop on designing your own CSAM mobile reusable learning objects (RLOs) will show how I presented very similar advice (and drew upon it in my own RLO designs)... but it will also show how I tried to integrate that critical social interaction element even into an RLO that could be used by learners who are both geographically and temporally distant from each other.   One of the common criticisms of both distance and mobile learning is that removing learners from the traditional environment of peer and teacher support (the classroom) could be detrimental to motivation, formative feedback, and achievement.  This need not be the case... but ensuring that it is not means accounting for the Social Aspect domain described by FRAME (and central to CSAM)
Chaiklin, S. (2003). The zone of proximal development in Vygotsky’s analysis of learning and instruction. Retrieved from
Chen, J. (2006). Flow theory. Flow in games. Retrieved from: Clark, R.E. (1994a). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-30.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: Creativity and optimum functioning. Excerpt from the book ‘Finding Flow.’ Psychology Today, 46(5). Retrieved from
Elias, T. (2010). Universal instructional design principles for mobile learning. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 12(2), 143-156. Retrieved from
Impedovo, M. A. (2011), Mobile learning and Activity Theory. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, English Edition, 7(2), 103-109. Retrieved from
Kaptelinin, V. & Nardi, B. (2006). Acting with technology: Activity theory and interaction design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  
Koole, M. L. (2009). A model for framing mobile learning. In M. Ally (Ed.), Mobile learning: Transforming the delivery of education and training, 25-47. Edmonton, AB: AU Press. Retrieved from 
Moore, M. (1989). Three types of interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-6.
Moore, M. (1991). Editorial: Distance education theory. The American Journal of Distance Education, 5(3), 1-6. Retrieved from 
Traxler, J. & Wishart, J. (2011).  Making mobile learning work: Case studies of practice.  Bristol: UK: ESCalate.  Retrieved from 
University of Oregon (n.d.). Mobile instructional design principles for adult learners.  Retrieved from

Friday, April 26, 2013

Linking QR Codes and Videos for Effective mLearning

Experimenting with creating your own instructional videos (using a mobile device), uploading the videos to YouTube (or some other video hosting site), and then linking the videos to a Quick Response (QR) code is the theme of the second "Try it Yourself" activity in the Instructional Design for Mobile Learning 2013 micro MOOC (#idml13 on Twitter).  The first objective of participating in this activity is to expand your technical skill sets as an instructor using mobile devices.  While I didn't actually get around to creating and uploading my own instructional video this week (on account of travelling to Abu Dhabi to present a poster at the Mobile Learning: Gulf Perspective symposium at Zayed University), the use of these ICT tools is something that I am already fairly well versed in.  Instead, I'm dedicating this blog post to looking a little deeper at how combining these tools can be used in effective mLearning.

Short online videos are a great way to disseminate content to learners because they grab attention more easily than plain text, because their rich multimedia format can convey a lot more information using the limited real estate of a mobile device's screen, and because they are reusable (learners can pause, rewind, and return to them at any time, and instructors can reuse, and even repurpose the videos in different course contexts).  Online videos are also a great way to access the "just-in-time" learning opportunities that are one of the popular hallmarks of mLearning. 

Using QR codes linked to online video resources significantly increases their effectiveness as learning resources.  The primary reason for this is the convenience that they provide.  Learners do not need to remember and type in lengthy URLs to access the videos (and it's almost guaranteed that at least one of your learners will type the URL wrong, get frustrated, and potentially abandon the learning exercise!).  Instead, learners just need to use an app on their mobile device to scan the QR code, which then automatically redirects the device's internet browser to the video.  Recent research into the effectiveness of using QR codes to access learning resources has demonstrated a strong preference for this method over typing URLs, and that learners find QR codes very easy to use (Power, 2012; Ramsden, 2008, 2010; Ramsden & Jordan, 2009).  There's also the impact of the novelty factor of pulling out your mobile, scanning a code, and discovering where it's going to take you!  This is especially true in the context of informal learning.  I was intrigued to see this QR code stuck to a bunch of bananas I bought at a supermarket last summer:

Banana labels have come a long way... They're now interactive!

