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Dialogue- and Feedback-Based Mobile Learning

Af Henrik Køhler Simonsen fra SmartLearning.


Resultaterne fra denne artikel blev første gang præsenterede ved konferencen: World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning (link) i januar 2020, og sidenhen publiceret på LearnTechLib (link), der er den største, samlede portal for videnskabelige artikler og seneste forskning inden for læring og teknologi.

Artiklen er skrevet af Henrik Køhler Simonsen fra SmartLearning.



Mobile devices are ubiquitous and consequently, they may facilitate equal access to learning in a truly mobile world. This paper builds on theoretical contributions by (Grovo, 2020) and (Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2009) to mention just a few, and outlines and discusses a design approach based on ten questions and answers on mobile learning. This approach was developed in the design and development phases of four different microlearning courses, which form the empirical basis of this paper. During the development and testing of the four microlearning courses involving more than 3000 learners, it was found that successful mobile learning rests on answers to at least ten questions. Based on these ten questions and drawing on additional theoretical contributions such as (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2014), (Weill & Woerner, 2018), (Gagné, 1965), (Lave & Wenger, 1990) and (Salmon, 2013) ten answers are outlined. Finally, this paper presents and discusses an operational template for use in mobile learning, which may facilitate equal access to learning in a mobile world.



The full potential of mobile learning still not seems to have been fully realised. Mobile learning could be substantially improved by combining theories and experiences from different fields, including digital business models (Weill & Woerner, 2018), conventional learning theories (Gagné, 1965), (Lave & Wenger, 1990) and digital learning theories (Salmon, 2013) etc. The objectives of this study were to develop an operational template for microlearning based on data and experiences from four selected short microlearning courses. In this paper, mobile learning is seen as “learning mediated via handheld devices” (Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2009) and microlearning is a term describing learning in bite-sized units. The research questions of this paper are to discuss ten relevant questions and answers on mobile learning and to present a template developed for use by learning designers, educators and developers.


Case setting and empirical data

The case setting is a Danish course provider offering ECTS courses at academy and diploma levels and the following four microlearning courses are used as the empirical basis of this discussion.

  • Microlearning course on grading principles for certified external examiners (EXAM) 
  • Microlearning course for pharmaceutical staff on how to use sterile protective clothing (STERILE)
  • Microlearning course for taxi drivers on customer service (TAXI)
  • Microlearning course for managers and employees on conflict management(CONFLICT)


Ten questions and ten answers

The theoretical considerations leading up to the development of an operational template were based on these ten questions:

  • Who is the learner?
  • What is the value proposition to the learner/value experience?
  • What is the learning objective?
  • How is teaching packaged?
  • Where does learning take place?
  • Who is involved in the learning process?
  • What learning content should be used and how should it be structured?
  • How is teaching delivered?
  • What type of reflections/reactions does the teaching want to evoke?
  • Who can help the learner learn more? 


Who is the learner?

It is highly relevant to define who your learners are before developing multi-modal mobile learning activities. It was decided from the beginning that we needed to combine modern business development theories with conventional learning theory and it soon became apparent that we had to define the customer profile (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2014) of our microlearning courses. We asked questions such as: what are the jobs or job functions and what are the gains and pains of the learner. The analysis of the real jobs and job functions of the learners helped us design the packaging of the learning activity (Weill & Woerner, 2018) and the teaching delivery platform and approach (Salmon, 2013) and (Gagné, 1965) etc.

What is the value proposition?

The next question was to define the value proposition of the learner and we decided to analyse what the learner likes in a learning situation. (Drucker, 1999:57) defines value experience as ”What the customer buys and considers of value is never a product. It is always a utility – that is – what a product does for him” and we saw that as an important part of our considerations. It is not just about the functional benefits of a service. Much more is in fact at stake including the many emotional benefits experienced by using a microlearning course. Based on this we developed the value proposition of the microlearning courses, (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2014) and started defining the value that our services were designed to give the learner. The value experience and value propositions in the four microlearning courses EXAM, STERILE, TAXI and CONFLICT were of course not the same.

What is the learning objective?

