mlearn project

Charles Sturt University's Mobile Learning Project

Mobile Devices

Mobile Devices offer educational institutions significant opportunities over other types of hardware for a number of key reasons:

  • make the online environment more accessible by being connected devices, creating a more immersive portal for staff and students that promotes usage, which aligns strategically with CSU
  • provide a truly mobile experience driven by portability, and the range of applications and breadth of available of content make them highly desirable, with content and applications used throughout higher education now available and accessible on these devices
  • align closely with strategic moves by this institution and publishers away from paper, by offering a highly capable alternative
  • rich media capable and allow a huge range of content to be incorporated into learning and teaching practice, creating a truly innovative curriculum. From games to text to video these devices allow consumption of a truly diverse range of content
  • multifunctional devices that can take the place of a huge range of single use technologies, creating some unique opportunities for assessment, curriculum renewal, project work and staff mobility 
  • incorporation into our workplace and learning and teaching practices will create a platform for institutional growth and innovation

Device Sizes & Uses

The Project has been working in an increasingly volatile marketplace as mobile technology evolves rapidly with new models, devices, operating systems and applications. Change tends to happen on a daily basis. At the beginning of the Project, devices were typically broken down into tablets and Smartphones, however the last year has seen the blurring of those distinctions. There has been a push to develop a range of in-between screen sizes, so that the landscape now typically looks like this:

  • Smartphones 3-5″ displays
  • Phablets 5-7″ displays
  • Mini Tablets 7-8” displays
  • Tablets 9-11” displays

The varying sizes lend themselves to a range of specific purposes and tend to come with their own set of unique pros and cons.

The Smartphone tends to be the ‘hero’ device attracting the majority of sales and its small size lends itself to being the most portable and frequently used. The phone component tends to link the device to a personal plan as devices are contracted through telecommunications companies. These contracts tend to make them excellent personal devices, but difficult to rollout or provision in any other way, unless explicitly required for the employer. The contracts are typically 24 months, which means turnover of devices is far more rapid than other technologies and creates an ecosystem that is more current and up to date in terms of latest standards.

The next size up is the Phablet, a crossover between a tablet and phone, and tends to suit those who want a device that is more capable for creating purposes, but the portability of a Smartphone, hence the need for larger screen real estate. They often come with a stylus that allows notepad-like functions. These devices tend to come with a phone so the same contractual arrangements apply. The Phablet is perhaps in a niche of its own for those willing to compromise on the portability of the phone or the functionality of the tablet.

The Mini Tablet range suits those who want to primarily consume content as the device likely to be lighter and better fits a hand. These devices are fantastically portable, have large data capacity and long battery life, compared to phones because of the extra size. This makes them extremely popular for those wishing to read, watch and listen, and offer a far more immersive and rich media experience than an eReader. The smaller size however impacts their ability for typing, sporting a small keyboard more suited to thumbs than a traditional ergonomic typing position. The smaller screen also diminishes the available screen real estate which many developers struggle with, either cramming a full tablet into the smaller space or upscaling the Smartphone version.

The tablet size provides the larger screen for more interactions and adds functionality for touch interactions and consumption of media. This is the territory carved by the original iPad, with a footprint slightly smaller than an A4 page. These devices provide the optimal blend for mobile experience. They are far more portable and lighter than their laptop equivalents and have much longer battery life. They come without the contractual implications as most devices sold are WiFi only, but many allow cellular data to be used that can be additionally purchased independently.

Recommending Devices

For an institution moving forward with a mobile strategy, recommending a single device would not be prudent. A better way to approach this would be to examine the affordances of the different types of devices, and where they may fit into a more rounded and inclusive strategy.


The Smartphone is already deeply embedded in Australian society and should be considered the heart of any mobile implementation strategy. In June 2011, 25% of the adult population of Australia had a Smartphone, and by June 2012 that figure was 49% (ACMA, 2013). Such market penetration and the associated difficulties around personal contracts would preclude provision of devices, except to staff for work purposes. The adoption of an enterprise-wide BYOD to Smartphones would be the most suitable.

A mobile strategy needs to accept the diversity of this group of devices and enable an open and agnostic approach to support. This would include:

  • ensuring web over app for access to essential or required services, i.e., building a web presence as preference to ensure a cross platform and device agnostic approach
  • app development matches student and staff ownership, i.e., analytics and climate surveys of staff and student ownership should become consistent metrics for analysis

Phablets & Mini Tablets

These products are a niche of their own for those willing to compromise on portability or functionality, and would preclude provision unless they were specifically suited to an application. CSU should ensure that the same enterprise wide BYOD policy applies to this device group


For educational institutions the tablet is the most suitable device type for a number of key reasons:

  • still not as prevalent as Smartphones among the general public and do not come with any associated issues around contractual obligations
  • larger screen provides increased sizing and improved readability to provide a viable alternative to print
  • extra size allows for a larger battery and the extra screen real estate allows for an optimal typing, writing and drawing experience
  • devices are the easiest to provision and rollout to staff and students, and have proven success across a range of institutions including CSU

CSU needs to ensure support for a BYOD policy for these devices, but should investigate complementary provisioning models to groups of staff and students. A range of provisioning models could address issues around equity and access, course requirements and professional development.


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