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Mobile Instructional Design Principles for Adult Learners

The purpose of this annotated bibliography is to examine thirty-one selected references that describe the changes to instructional design principles, which are taking place, or need to take place, as a result of the increased usage of mobile devices. In recent years the technology and tools available for learning have changed dramatically, but teaching and learning methodologies have not significantly changed and traditional educational methodologies have been applied to new delivery methods.

Mobile learning can occur anytime, anywhere.

The unique aspects of the mobile learning context present advantages and challenges that must be considered when developing an effective set of instructional design principles for guiding mobile content development. Understanding the differences between the mobile learning context and other learning contexts can offer significant advantages to instructors and learners. Seven advantages unique to mobile learning and five related challenges are listed in Table 1.

Mobile Learning Context Advantage Related Context Challenge
Learning is context-sensitive Learning may be fragmented
Learning can be personalized Lack of instructor training and control
Delivery of learning is more flexible Technology also presents constraints
Learning is learner-centric Varying levels of digital fluency
Learning in nontraditional environments Impact of external distractions
Learning is immediately useable
Facilitates life-long learning

Table 1—Mobile Learning Context Advantages and Challenges

The mobile learning environment offers instructional designers an opportunity to re-envision education and to redefine the relationship between instructor and learner. The following six instructional design principles are recommended as a framework for mobile instructional design: (a) develop a simple and intuitive interface; (b) integrate interactivity and multi-media; (c) build short, modular lessons and activities; (d) design activities that are engaging and entertaining; (e) design content that is contextual, relevant, and valuable to the learner; and (f) consider just-in-time delivery (see Table 2).

Six Mobile Instructional Design Principles for Adult Learners
Principle #1: Develop a simple and intuitive interface design The usability should be simple and consistent to enable learners to quickly and easily learn how to use the interface.
Principle #2: Integrate interactive multi-media Take advantage of multi-media formats (audio and video) over text, due to the small-screen display of most mobile devices.
Principle #3: Build short, modular lessons and activities Design small chunks for easier integration into busy schedules and to successfully compete against other distractions.
Principle #4: Design content that is engaging and entertaining Activities designed to engage students should be applicable, entertaining, and suited to every day needs.
Principle #5: Design content that is contextual, relevant, and valuable to the learner Because mobile learning can be context-sensitive, utilize the ability to gather and respond to real or simulated data unique to the current location, environment, and time.
Principle #6: Design content for just-in-time delivery Just-in-time delivery improves efficiency by providing support and information for the learner's immediate priorities.

Table 2—Recommended Mobile Instructional Design Principles


  • Gibbons, C., Wang, R., & Wiesemes, R. (2010). Developing digital fluency through ubiquitous mobile devices: Findings from a small-scale study. Computers & Education, 58(1), 570-578. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.04.013
  • Haag, J. (2011). From eLearning to mLearning: The effectiveness of mobile course delivery. Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. Retrieved from Advanced Distributed Learning website.
  • Ozdamli, F. (2011). Pedagogical framework of m-learning. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31(0), 927-931. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.12.171
  • Park, Y. (2011). A pedagogical framework for mobile learning: Categorizing educational applications of mobile technologies into four types. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2), 78-102.
  • Ronchetti, M., & Trifonova, A. (2003). Where is mobile learning going. Proceedings of The World Conference on E-learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, & Higher Education (E-Learn 2003) (pp. 7-11).
AIM alumna Andrea Dillard

Research Paper Author: Andrea Dillard, program manager, GP Strategies Corporation—2012 University of Oregon, AIM Program Graduate.

Abstract: This annotated bibliography explores the need to design effective and efficient mobile learning for adult learners. Mobile approaches, projects, and environments are explored to compile a set of instructional design principles for the mobile learning context. Conclusions present six key principles for use by instructional designers including the need to design: a simple and intuitive interface, interactive multi-media, short and modular lessons, engaging and entertaining activities, contextually relevant and meaningful content, and just-in-time delivery.

Download the entire Capstone research project

AIM alumnus Jon Dolan
Jon Dolan (’13)
Jon Dolan (’13) received the 2013 Capstone Award from Dr. Linda Ettinger for his research paper Enterprise-Wide Techniques to Manage E-mail Overload at the AIM graduation luncheon.