Chapter 1

Ready? Setting up the physical and digital space

Sometimes the path itself is not set up to let people succeed
Julie Dirksen


The discussion and case studies in this chapter address various types of spaces and how we can leverage the affordances of each type of space (and of their blends) to create more inclusive learning environments. This chapter invites you to read practical ideas about the setup and use of four interrelated types of learning spaces: physical, blended, digital and mobile.

About the case studies

In the printed/ebook edition: After presenting case studies about the physical, blended and digital spaces, there is a discussion about mobile learning  with a case study from South Africa by Ashiya Abdool Satar entitled ‘Understanding the bridge that divides us: can mobile technologies be the missing link in e-learning?’. It is more provocative in nature than strictly practical and it offers a critical perspective on mobile technology.

Here below there is an additional case study by Zachary Walker (UK) entitled ‘Why embracing mobile learning is key for inclusivity and the future’.

Both these narratives about mobile ‘back pocket’ learning (Middleton 2015) show that mobile technology can unlock more accessible and inclusive education, but it must be managed well and not taken uncritically.

Why Embracing Mobile Learning is Key for Inclusivity and the Future

By Zachary Walker (UK)

Covid-19 has forced us all to utilize, if not embrace, mobile learning.  While our adoption speed has increased as a result of the global pandemic, there are also three important reasons why mobile learning is critical for including and engaging all students in our classrooms.  Before we explore why mobile learning is important though, we should examine what we know about mobile use.

Data from 2020 shows that 67% of the world’s population now have access to mobile devices and we spend approximately 6 hours and 43 minutes online per day (We are Social 2020).  More than 300 million people around the world came online in 2020 and many of the most impoverished areas are making the largest gains in supporting mobile use through the development of infrastructure.  On the continent of Africa alone, mobile connections jumped by 57 million users from January 2019 to January 2020. These trends will continue to rise which means we can offer content to individuals via their mobile devices in cases where they don’t have access to schools due to infrastructure, transport, or cultural norms.  For example, 67 million girls around the world do not have access to education.  Mobile devices will allow millions of people access to content they have previously been denied.

Now let’s turn to the three reasons why mobile learning is critical for including and engaging all student in our classrooms, as shown in the image below.

First, there are students in our classes who have traditionally been marginalized by the educational process.  For some people with disabilities, for example, technology makes learning easier and more accessible.  Mobile devices and phones have accessibility features built in (voice to text, magnifier, guided access, etc.) that allow individuals with disabilities and or other special needs to access learning more robustly.  Consider one example: when we lecture in a live class, students get to hear us one time; when we post videos online, students can listen to our content as many times as needed.  This provides more opportunities for all of our students to learn and wrestle with the ideas we are sharing.

The second reason why we need to take advantage of mobile learning is to prepare our students for the workplace.  Employers today use infographics, social media, PechaKucha (check it out!), and others to create and share content. One of the things we have all learned in the last few years is how important technology can be in industries (like education) that have traditionally been hesitant to embrace it.  It is our responsibility to provide students every opportunity to learn both the knowledge and the skills to survive and thrive in a mobile workplace. As a bonus, we have also learned the power of technology in assessment and some of the amazing work our students can create!  At my own institution, we are seeing more student collaboration and innovative evaluations that tap into a student’s content knowledge AND their creative prowess. These assessments are so much more fun to evaluate too!

Finally, it is important to embrace technology to meet students where they are.  One of the things we need to accept is that we cannot stop a train that has left the station – and the mobile technology train is long gone.  When we embrace what our students are already using, our content becomes more engaging and personal for them.  Just as importantly, we have the opportunity to model for students how to use technology appropriately and responsibly.  We know mobile technology is here to stay and there are infinite ways it improves our lives, our teaching, and our learning if we use it properly.  It is our job to teach students how to use it the most powerfully and efficiently within our specific disciplines. 

Three boxes pointing to a central circle which reads: Why mobile learning supports inclusivity. The three boxes read: 1. Technology makes learning easier and more accessible. 2. We prepare our students for the workplace. 3. We meet students where they are.

Image: Ways in which mobile learning supports inclusivity

Mobile technology is ubiquitous, and we have an exceptional opportunity to embrace this powerful medium to communicate with students and enable all regardless of their learning needs to access education. If we are willing to meet students where they are, we can teach them responsible and appropriate use of technology.  We can no longer limit our students’ learning to our own comfort, but instead we must adapt our teaching tools and techniques to take advantage of what mobile technology affords us – a unique and powerful way to reach our students and more fully involve them in learning.  And the bonus?  Mobile technology affords us – and our students – the chance to learn together.

In practice, I have used, and seen this approach used, with students from 7 years old all the way to adult students.  It may mean inviting undergraduate students to create their own blog about their learning and share it with their peers.  It may mean asking students to solve problems using mobile applications and Team-Based Learning.  It may mean taking students who are struggling into an Escape Room with clues on how to get out that are related to content and allowing them to use their devices to solve the clues.  Each of these examples are things I have participated in or led and the outcome has been greater engagement and resilience.  Students continued when it became challenging and were much more involved throughout the lesson.  If we are able to get students excited about learning and to keep at it even when it is a challenge, we are on our way to success.


Ally, M. and Tsinakos, A. ed., (2014). Increasing Access Through Mobile Learning. Vancouver CA: Commonwealth of Learning and Athabasca University. Available at:

Walker, Z., Rosenblatt, K. and McMahon, D. (2015). Teaching the last backpack generation: A mobile technology handbook for secondary educators. Corwin Press.

We Are Social (2020). Digital in 2020. [online] Available at:

Inclusivity note

With new trends such as influencer educators who have millions of followers on social media platforms, mobile learning is more and more interwoven with students’ daily lives. However, the main inclusivity challenge with students using mobile platforms for learning is multi-layered digital inequality: in terms of differences in access to equipment and bandwidth, and also differences in technological ability and competence (accessibility), which in turn affect motivation.

How many of our students access learning mostly through their mobile, on the go? Once we find out, we can acknowledge this by prefacing an activity or lesson with:

– ways of preparing for efficient mobile learning (suggest students download apps such as voice-to-text to take notes on the go and revisit later on)

– ways of maximising mobile learning time (suggest to dedicate 20 or 30 minutes of focused time at a time to understand the key points of the lesson, rather than very long study sessions)

– empathy (suggest to students that if their learning space gets too crowded and noisy, due to life’s duties such as caring responsibilities, they may have to postpone the planned mobile learning session to a quieter moment when they can concentrate)

– screen wellbeing tips (such as avoiding straining the eyes, taking regular breaks from screens, minding posture and more)

For international cohorts, it is also useful to understand what mobile tools and apps are popular in the students’ home country and use those alongside the one(s) we are familiar with.