Mobile learning for technophobes and technophiles – TESOL Spain 2014

The following post accompanies a workshop presented by Claire Hart and Kristen Acquaviva at the TESOL Spain Annual National Convention 2014 in Madrid on 8th March 2014.

What is mobile learning?

Mobile learning, often shortened to m-learning, involves the use of mobile technologies to promote learning either inside or outside the classroom. Mobile learning is also learning that doesn´t have to occur in one fixed location–it is not tied to a specific place, such as the classroom. When we talk about mobile technologies we´re talking about a wide range of devices. The most basic mobile phone belongs to this group, as do mobile phones with camera functions and internet access and smartphones, which also enable you to use applications or apps to do specific things like look up the definitions of words. Mobile technologies are not only mobile phones or smartphones, they also include digital cameras, tablet computers and laptop computers or netbooks. A mobile device is, therefore, any device that you can use without having to be in a fixed location and which you can use to view, read, listen to, watch, find, generate, create, share or organise digital content, such as text, audio, video or images. These are the activities that learners engage in when we use mobile devices to promote learning.

The benefits of mobile learning

Due to the prevalence of mobile technologies in twenty-first century life, when you implement mobile learning with your learners you are usually giving them the chance to use technology that they are already familiar with and enjoy using in other contexts. The results are the increased relevance of lesson content and increased learner engagement with that content. Mobile learning can help to break down the walls between the classroom and the so-called “real world” and also make it easier for learning to happen outside of those walls.

We can also expect to see a continued increase in mobile device ownership in the years to come, so even if only a small proportion of your learners have mobile devices now you can expect that number to go up. Mobile devices are likely to become as normal a part of the EFL or ESL classroom as a blackboard, whiteboard or flipchart during the course of the twentieth-first century.

Not to be overlooked as a benefit of mobile learning, however, is the sheer range of learning opportunities that they can provide. You can view or create just about every form of media on a mobile device, you can also communicate with people from all over the world and access an unparalleled wealth of knowledge.


Mobile learning in practice

How you access these mobile technologies will vary. In some teaching contexts, laptops and tablets are provided for teachers and learners to use, more often learners and teachers bring their own phones, tablets or other devices to the lesson and use those. If devices are provided by the institution where the EFL or ESL course is taking place, learners will usually all be working with the same version or generation of a device. The devices might not be their own and they might not be able to use them outside of the classroom. If you have to rely on learners to bring their own devices to the lesson, they will usually be more familiar with how they work and will already have their own photos, apps and emails on them. We can then make use of this content to create more personalised activities. However, in this situation you may also find that not all of the learners have their own devices.

Here are the activities we demonstrated in the workshop:

Making and changing arrangements


1. Present or review language for making and changing arrangements

Making arrangements 

– When are you free next week?

– Would you be free at 10am next Wednesday? / Would Wednesday at 10am work for you?

– What about next Tuesday? / Is next Tuesday good for you? 

Changing arrangements

I´m afraid, I´m no longer free next Wednesday, could we meet on Thursday instead? 

I´m going to have to re-schedule our appointment–what about Tuesday afternoon? 

2. Learners take part in a simulation with a partner in which they look at their actual calendars on their phones, tablets or laptops and make an arrangement to meet.

3. They then have another conversation to change or reschedule the appointment or arrangement.

If learners don´t usually use a calendar to record what they have to do,  you might want to encourage them to fill in any appointments or blocks of time when they wouldn´t be available before you start this activity.

Modals and mobiles 


Use this exercise to practise and consolidate using modal verbs.  The idea is simple: learners complete the sentences to give information about their mobile devices. They could choose any mobile device from a phone to a laptop, a digital camera or a tablet.

Example answers could include:

– I can take photos with my phone.

– I can´t use my phone when I´m underwater.

– I shouldn´t drop my phone on the floor.

– I don´t have to charge my phone up every day. 

Mobile brands 


Learners take as many photos of brand images as they can in 3 minutes–it´s a competition to see who can get the most in that time. You can then use these photos as resource material for production activities. Here are some suggestions:

1. Choose 6 of your photos, show them to your partner and explain the connections between these brands and you:

e.g. this is the brand of glasses I wear, this is the brand of the pullover I´m wearing, this is on something I bought last weekend.

2. Discussion questions

a) Brands and countries

  • Which of your brands are  from companies based in your country and which are not?
  • Are there any brands that we connect with specific countries?
  • Which brands do you think are typical brands from your country and what messages do they communicate about it?

b) Brands and success

  • Which of your brands are the most successful? You decide what makes a more or less successful brand.
  • Do you find some of the brands more attractive than others, and, if so, why?

c) Your company´s brand (for in-work learners)

  • What about your company´s brand—what messages does it communicate?
  • What are the target groups that it want to appeal to?
  • How successful do you think your company´s brand is?
  • Is there anything you could do that would make it more successful?

Updating the article 


The articles we give learners to read were often written some time ago, so the idea of this activity is for learners to do their own research to find if anything has changed or anything new has happened since the article was written.

1. Learners read the article.

2. Learners use their mobile devices to go online and find out if anything has changed or anything is new with regard to the subject of the article since it was published. To do this, they need to be aware of when the article was published, of course.

3. Once they have the new information,  learners then use it to write a final, extra paragraph for the article using the same style as the author of the article.


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