Distance Learners’ Use of Handheld Technologies

Mobile Learning Activity, Changing Study Habits, and the ‘Place’ of Anywhere Learning





mobile learning, seamless learning, study space, handheld learning technologies, anywhere learning, distance education


This study investigates how and where distance learners use handheld devices and the impact this has on learning habits, access to learning content and quality of work. It analyses the spatial dimension of anytime-anywhere learning and, with a focus on anywhere learning, it explores students’ ongoing negotiation of the flow between and across study locations. The study concludes by proposing two new concepts: the flow of places and place of space. These should help direct the framing of future studies into the places, spaces, and mobility of formal and informal seamless learning. A dataset comprising 446 responses from undergraduate students enrolled at the UK’s largest distance learning university was analysed in respect to three research questions. All age groups, study levels, and disciplines were represented. Five key findings are: most students now use handheld devices for study-related learning; the distribution of study-related learning tasks was similar in all seven study places; there is a strong, statistically-significant correlation between the number of study places in which handheld devices are used and the number of study task types performed; two fifths of students using a handheld device for learning have noticed a change in study habit and benefit to learning; and multiple regression analysis shows three variables (number of study places, number of study tasks, and change in study habits) are predictors of finding it easier to access learning materials and improved quality of learners’ work.

Author Biographies

Simon Cross, The Open University (UK)

Simon is a lecturer in the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University UK. Current research includes handheld technologies in learning, VR in education with a focus on developing countries, the place-space of MOOCs, learning design, and learning analytics

Mike Sharples, The Open University (UK)

Mike Sharples is an Emeritus Professor working in the Institute of Educatonal Technology at The Open University UK. Founding President of the International Association for Mobile Learning, his research involves human-centred design of new technologies and environments for learning.

Graham Healing, The Open University (UK)

Graham Healing is an evaluation manager in Learning and Teaching Development at The Open University with a particular focus on evaluating the students experience through accessibility, usability and developmental testing.

Jim Ellis

Jim Ellis is Head of Technology Enhanced Learning Design at The Open University UK. He joined the university in 2003 following roles as an RAF Education Officer and a commercial e-Learning designer and project manager.



How to Cite

Cross, S., Sharples, M., Healing, G., & Ellis, J. (2019). Distance Learners’ Use of Handheld Technologies: Mobile Learning Activity, Changing Study Habits, and the ‘Place’ of Anywhere Learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(2). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i2.4040



Research Articles