When I scanned the code (working code embedded below) I got to watch a YouTube video highlighting how my bananas got from the tree, to Canada, and eventually to the market!  Obviously this was a marketing strategy, intended to convince me of how fresh and pure my bananas were.  I saved the sticker because I have young children, and someday I'm going to want to teach them about where their food comes from.  I thought this video represented an excellent reusable learning object (RLO) that I could use informally with my children... or pass along to some of my health sciences / nutritionist colleagues who might be looking for some mLearning resources.
The banana label QR code

I found this QR code inside the instruction manual for a new child safety seat that I purchased last summer (it's also on a sticker right on the seat... but the sticker was hidden from view when I went to snap this shot):

Combined with the option of a traditional paper manual, this is what I like to see on a child safety seat!

This one was awesome!  Scanning it opens a downloadable MP4 video that shows you step-by-step how to properly install the child seat (much more effective than the sketches typically included in the paper installation guides).  What's great about this video is that I could pause it, complete a step, and then resume the video.  I could also rewind the clip if I got something wrong.  And I didn't have to keep flipping through pages (and trying to keep the manual propped open to the right page every time I put it down to carry out a step).  Here's the actual QR code, for anyone who wants to check out the online installation guide:

QR code on a child seat, linked to an online video installation guide

I'm no stranger to using QR codes in my own formal teaching and learning practice.  I did some research last year using mobile RLOs linked to QR codes.  I mounted the codes on stickers fixed to different parts of computers in my lab.  My students (who were all English Foreign Language (EFL) learners) got a break from lectures and workbooks to go exploring the lab, find the QR codes, scan them, and use their smartphones to learn the English names of the parts (and a bit about what the parts did).  Anyone interested can find out more about that project on my research wiki at or by downloading my paper from mLearn 2012.  You can also scan the QR code below to see the actual mobile RLOs used by my students (though they don't actually include online videos, they'll give you an idea of how easy QR codes can make it for learners to access just-in-time situated resources... I can imagine using the same RLO strategy to label equipment in an industrial workplace so that employees can instantly access user guides, help manuals, safety information, or other on-the-job training resources).

Scan to access the QR Cache Mobile RLOs
I'm such a fan of using QR codes for accessing mobile reusable learning objects that I included a segment on how to link mobile web pages to them in my recent workshop presentation at the Technology in Higher Education (THE2013) conference in Doha.  I actually used a mobile RLO to run the workshop off of, and displayed this QR code on my interactive whiteboard at the beginning of the workshop:

Scan to access my RLOs on creating your own RLOs linked to QR codes
I gave everyone a few minutes to scan the code with their phones, and offered some help to a handful of participants who weren't familiar with using a QR code scanner app.  I also noticed some of the more experienced app users in the room offering similar assistance to those in need around them.  This activity achieved three goals:
  1. Participants developed a new ICT skill (in addition to the formal lesson objectives)
  2. Participants got to see the utility of using the QR codes right from the outset (and it piqued their interest in the formal lesson)
  3. Participants gained instant access to every resource they would need for the entire workshop, and those resources were automatically bookmarked on their mobiles for future reference!

Power, R. (2012).  QR Cache: Connecting mLearning practice with theory.  In M. Specht, M. Sharples, & J. Multisilta (Eds.), Proceedings of the 11th Annual World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (mLearn 2012) held in Helsinki, Finland, 16-18 October 2012 (pp. 346-349).  Retrieved from

Ramsden, A., (2008).  The use of QR codes in education: A getting started guide for academics.  Working paper, University of Bath, Bath, UK.  Retrieved from:

Ramsden, A., (2010).  The level of student engagement with QR codes: Findings from a cross-institutional survey.  Working paper, University of Bath, Bath, UK.  Retrieved from:

Ramsden, A. & Jordan, L., (2009).  Are students ready for QR codes? Findings from a student survey at the University of Bath.  Working paper, University of Bath, Bath, UK.  Retrieved from:

Additional Resources on QR Codes:

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, (2010).  Prepare QR codes for teaching.  Retrieved from:

De Lorenzo, R., (2010, November 17).  QR codes and mobile learning.  [Web log comment].  Retrieved from:

Educause, (2009).  Seven things you should know about… QR codes.  Retrieved from:

Hockley, N., (2010, August 12).  A dummies guide to QR codes.  [Web log comment].  Retrieved from:

Hockley, N., (2010, August 17).  Yes we can: QR codes in the classroom.  [Web log comment].  Retrieved from:

Miller, A. (2011, December 11).  Twelve ideas for teaching with QR codes.  [Web log comment].  Retrieved from:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Photo Collage Apps for mLearning

