The term m-learning or "mobile learning", has different meanings for different communities, that refer to a subset of e-learning, educational technology and distance education, that focuses on learning across contexts and learning with mobile devices. One definition of mobile learning is, "any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies." In other words, with the use of mobile devices, learners can learn anywhere and at any time.
M-learning technologies include handheld computers, MP3 players, notebooks, mobile phones and tablets. M-learning focuses on the mobility of the learner, interacting with portable technologies, and learning that reflects a focus on how society and its institutions can accommodate and support an increasingly mobile population. There is also a new direction in m-learning that gives the instructor more mobility and includes creation of on the spot and in the field learning material that predominately uses smartphone with special software such as AHG Cloud Note. Using mobile tools for creating learning aides and materials becomes an important part of informal learning.
M-learning is convenient in that it is accessible from virtually anywhere. M-learning, like other forms of e-learning, is also collaborative. Sharing is almost instantaneous among everyone using the same content, which leads to the reception of instant feedback and tips. This highly active process has proven to increase exam scores from the fiftieth to the seventieth percentile, and cut the dropout rate in technical fields by 22 percent. M-learning also brings strong portability by replacing books and notes with small RAMs, filled with tailored learning contents. In addition, it is simple to utilize mobile learning for a more effective and entertaining experience.
Arguably the first instance of mobile learning goes back as far as 1901 when Linguaphone released a series of language lessons on wax cylinders. This was followed up in later years as technology improved, to cover compact cassette tapes, 8 track tape, and CDs[dubious ]
In 1968 Alan Kay and his colleagues in the Learning Research Group at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center [PARC] propose the Dynabook as a book-sized computer to run dynamic simulations for learning. "The Dynabook would carry an encyclopedia of information inside its circuits and plug into readily available networks containing the sum of human knowledge. Anybody from grade school up would be able to program it to do whatever was wanted. And there's no reason it would even have to be a book; it could just as well be a wristwatch, or woven into a T-shirt."
In May 1991, Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) in partnership with Orange Grove Middle School of Tucson, Arizona, used mobile computers connected by wireless networks for the 'Wireless Coyote' project. Universities in Europe and Asia developed and evaluated mobile learning for students. Palm corporation offered grants to universities and companies who created and tested the use of Mobile Learning on the PalmOS platform. Knowledgility created the first mobile learning modules for CCNA, A+ and MCSE certification using the core tools that later became LMA.
The European Commission began to fund the major multi-national MOBIlearn and M-learning projects.
Companies, specializing in these three core areas of mobile learning were formed.
- Authoring and Publishing
- Delivery and Tracking
- Content Development
Conferences and trade shows were created to specifically deal with mobile learning and handheld education, including: mLearn, WMUTE, and IADIS Mobile Learning international conference series, ICML in Jordan, Mobile Learning in Malaysia, Handheld Learning in London, and SALT Mobile in USA.
2010 and beyond
As a large number of smart mobile devices came onto the market, m-learning developers faced a decision as to which devices (smartphone or tablet) and operating systems they would target.
Apple, Android and Blackberry were, for several years during this decade, the three most popular operating systems. Blackberry OS is enduring a diminishing prominence. Clearly, the Apple iOS and Android operating systems are premier and attract the most activity among both developers and users. Multi-device learning design is becoming increasingly important as learning designers set out to design once and deliver to all three operating systems as well as a variety of device sizes.
2011 and 2012 saw the increasing availability of multi-device authoring tools such as Captivate, Articulate Storyline, Lectora and GoMoLearning. These tools allow e-learning courses to be delivered to a variety of mobile operating systems and devices as well as to PCs, although not all tools output to all operating systems and devices.
Analysis (costs / benefits, forecast)
The value of mobile learning—Tutors who have used m-learning programs and techniques have made the following value statements in favor of m-learning.
- It is important to bring new technology into the classroom.
- Devices used are more lightweight than books and PCs.
- Mobile learning can be used to diversify the types of learning activities students partake in (or a blended learning approach).
- Mobile learning supports the learning process rather than being integral to it.
- Mobile learning can be a useful add-on tool for students with special needs. However, for SMS and MMS this might be dependent on the students’ specific disabilities or difficulties involved.
- Mobile learning can be used as a ‘hook’ to re-engage disaffected youth.
- Relatively inexpensive opportunities, as the cost of mobile devices are significantly less than PCs and laptops
- Multimedia content delivery and creation options
- Continuous and situated learning support
- Decrease in training costs
- Potentially a more rewarding learning experience
- Technical challenges include
- Connectivity and battery life
- Screen size and key size
- Meeting required bandwidth for nonstop/fast streaming
- Number of file/asset formats supported by a specific device
- Content security or copyright issue from authoring group
- Multiple standards, multiple screen sizes, multiple operating systems
- Reworking existing E-Learning materials for mobile platforms
- Limited memory
- Risk of sudden obsolescence 
- Social and educational challenges include
- Accessibility and cost barriers for end users: Digital divide.
- How to assess learning outside the classroom
- How to support learning across many contexts
- Content's security or pirating issues
- Frequent changes in device models/technologies/functionality etc.
- Developing an appropriate theory of learning for the mobile age
- Conceptual differences between e-learning and m-learning
- Design of technology to support a lifetime of learning
- Tracking of results and proper use of this information
- No restriction on learning timetable
- Personal and private information and content
- No demographic boundary
- Disruption of students' personal and academic lives
- Access to and use of the technology in developing countries
- Risk of distraction 
Over the past ten years mobile learning has grown from a minor research interest to a set of significant projects in schools, workplaces, museums, cities and rural areas around the world. The m-learning community is still fragmented, with different national perspectives, differences between academia and industry, and between the school, higher education and lifelong learning sectors.
