Study: Three ways to make mobile learning work better
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Study: Three ways to make mobile learning work better

According to a recent study, several key factors motivate and engage learners when using mobile learning. And if they’re part of your learning culture, the research suggests that you’ll see significant results.

The research

Researchers in Australia designed a learning app based on recent research on successful mobile learning platforms. They then released the app in a real-world university course to see the effects – specifically, how users interacted with it, what elements were successful and how it affected learning.

Students in a semester-long science course were offered the app, which led organically to approximately 50% of the class using the app and the other half opting out. Through the semester, the researchers tracked the students’ use of the app as well as all students’ academic performance.

At the end of the semester, the results were telling. The app users’ final grades were seven percent higher than non-users. Even more striking, the retention rate in the course among app users was 12% higher compared with the previous semester. This suggests that the app not only improved performance, but increased motivation and engagement in the course, leading to more students sticking with it instead of dropping out.

Three factors for success with mobile learning

The researchers concluded that three features built into the app contributed to the increase in learner performance and engagement. And these features aren’t exclusive to mobile learning. They can be incorporated into any e-learning strategy.

  1. Personalization. The researchers found a clear demand for the personalization of learning, whether it’s the ability to learn anytime, anywhere or the ability to progress through the learning experience at one’s own speed – taking time to stop and review when needed or skip ahead if the content if familiar. “At a time when students’ demand for personalized education is growing,” said the head researcher, “mobile apps allow students to access course material whenever they choose.”
  2. Feedback. Feedback is essential for any learning strategy. The app allowed learners to get immediate feedback on their performance after taking a quiz or other assessment. This type of instant feedback allows learners to accurately calibrate their understanding of the material and identify the areas they need to work on to improve.  In the study, the researchers also created a leaderboard to show users how they compared to other learners and digital “badges” to award them for certain milestones or accomplishments. “Game elements like leaderboards and digital badges generate feedback, allowing students to see how they are performing compared to their peers,” said the researcher. “Taking advantage of mobile app technologies in this way could help lecturers reach out to their students and keep them interested in the course content.”
  3. Reinforcement. Mobile-enabled e-learning that contains learning content, as well as past quizzes and activities, is a powerful tool for retrieval practice when learners feel they need a refresher or find themselves in a moment of need. For example, say a salesperson recently learned a new closing technique and now find themselves about to close a major deal where the closing technique would be perfect. Having a training app in their pocket would allow the salesperson to review all the available content the night before the meeting, on the way into the office or whenever they need reinforcement. And that allows learners to feel confident in their understanding and performance when they need it the most.


Pechenkina, E., et al. (2017). Using a gamified mobile app to increase student engagement, retention and academic achievement. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 2017; 14 (1). doi: 10.1186/s41239-017-0069-7

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