The third question was to decide in advance on the learning objectives of the microlearning courses. Some microlearning activities are stand-alone activities while others are part of a package value proposition designed to support branding or public affairs activities of companies. One of the major learning objectives of the CONFLICT microlearning course was to help learners learn about conflict management but also to learn how to change habits by integrating so-called habit triggers in learning content. Another objective of the CONFLICT microlearning course was to stimulate sales with a clear call to action. The idea was thus to integrate professional consultancy services with mobile learning, which turned out to be a moderate success.

How is teaching packaged?

A fourth highly relevant question to ask is how we want to package the learning content (Weill & Woerner, 2018). This is of course closely connected with the answers to the questions on the value proposition and the learning objective of the mobile learning activity. It is argued that the digital business model theory developed by (Weill & Woerner, 2018: 67) is highly relevant for this discussion, as we need to focus on our competitive advantage. Traditionally, companies compete on content and that may very well be a good solution. In the initial development phase, we decided to use a conventional learning management platform (Moodle) in the CONFLICT course, which turned out to be an unfortunate decision. The platform and the packaging were not at all satisfactory, which may be why limited success was experienced.

Where does learning take place?

The fifth question is to analyse where the actual mobile learning takes place. Situated learning theory (Lave & Wenger, 1990) was useful and even though these considerations were published 20 years ago, they are still highly relevant. The TAXI microlearning course is a good example. Learning is to take place in the exact physical settings of the learner and in when learning needs are high (Grovo, 2020) and these conditions are important to research for designers of mobile learning. In the TAXI and STERILE microlearning courses, we analysed the physical learning settings to be able to design the learning content under these conditions. We found that in the TAXI microlearning course, taxi drivers were learning alone while waiting for new customers and in the STERILE microlearning course, we found that learning took place individually or together with colleagues at the workplace.

Who is involved in the learning process?

The above questions and answers lead to the sixth question, which evolves around the question who is involved in the learning? The learner is involved, but what about other learners, colleagues, customers and bosses? The answers to these questions are to some extent also related to the realization of the value experience of the learner. In other words, we took into account the emotional benefits associated with mobile learning, in line with (Drucker, 1999), who talks about the functional and emotional benefits in value perception and we found that we needed to design for online learning communities, (Salmon, 2013) and exploit the social processes in peer learning. In the TAXI microlearning course, we found that colleagues and bosses were involved in the learning process and should have received information of the learning progress, however, we did not succeed in developing a satisfactory technical solution to this problem. 

What learning content should be used and how should it be structured?

The seventh question was about the actual learning content and how this learning content should be structured. Learning objectives dictate the type and structure of learning content so we need to decide whether the planned digital learning activity/learning content supports the learning type that we are aiming at. When designing the CONFLICT microlearning course we found that we needed to develop habit triggers to facilitate change in behaviour and we decided on giving the learners small personal tasks and metacognition considerations to accelerate change. In the TAXI and CONFLICT microlearning courses, we found that a strict structure with lots of repetitions was needed and we used the Nine Events of Instruction developed by (Gagné, 1965).

How is teaching delivered?

The eighth question of relevance is how learning is delivered. In our case, especially two important considerations were made. First, we decided to base our microlearning courses on a personalised learning approach. We found that personalised learning worked well when the learner was going to use the course for onboarding, compliance training or habit-changing activities. In the CONFLICT course, for example, we found that a personalised approach was preferred because of the sensitive elements of the course. Second, mobile learning should take the limitations of the learning medium, the mobile phone, into consideration. This means that we should avoid cognitive overload as discussed by for example (Weinstein & Sumeracki, 2019) and deliver the right amount of teaching.

What type of reflections/reactions does the teaching want to evoke?

The next question is what type of reflections or reactions are we aiming at? It depends on the type of learning activity that we design, but especially in habit-changing microlearning courses, we found that metacognition is important. Metacognition is here understood as the ability to reflect on your thoughts and learning. Another important reflection that we found was relevant in a commercial setting was the ability of the learner to realize that he or she needs more learning, which is why we attempted to do just that in the CONFLICT microlearning course.

Who can help the learner learn more?

