D. Burghardt, A. Edwardes, T. Woodtli, R. Weibel

University of Zurich, Department of Geography, Zurich, Switzerland


Mobile learning stresses the importance of delivering learning facilities everywhere and anytime independent from restrictions it allows teachers to bring out the classroom into the field (Armstrong and Bennett, 2005). As such mobile learning offers many advantages to education in subjects depending on space, ranging from geography and the earth sciences to archaeology, architecture and history. The research investigates location based and adaptive learning. In contrast to mobile learning in general this paradigm restricts and adapts teaching material to the user context (e.g. location, time, and ability) and raises important research questions related to the utilisation of cartographic presentations as communication platform for space related phenomena.


Adaptive learning can be characterised first of all by the subject of adaptation (what), second through the user context considered for adaptation (where to) and third the method applied for the adaptation (how). The subject of adaptation can be the content of teaching material itself, the degree of complexity as well as the presentation style. User context has been investigated intensively in the domain of mobile information systems for the delivery of context-aware mobile services (Nivala and Sarjakoski, 2003). A rough classification distinguishes between the characteristics of the user themselves and his or her environment. In this research the main focus was set on the consideration of users pre-knowledge as well as the location of the user, which is important for the utilisation of real world examples (location based learning).


The article starts with a definition and differentiation of terms such as mobile learning, adaptive learning and location based learning, which can be seen as increasingly specialised cases of e-learning. Different learning paradigms such as behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism are compared with respect to m-learning. It is shown, that m-learning has great potential to support the independent formation of knowledge by exploration (cognitivism, constructivism) overcoming simple repetition (behaviourism).


The customisation of an m-learning lesson is then described through a three step process. The first step is the determination of user context, e.g. pre-knowledge of the user, preferred learning style or user position. Dependent on the context the adaptation and selection of teaching content has to be carried out. Finally the adaptation of content presentation is realised with consideration of preferred presentation style and output device limitations.


Different methods of adaptation will be next discussed and illustrated on the basis of an implemented application example. A comparison is made between interactive (adaptable) and automatic (adaptive) methods as well as between guided sequential and explorative non-sequential approaches. The usage of multiple representations for adaptation is discussed, with an application on error estimation in elevation models. An evaluation framework from Taylor et al. (2005) is applied to differentiate between technical and semiotic aspects during development and implementation of the m-learning lesson. Furthermore the framework will be utilised to show the potential and limitations of m-learning in comparison with e-learning and guided excursions.