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Mobilizing learning: a thematic review of apps in K-12 and higher education

Michael Eric Stevenson (Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
John Gordon Hedberg (Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

Interactive Technology and Smart Education

ISSN: 1741-5659

Article publication date: 19 June 2017




This paper presents a thematic review of app-enabled learning in the context of recent developments in mobile technology and m-learning. Three key themes are presented that reflect the issues that teachers, school leaders and systems have grappled with in recent years.


Drawing on findings from a range of case studies and literature reviews, the present time is examined as an opportunity to explore more pedagogically informed uses of mobile devices, and “app smashing” is suggested as an approach that moves the learner beyond the underlying limitations of constraining the learning to individual apps.


Findings include the benefits and limitations of mobile devices for learning in current education institutions. The paper also highlights several contexts where “app smashing” has been achieved and identifies the implications for educators across all educational contexts moving forward.

Research limitations/implications

While educators and learners alike continue to wrestle with understanding and meaningfully using a growing number of tools, platforms and ecosystems, more recent paradigms such as cloud computing now point to “device agnosticism” and “convergence” as the new normal (Garner et al., 2005; Prince, 2011).

Practical implications

At the same time, there is the emergence of what Rideout et al. (2013) refer to as the “app gap”, in which “lower-income children (ages 0-8) have more than 50 per cent less experience using mobile devices than higher-income children in the same age group” (p. 10). Combined with the problems of app overload, the lack of institutional support, insufficient guidance and unclear policy, there remain some pressing issues that need to be addressed.

Social implications

By designing the learning task as independent of the technology, the teacher is arguably better equipped to carefully and purposefully select apps as cognitive steppingstones within the learning task, resulting in tasks that more consistently challenge students to develop a wide range of digital skills. As Berson et al. (2012) note, through the use of carefully selected apps, students “learn a new form of literacy as they move between apps and engage in both personalized and collaborative learning experiences” (p. 89).


The paper sheds light on the areas where mobile devices are most likely to benefit learning in the coming years.



Stevenson, M.E. and Hedberg, J.G. (2017), "Mobilizing learning: a thematic review of apps in K-12 and higher education", Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 126-137.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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