The last question is closely related to the ninth question. It is about prompting the learner to reflect on where he or she might be able to learn more or whom he or she might contact to get a solution to a problem. In the CONFLICT microlearning course, we found that this was best achieved by introducing the learner to the professional consultant in the beginning and that professional consultant was part of the 1:1 online meetings between the learner and the consultant. At the end of the CONFLICT microlearning course, a clear call to action was made to make the learner sign up for the followup course or to purchase professional consultancy services on conflict management.


Suggestions for a dialogue - and feedback-based model

Based on the different mobile learning initiatives developed, including the four cases described above, we found that a personalised dialogue-based approach facilitating critical reflections and feedback on the topic and own practice was preferred, and that standard mobile video conferencing tools worked satisfactorily. The personalised, dialogue-based approach with integrated access to a teacher or consultant seemed to work very well in our case. The theoretical discussion and the four cases described above enabled us to develop the template shown below in Figure 1 and Table 1.


Figure 1. Microlearning template with a personalised dialogue- and feedback-based approach

Ten elements of the personalised dialogue- and feedback-based approach:


This is the hook and is meant as an inspirational needs-based element, which should be designed to motivate people to continue with the microlearning course and understand the gains.


This is the example to which the learner can relate. This example supports the value proposition or the why of doing this microlearning course. An example could be a brief exercise or a thought-provoking poll.


This is the actual learning content in small units. These units aim at giving the learner knowledge about the topic, reflect on this knowledge, discuss this knowledge with peers, give the learner practical examples and exercises about the topic and of course include knowledge on how to do something or change something.


This is an integrated part of the didactical approach in this template. Co-learning or peer-to-peer learning can be integrated in a number of these steps, but co-learning is especially used in exercises when the learner discusses knowledge with peers.


Dialogue and feedback are important in our model. The student-teacher relationship tends to be neglected in microlearning, but it is argued that this element is very important. Appointment-scheduling software, which enabled learners to book supervision meetings with the teacher or consultant can be used.


This is the field-based practice element where the learner is asked to research a problem in the field (Lave & Wenger, 1990). In our microlearning courses, depending on the type of course, we ask the learner to research and describe a problem and to try out some of the methods that the core learning elements suggested.


Same as above, but this time the teacher and the learner discuss the learner’s new approach from the situated practice exercise.


Same as above, but this time the learner has already received advice on improving performance so the practice exercise seeks to facilitate even better performance based on not only the core learning elements but also the advice recently offered by the teacher.


Now the actual mobile learning activity has ended, but the learner is on his own. In this phase, the learner can check in with the teacher at fixed time slots and discuss how the learner reacts to for example conflicts and how the learner tries to solve conflicts.


This is the call to action phase and is, of course, optional. Based on the four cases it was found that actual consultancy service could be sold in continuation of microlearning, especially if the core learning elements are seen as real value by the learners (Drucker, 1999).



This paper discussed ten questions and ten answers about mobile learning and presented a dialogue- and feedback-based model for use in the development of microlearning courses. During the development and testing of four mobile learning initiatives, it was found that the template developed seemed to work satisfactorily. The personalised, dialogue- and feedback-based approach with lots of field exercises is a unique approach to mobile learning and can be used by learning designers, educators and developers to facilitate equal access to learning in a truly mobile world.



  • Drucker, P.F. (1999): Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Oxford, United Kingdom: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  • Gagné, R. M. (1965). The Learning of Concepts. In: The School Review 73, no. 3 (Autumn, 1965): 187-196.
  • Grovo (2020). Grovo by Cornerstone. In: [07/07/2020].
  • Kukulska-Hulme, A., Sharples, M., Milrad, M., Arnedillo-Sánchez, I., & Vavoula, G. (2009). Innovation in mobile learning: A European perspective. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning (IJMBL), 1(1), 13-35.
  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernada, G. & Smith, A. (2014). Value Proposition Canvas: How to create products and services customers want. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Salmon, G. (2013). E-tivities - the key to active online learning, Routledge, 2013.
  • Weill, P., & Woerner, S. L. (2018). What's Your Digital Business Model? Six Questions to Help You Build the NextGeneration Enterprise. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Weinstein, Y. & Sumeracki, M. (2019). Understanding how we learn, David Fulton, 2019.