I'm participating in a micro MOOC right now called Instructional Design for Mobile Learning (#idml13 on Twitter).  One of the first "Try it Yourself" activities suggested in the course was to use a photo collage making app on your mobile device to make a collage about yourself or your mLearning experiences.  I've made a lot of use of creative graphics manipulation in both my teaching and learning experiences over the past several years... but I've never used one of these apps before.  So, I decided to give it a try.  I used the free Photo Collage app for Android, and it was very straightforward and easy to use (so self-explanatory and straightforward that I'm not going to even bother reviewing how the app works!).  Here are the two collages that I created (in less than 5 minutes):

My first photo collage: snapshots of my family, where we live now, and our homeland (good ol' St. John's, NL)

My second photo collage: snapshots of where my professional life has taken me including: my home city, St. John's; where we live now, Doha; my Simpsons avatar; and my forays into the world of mLearning
The old saying goes that "a picture is worth a thousand words," and these apps are so easy to use, that I can already see numerous potential applications as mLearning tools.  In fact, I'm already thinking ahead to next term at CNA-Q, and getting my students to do the same exercise (use their phones to create a photo collage about themselves) as an icebreaker activity in the first week of class!  It should certainly set a different tone for the courses, and get students enthusiastic about the approaches I might take throughout the coming term.  I can see practical applications in terms of course assignments, too.  These photo collages sort of remind me of presenting research posters at academic conventions.  I can see using mobile devices to get students to find images online (or, better yet, take their own pictures in their own learning contexts) related to their topics of study, then use a photo collage app to create a collage about that topic.  Students could exchange the photo collages via a wiki, a discussion forum, a course LMS... the possibilities are endless for that.  Students could then be given the opportunity to explain / discuss their collages either in a blended face-to-face classroom, or in an online forum... again, sort of like presenting a poster at a conference.  To me, using such tools as these photo collage apps seems like a great way to get students thinking more deeply about a topic (required in order to select just the right images to convey their message), and to get them actively creating relative content.  This fits in quite nicely with the CSAM (Collaborative, Situated, Active Mobile) learning strategies approach that I'll be presenting a poster on in Abu Dhabi later this week (and illustrated by the graphic I created below):

Anyhow, these are just a few random thoughts about using photo collage apps that I've been mulling over after doing the first #idml13 "Try it Yourself" activity.  I'm sure that I'll be posting on this topic again once I've had a chance to try it out in a live classroom.  Perhaps I'll even consider putting forth an application for funding to CNA-Q's SEED committee, and do a little formal research into students' responses to using these apps (and associated pedagogical strategies)...

(WAIT! Did I really just suggest that? I've just finished up the busiest two terms of my career on account of two major projects I took on (above my regular teaching load), and I've still got the preparations for #mLearn2013 and my forthcoming dissertation work ahead of me over the next couple of terms! Either I'm going crazy, or my academic curiosity towards simple, effective mLearning strategies is getting the better of me!)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Thoughts on Lemke-Westcott & Johnson's When culture and learning styles collide: A Canadian University with Middle-Eastern students

I just finished reading Lemke-Westcott & Johnson's (2013) article on their study of student and faculty learning style differences at the University of Calgary in Qatar (UCQ).  Having worked as a post-secondary instructor at the only other Canadian institution in Qatar (College of the North Atlantic-Qatar, CNA-Q) for eight years now, I am not at all surprized by any of their study's findings.  However, it is nice to see the anecdotal evidence of my colleagues and I finally addressed in a formal way!  This paper should lay the groundwork for similar close examinations of the differences in learning style preferences and pedagogical approaches of expat instructors and their students from different cultural backgrounds.

In a nutshell, Lemke-Westcott & Johnson compared the results of two well-established learning styles and preferences inventories between Canadian instructors and local Arab (mostly Qatari) students.  All of the student participants are enrolled in UCQ's Bachelor of Nursing program.  The study found that (not surprisingly) instructors and students in this transnational context have different learning style preferences!  The instructors group predominantly preferred an abstract conceptualization approach to learning, while the local students predominantly preferred an active experimental approach with a pragmatic (job-related) orientation.  It is also worth noting that there were significant differences in the preferences of new (first-year), regular (second and third year) and graduating students at UCQ.