Current areas of growth include:
- Testing, surveys, job aids and just-in-time (J.I.T.) learning
- Location-based and contextual learning
- Social-networked mobile learning
- Mobile educational gaming
- Delivering m-Learning to cellular phones using two way SMS messaging and voice-based CellCasting (podcasting to phones with interactive assessments) 
- Cloud computer file storage 
According to a report by Ambient Insight in 2008, "the US market for Mobile Learning products and services is growing at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.7% and revenues reached $538 million in 2007. The data indicates that the demand is relatively immune from the recession." The findings of the report indicate that the largest demand throughout the forecast period is for custom development services, content conversion, and media services and that the healthcare sector accounts for 20% of the total US market for mobile learning.
Technologies currently being researched for mobile learning include:
- Location aware learning
- Point-and-shoot learning with camera phones and 2D codes
- Near Field Communications (NFC) secure transactions
- Sensors and accelerometers in mobile devices in behavioral based learning
- Mobile content creation (including user generated content)
- Games and simulation for learning on mobile devices
- Context-aware ubiquitous learning
- Augmented reality on mobile devices
- Mobile performance support
While many think of mobile learning as delivering E-Learning on small form factor devices, or often referred to as E-Learning “lite”, it has the potential to do much more than deliver courses, or parts of courses. It includes the use of mobile/handheld devices to perform any of the following:
- Deliver education materials and promote learning
- Faster communications and collaboration
- Conduct assessments and evaluations
- Provide access to performance support and knowledge
- Capture evidence of learning activity
Today, any number of portable devices can quickly and easily deliver and support these functions. Cell phones or smartphones, multi-game devices, personal media players (PMPs), personal digital assistants (PDAs), and wireless single-purpose devices can help deliver coaching and mentoring, conduct assessments and evaluations (e.g., quizzes; tests; surveys and polls; and certifications), provide on-the-job support and access to information, education and references, and deliver podcasts, update alerts, forms and checklists. In these ways, mobile learning can enhance and support more traditional learning modes, making it more portable and accessible. Mobile devices can also serve as powerful data collection tools and facilitate the capture of user created content.
New mobile technology, such as hand-held cellular based devices, is playing a large role in redefining how we receive information. The recent advances in mobile technology are changing the primary purpose of mobile devices from making or receiving calls to retrieving the latest information on any subject. "Numerous agencies including the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Intelligence community, and law enforcement are utilizing mobile technology are utilizing mobile technology for information management." 
- Allowing students to use handheld computers, PDAs, smartphones or handheld voting systems (such as clickers) in a classroom or lecture room (Tremblay 2010).
- Allowing students to use mobile devices(such as a Pocket PC) in the classroom to enhance group collaboration among students and instructors.
Mobile learning can provide support that enhances training in a corporate business or other classroom environment.
- Class management
The mobile phone (through text SMS notices) can be used especially for distance education or with students whose courses require them to be highly mobile and in particular to communicate information regarding availability of assignment results, venue changes and cancellations, etc. It can also be of value to business people, e.g. sales representatives who do not wish to waste time away from their busy schedules to attend formal training events.
Podcasting consists of listening to audio recordings of lectures. It can be used to review live lectures (Clark & Westcott (2007) and to provide opportunities for students to rehearse oral presentations. Podcasts may also provide supplemental information to enhance traditional lectures (McGarr 2009) (Steven & Teasley 2009).
Psychological research suggests that university students who download podcast lectures achieve substantially higher exam results than those who attend the lecture in person (only in cases in which students take notes) (Callaway & Ewen 2009).
- Learning in museums or galleries with handheld or wearable technologies
- Learning outdoors (e.g. On field trips).
- Continuous learning and portable tools for military personnel.
M-learning can reach a large number of employees easier and more effectively.
- On the job training for someone who accesses training on a mobile device.
- Just in time training to solve a problem or gain an update.
Lifelong learning and Self-Learning
The use of personal technology to support informal or lifelong learning, such as using handheld dictionaries and other devices for language learning, is an approach that is not to be overlooked.
Mobile technologies and approaches, i.e. Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL), are also used to assist in language learning. For instance handheld computers, cell phones, and podcasting (Horkoff Kayes2008) have been used to help people acquire and develop language skills.
- Improving levels of literacy, numeracy, and participation in education amongst young adults.
- Using the communication features of a mobile phone as part of a larger learning activity, e.g.: sending media or texts into a central portfolio, or exporting audio files from a learning platform to your phone.
Mobile devices and personal technologies that can support mobile learning, include:
- Outstart, Inc.
- Handheld audio and multimedia guides, in museums and galleries
- Handheld game console, modern gaming consoles such as Sony PSP or Nintendo DS
- Personal audio player, e.g. for listening to audio recordings of lectures (podcasting)
- Personal Digital Assistant, in the classroom and outdoors
- Tablet computer
- UMPC, mobile phone, camera phone and SmartPhone
Technical and delivery support for mobile learning include:
- 3GP For compression and delivery method of audiovisual content associated with Mobile Learning
- GPRS mobile data service, provides high speed connection and data transfer rate
- Wi-Fi gives access to instructors and resources via internet
- Cloud computing for storing and sharing files
- Instructional Simulation
- International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning
- Offline mobile learning
- Online learning
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