Last week’s post outlined the suitability of mobiles for informal learning. This week, more ideas lead us to think that, effectively, informal learning seem to be the genuine arena for mobiles. Likewise, the theoretical foundations of mobile learning “examines how learning flows across locations, time, topics and technologies” (Sharples et al., 2009, p. 235). That kind of learning may happen in a variety of daily life situations: from a phone call to an app for tourists, as well as a Google map of the city, a video, or a podcast with the latest news (Sharples et al., 2009).

However, we should not conclude that mobiles has nothing to do with formal education. Quite on the contrary, there is a powerful reason to believe the opposite: Formal and informal learning cannot be independent from each other.

Classically, duality was the frequently stated. On the one hand, formal learning was identified with academic education, and the conception of learning was reduced to that. On the other hand, informal learning begins to be considered mainly during the second half of the 20th Century. Its characteristics are clearly different: it’s 100% pursued and chosen by the learner; it happens anytime, anywhere; it is highly unpredictable and quite unstructured, and is not provided by any teacher or institution. In summary, both types of learning are mainly seen as different.

But that traditional duality is no longer conceived. No matter how clear are those differences, human learning does not make distinctions. As Bransford et al. stated, synergy among all types of learning must be the new paradigm of learning sciences (2006). Such synthesis advocates for integrating neuroscience and implicit learning, formal learning, and informal learning, into one learning science (Bransford et al., 2006).

Two questions arises. Let us start by this one: what can contribute formal education to informal learning? Actually, it should contribute not a little, since formal learning intends to prepare students for the exterior world and the daily life. We may find challenges to the idea of knowledge transfer from formal learning to informal tasks, as Scribner did (Bransford et al., 2006). Even, we may find provocations that describe school as “a lousy place to learn anything” (e. g. Becker, n.d., as cited in Bransford et al., 2006). However, “numerous studies show modest to large correlations between school achievement and work performance” (Anderson et al., 1996, p. 6).

The second question is the symmetrical one: what can contribute informal learning to formal education? I would say that a lot: variety of contexts, experiences, continuity of learning, and complex unstructured problems among other things. Informal learning makes formal learning more meaningful.

Mobiles are continually carried on anytime and everywhere. In addition, it is a device highly oriented to communication, allowing voice, chat, sms and e-mail. Lots of teenagers use Facebook or Whatsapp to ask questions while doing their homework. Therefore, “a central task in the design of technology for mobile learning is to promote enriching conversations within and across contexts” (Sharples et al., 2009).

Apart from communication facilities, many teenagers use their mobiles like tiny laptops: They can search on the internet, watch and listen media content in other languages, consult wikipedia, check spelling, and take photos of an exercise. Such information can easily stored -and later reflect on it-, or shared with peers, facilitating collaborative working.

All theses are good reasons for thinking that mobiles are useful tools for informal learning and, consequently, for formal learning too.


  • Bransford, J., Vye, N., Stevens, R., Kuhl, P., Schwartz, D., Bell, P., … Sabelli, N. (2006). Learning theories and education: Toward a decade of synergy. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed., pp. 209–244). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Elerbaum Associates.
  • Sharples, M., Arnedillo-Sanchez, I., Milrad, M., & Vavoula, G. (2009). Mobile learning: Small devices, big issues. In N. Balacheff, S. Ludvigsen, T. Jong, A. Lazonder, & S. Barnes (Eds.), Technology-enhanced learning (pp. 233-249). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-9827-7
  • Anderson, J. R., Reder, L. M., & Simon, H. A. (1996). Situated learning and education. Educational researcher, 25(4), (pp. 5-11).
Mobiles & Learning Integration

5 thoughts on “Mobiles & Learning Integration

  • June 9, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Your two questions were very powerful (what can formal learning contribute to informal learning and vice versa). I think one of the most powerful contributions formal learning can add to informal learning is teaching students how to learn. Since learning doesn’t stop when students are done with formal learning institutions, learning how to be effective learners is the key skill that will guide people to become lifetime learners and adaptive experts in their fields.

    The other side of the coin is much trickier. What can informal education contribute to formal education? I suspect that this is already happening, but we haven’t been able to capture it or describe adequately. I think play, simulation, and exploration type activities can be great additions to formal learning. As we’ve already discussed throughout this course, scaffolding and support is so important when adding these types of activities. Does planning these activities mean that the activity then becomes formal? Based on Bransford et al’s definition, if it is not driven by a “designed and planned educational agenda… sustained over time” (Bransford, p. 215, 2006) then it can be informal learning?

    I guess it the end it doesn’t really matter if it’s called informal or formal as long as it is adding value to the students’ education – teaching them something specific or teaching them the skill of learning.

    • June 15, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Totally agree: formal learning teach -or must teach- students to learn. In fact, Learning itself should be a goal in many formal learning syllabuses. According to that, informal learning have to be practiced in formal settings… as it might have happened without our noticing.
      Thanks for your reply.

  • June 9, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    Hi Josemaria,
    Good post! I, like Jin An, was intrigued by your two questions. You wrote: “Informal learning makes formal learning more meaningful”, and I would say this can be a two way street. Teaching how to learn and good learning practices (saving, tagging, research, notes…)in formal education can transfer into informal learning. These skills, though not formally mandated while learning informally, will make informal education more valuable.
    This means that educators should make students aware of good study practices, guide them in creating good practices, and help them transfer those skills into other areas of their lives. Through formal learning, we can create successful lifelong and informal learners.
    Thanks for the post,

    • June 15, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Jerry,
      Thanks for your comment. I like how you state that both settings benefit from each other. Transfer is a key point. A learner may transfer her/his knowledge and skills to any setting, no matter how, where or when s/he has acquired it.

  • November 30, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Great post thanks for the write up.

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