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Making The Shift To Mobile-First Teaching


Making The Shift To Mobile-First Teaching

by Terry Heick

The Big Idea Of Mobile Teaching

Changing the terms, spaces, and timing of learning by using mobile technology.

The Shift To Mobile 

When smartphones first became popular, the struggle was to shrink Internet Explorer to the size of a playing card. The internet browser was the de facto app installed on every computer—it allowed you to browse the web. For many, the web browser is a computer. (See Google Chromebooks.)

It quickly became clear that squeezing desktop actions on handheld technology was backwards. Mobile-first thinking changed things. Facebook became mobile-first—which meant that it’s designed to not just be accessed on your phone, but work better on your phone. Websites are often now responsive, scaling to the size of your screen.

But more importantly, the software and the hardware are increasingly parallel, with apps working together–iOS’s Neato feeding Evernote, for example, location-based alerts, smarter notifications, simpler multitasking, improved voice recognition, fingerprint sensors, predictive notifications based on usage, and more.

Today, mobile technology is awful for ambitious word processing, but for everything else it’s pretty incredible. Have you seen apps like Brainfeed? A library of engaging content!

But to fully realize its potential, you’ll need to think mobile-first. Device backwards. What does mobile technology do seamlessly? Automatically? Intelligently? What does it connect students to? Who does it connect students to?

What does it take off my shoulders, and what does that free me to do?

10 Theoretical Benefits Of Mobile-First Teaching

There is no magic wand; nothing is faultless. This idea is just about potential. You’re right to be skeptical, and to ask tough questions. We’re here to rethink teaching and learning from the ground up. Where are we now, and where are we going? And crucially, what’s possible?

Below are some possible benefits of taking a mobile-first approach to teaching.

  1. Simpler planning–or at least, different planning
  2. Improved access to student data
  3. Centering students by connecting them directly to content and communities
  4. Redefines the role of the teacher–allows their content expertise, coaching, etc., to shine
  5. Theoretically improves learning feedback in terms of timing, diversity, and quantity
  6. Connects stakeholders
  7. Cannot work without student engagement
  8. Emphasizes unfiltered content supplemented by academic content
  9. Makes merging of physical and digital spaces more natural
  10. Makes it more natural for students to work harder than the teacher

The Technology Required

A smartphone or tablet with a decent app ecology (i.e., iOS or Android), and a sturdy WiFi signal

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CLAP: A Framework For Mobile Teaching

This idea of “mobile teaching” is limited to teaching in mostly traditional settings–classrooms, libraries, and other school-like spaces, including university campuses.

It’s easiest to understand by contrast. The traditional role of the teacher is one of learning leader, distributing content, managing the classroom, providing learning feedback, and acting as the “audience” for all student thinking and work. This is in addition to other time-intensive tasks including communicating with parents, grading work, entering grades, differentiating instruction based on assessment results, and so on.

In a mobile teaching framework, much of this process is diffused through mobile technology and the audiences that technology connects to. The same reason BYOD can work for students, it can work for teachers as well. So then, what kind of framework can you use to begin thinking about mobile-first teaching?



Think first about content. You decide if this means standards and curriculum, or non-academic content like apps, blogs, music, video, and social media. Mobile-friendly content abounds.

Learning Feedback

Think in terms of how students will receive learning feedback. What will the feedback be? Who will give it? What is the timing of that feedback? Can/should they respond? When should that feedback be from you, and when should it be from a peer or someone in the community? And when should it be from an adaptive learning app, or even some kind of artificial intelligence?

  • Peer-to-peer, school-to-school
  • Easier-to-access data
  • Alerts & notifications; Adaptive learning apps & algorithms


Who is the audience of the student work? Who wants or needs to know what they have to say? Who can provide listening ears or expert feedback that you can’t?

  • Audience for work (e.g., pbl); social media integration
  • Collaboration for inquiry
  • Authentic community interaction


How can and should the process of learning be personalized?

  • Content, process, or pace
  • Self-directed pathways
  • Sync Teaching, Maker Ed, etc.

Mobile Teaching: Making The Shift To Mobile-First Teaching