Visualizing solutions: Apps as cognitive stepping-stones in the learning process

Michael Stevenson, John Hedberg, Kate Highfield, Mingming Diao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


In many K-12 and higher education contexts, the use of smart mobile devices increasingly affords learning experiences that are situated, authentic and connected. While earlier reviews of mobile technology may have led to criticism of these devices as being largely for consumption, many current uses emphasize creativity and productivity, with diverse purposes ranging from blogging and social networking to near full-scale video editing, office productivity and language translation. These affordances are further made possible by the large-scale development of mobile applications (or apps). For the vast majority of mobile device users - now numbering in the billions – many of these learning experiences are informal and just-in-time, sometimes unplanned, unsanctioned by educational discourse and beyond the immediate locus of institutional control. As smart technologies become increasingly an extension of the personal, educators are faced with the question: how can we best facilitate and explicate the learning process and design relevant experiences that leverage the affordances of so many mobile devices? This paper explores how the effective use of apps enable the learning process to be visualized in ways that support meaningful and student-centered learning. The authors discuss recent developments in technology, mobile learning and multiliteracies, drawing on a range of case studies deploying mobile devices and using apps as part of learner-led inquiry processes to enable creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. Emerging from these case studies are real classroom examples, teacher-student reflections, scaffolds and working models that all speak to the importance of using apps to visualize learning and support learners at each stage of the learning process. Exploring the connections between mobile devices, media literacy and visual literacy, the paper also emphasizes the collaborative affordances of many current apps and the importance of multimodal forms of representation through gesture, voice, text, video and audio. Citing the common issues involved in deploying mobile devices in most education institutions, the authors argue the need for schools and education systems to move away from infrastructure-led developments towards more learner-led solutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-379
Number of pages14
JournalElectronic Journal of e-Learning
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


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