m-Teaching: Diffusion of Mobile Technologies in University Teaching

 Authors’s note: Mobile Teaching is not a term that it common-place in educational jargon. You will hear the term mobile learning everywhere and yet little thought has been given to the people who are the drivers of innovation diffusion in education… the teachers. The focus of this article is the diffusion of mobile teaching in higher education.

Defining ‘Mobile Teaching’ by clarifying the definition of Mobile Learning

The definition of mobile learning has been hard to pin down. The obvious definition is that it is the use of mobile devices to support learning (MacCallum 2009). Yet, when Traxler attempted to define it in 2007, he argued that the hardware-only definition was constraining and ‘techno-centric’. Another common definition centres around the location and time of the learning… anywhere, anytime. So then, what is mobile teaching? My own definition would be…

…a method of utilising mobile technologies to impart knowledge and encourage learning.

Where Mobile Teaching currently stands in the Model of Diffusion of Innovation

The Classroom: An m-Learning Deadzone

The Classroom: An m-Learning Deadzone

Current students in all sectors of education have at one time or another heard the all-to-familiar phrase…

“Mobile phones away”

This suggests that mobile teaching may still be in the early adopter stage of diffusion of innovation as set out by Rogers (1995). However, there has been little research done on the adoption of mobile technologies in teaching (as opposed to learning), and therefore evidence as to its current state of diffusion is not readily available.

So what influences a teacher to adopt?

Rogers (1995) defines five characteristics of innovations that influences an individuals decision to adopt. They are:

  • Relative advantage
  • Compatibility
  • Complexity/Simplicity
  • Trialability
  • Observability.

The image above depicts a modern classroom where students are using their mobile phones to answer questions. Is there any advantage to replacing the old technology with the new (ie. a raised hand with a text message)? The use of mobile technologies can have advantages and disadvantages in different situations. The teacher must therefore decide whether the advantages of replacing their current technique outweighs the disadvantages of adopting mobile learning.

According to the Technology Acceptance Model by Davis in 1989, perceived ease of use of a technology is directly related to its usefulness (or relative advantage). A study conducted in 2008 identified the main discriminating factors that separated teachers who integrated computers into their teaching with those who didn’t were ‘computer experience variables such as comfort with technology and higher frequency of use’ (Mueller et al.).

A paper by Corbeil and Valdes-Corbeil on student and educator readiness for mobile learning in 2007,  reported that the two most common activities that educators performed on their mobile devices were to send emails and transfer files. Other activities such as downloading videos, sending messages, and playing games were dramatically lower than those reported by students.

This evidence suggests that although the teachers were utilising mobile technologies in their personal lives, their use was restricted to a limited number of defined tasks. The findings of the study by Mueller et al. (2008) suggested that general use of a technology was not as crucial as exposure to teaching-specific activities with the technology. In other words, teachers are using mobile technologies in their personal lives, but that does not necessarily mean that they can easily transition to educational usage. Flew (2008) gave a great example when he wrote of the use of Microsoft Excel.

‘… 95 per cent of the functionality of a software program such as Microsoft Excel is unlikely to be used by 95 per cent of the population who are no specialists in statistics, finance, or such areas, and tend to use the program for a small number of basic tasks.’

Another contributing factor is the synchronous nature of teaching in a classroom. Teachers are teaching to a live audience and… they are teaching! Traditionally, teachers were seen by students as infallible.

“They don’t make mistakes! Of course they don’t!”

This makes experimentation difficult. Educators have to be wiling to embrace failure and trust in their students. Trialing is for the brave of heart; the teachers who don’t mind making a fool of themselves (on occasion!).

And finally, the most successful influence of adoption that I have witnessed in higher education is observability. By seeing what another lecturer has done and by discussing it, other educators are more willing to give it a go.

In conclusion, although I cannot speak to our current state of diffusion of mobile teaching in higher education, I can offer some recommendations on how we can promote adoption:

  1. Create a mobile interface that is easy to use and is specifically designed for the needs of higher education teaching.
  2. Offer prolonged, discussion-based training to allow the educators to share new ideas and reflect on experimentation.
  3. Support the educators in implementing the technology in a live face-to-face situation by offering a ‘producer’ service while the educator becomes comfortable with the new ways of utilising the technology.
  4. Nurture an environment of peer review and mentoring to allow educators to observe mobile teaching in action.


Corbeil, J. R., & Vlades-Corbeil, M. E. (2007). Are you ready for mobile learning?. Retrieved September 24 from the Educause Review Online at http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/are-you-ready-mobile-learning

Davis, F. D., Bagozzi, R. P., & Warshaw, P. R. (1989). User acceptance of computer technology: a comparison of two theoretical models. Management science35(8), 982-1003.

Diffusion of innovations. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 24, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

Flew, T. (2008) New Media: an introduction (3rd ed.). Australia: Oxford University Press.

Iqbal, S., & Qureshi, I. A. (2012) M-learning adoption: A perspective from a developing country. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 147-164. Retrieved September 24 from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1152.

Lim, K. (2004). Diffusion of innovation. Retrieved September 24, 2013 from http://theory.isthereason.com/?p=35

MacCallum, K., & Jeffrey, L (2009). Identifying discriminating variables that determine mobile learning adoption by educators: An initial study. In Same places, different spaces. Proceedings ascilite Auckland 2009. Retrieved September 24, 2013 from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland09/procs/maccallum.pdf.

Mueller, J., Wood, E., Willoughby, T., Ross, C. & Specht, J. (2008). Identifying discriminating variables between teachers who fully integrate computers and teachers with limited integration. Computers & Education, 51, 1523-1537.

Rogers, E. (1995). Diffusion of Innovations (3 ed.). New York: The Free Press.

Traxler, J. (2007) Defining, Discussing and Evaluating Mobile Learning: The moving finger writes and having writ . . . .. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 8(2). Retrieved September 24, 2013 from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/346/875.


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