The authors assert that these differences in learning styles are influenced by differences in the cultural contexts of instructors and students.  I would be inclined to agree that the cultural differences (which the authors clearly delineate with evidence from previous studies) do play a role in the differences in learning style preferences.  However, there are a number of other potential factors that I'd like to see explored to give a better understanding of the situation.  For instance, the authors demonstrate that students' preferences evolve as they progress through their programs (and become more mature learners).  It is safe to assume that their instructors have all completed one (if not several, including graduate-level) degrees.  Does the maturity level of the instructors, as learners, have a significant impact upon their learning style preferences (as opposed to culture alone)?  Would the UCQ students, given the opportunity to pursue further studies (and, thus, become more mature learners) evolve to show similar learning style preferences to those of their instructors (or would their preferences continue to be divergent even after obtaining equivalent credentials)?  I am also left wondering about the significant differences in the learning style preferences of the first-year UCQ students and their peers in the more advanced cohorts.  Does attrition amongst first-year students (if it exists at a significant level) have an impact upon the divergent preference profiles?  And what influence (if any) does the aptitude of the typical Bachelor of Nursing student have upon preferences (as opposed to, say, engineering, information technology, or business administration students).  Lemke-Westcott & Johnson hint at the need to expand their study to other institutions in order answer some of these questions.

My conclusion... this was a great and timely study and article.  The authors provide solid evidence that transnational instructors need to be extra vigilant of the supports needed by their learners, and I highly recommend this article to any Western instructor who is considering making the move to teaching in the Middle East.


Lemke-Westcott, T., & Johnson, B. (2013). When culture and learning styles matter: A Canadian university with Middle-Eastern students.  Journal of Research in International Education, 12(1), 66-84. DOI: 10.1177/1475240913480105

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Another great conference this year at Technology in Higher Education 2013 (THE2013)!  I was particularly impressed with the presentations by Philip Long, Derek Bruff (@derekbruff) and Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth). There was so much going on at the conference that it's hard to include it all in a single blog post... so I'll just mention a couple of my favorite points from Philip Long's keynote address.

Re: The need for transformation of traditional higher education models

"No existing education model can scale to meet changing demands [from society, technology, etc...]" 

Re: MOOC Badges vs Traditional Degrees

"Badges that get you a job [or a promotion] are going to skim the market of degree seekers..."

I also particularly like this Tweet from Steven Wheeler (@timbuckteeth): "I'll tell you where technology is transforming education. In the townships of South Africa and the shanty towns of India and Brazil #the2013"

As for me, I had a great time with my workshop presentation called "Create Your Own Mobile RLOs for Situated Active Learning."  There must have been at least 50 participants in the room, since I ran out of the handouts that I brought with me!  The premise of my workshop was that anyone can create effective mobile reusable learning objects without any prior programming / web-design skills, or investment in hardware or software infrastructure.  In the one-hour workshop, I briefly introduced the theory behind my concept of Collaborative Situated Active mLearning (CSAM -- which I will be presenting a poster on at Mobile Learning: Gulf Perspectives next week in Abu Dhabi), showed some examples of mobile RLOs I have built using the free online resource Winksite, and collaborated with the group to create an entirely new mobile RLO from scratch! (The one we built as a whole group had three pages, explained how to calculate the area of a rectangle or square, and included an interactive activity that calls on learners to figure out the area of their classroom and post their responses to the embedded discussion forum!)  I can't wait to see what other mini RLOs some of the participants came up with on their own during the session!

I prepared a PPT slideshow for my workshop, which can be found at I also created a mobile RLO about "Create Your Own Mobile RLOs," which participants used to follow the presentation on their phones (and can keep bookmarked as a takeaway / refresher when they go to start making their own RLOs down the road...).  You can access that RLO at

I must say, attending (and presenting) at THE2013 was a great way to end what's been an extremely busy term (which has included participating in my EdD "Leadership and Project Management for Distance Education" course, organizing CNA-Q's 6th Annual Exploring ICT in Education Conference, launching the preparations for mLearn 2013, and, most significantly, the birth of our third child!).

Response To My #the2013 Workshop

JennJenn (@JennJennQatar) tweeted at 0:24 PM on Wed, Apr 17, 2013: My notes from @xPat_Letters session on creating your own RLOs at #the2013 Thanks for this Rob! It's all new to me! ( Get the official Twitter app at

Entering the Blogosphere!

So...I'm relatively new to blogging. I've done a few blog posts in the past as part of course requirements, and I've decided to set up this blog after enrolling in #idml13.  I'm an EdD student at Athabasca University, and my passion is mobile learning (mLearning). Hopefully I'll keep up on my blogging throughout the #idml13 MOOC, and my journey towards completing my EdD dissertation on mLearning! (More on that in a future post!)