SMS as a learning tool: an experimental study


  • Mar Gutiérrez-Colón Universitat Rovira i Virgili
  • Pere Gallardo Torrano Universitat Rovira i Virgili
  • M. Elisa Grova Universitat Rovira i Virgili



e-Learning, m-Learning, SMS, distance learning, new language teaching methodology


The aim of this experimental study was to find out the potential of using mobile phones in teaching English as a foreign language, specifically the use of SMS as a support tool in the EFL class. The research questions formulated were: (1) Is using SMS messages via a mobile phone an effective tool in terms of motivation and engagement? (2) What type of mini-lessons do subjects think are better to be sent via SMS in terms of effectiveness, engagement, and usefulness for their learning purposes? (3) What is the appropriate timing for the activities to be sent? (4) Did students who participated in the project perform better than the control group? This experimental study lasted two academic years. As this was a preliminary study of the viability of the SMS methodology, it was conducted with a small group of students (n=13) from the English Degree at the University Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona, Spain). During the first year we designed various types of activities and sent them though a period of 15 weeks. The aim of this first part was to answer the research questions 1 to 3. The second year, a new set of exercises was created. This time, the aim was to gather data to be able to answer the fourth research question. Both qualitative data (from the first year) and quantitative data (from the second year) were analysed. We can conclude that the subjects have found this experience engaging. The subjects preferred receiving short, direct exercises which could be answered immediately. They preferred receiving the SMS in the afternoon or evening and the results show that this methodology enhances the retrieval of memorized English language rules. The results of this study were presented at the EuroCALL 2011 conference in Nottingham and are the result of a research project funded by the Institut de Ciències de l'Educació (Universitat Rovira i Virgili).


Download data is not yet available.


Cavus, N. and Ibrahim, D. (2009). M-Learning: An experiment using SMS to support learning new English language words. British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 40, No. 1: 78-91.

Churchill, D. and Hedberg, J. (2008). Learning objects design considerations for small-screen handheld devices. Computers and Education, 50: 881-893.

Cornelius,S., Marston, Ph. and Gemmell, A. (2011). SMS text messaging for real-ime simulations in Higher Education. In Traxler and Wishart, J. (eds), Making mobile learning work: case studies of practice . ESCalate. University of Bristol.

Geddes, S.J. (2004). Mobile Learning in the 21 st Centiry: benefit for learners. Tree e-journal.

Gu, X., Gu, F. and Laffey, J.M. (2011). Designing mobile system for lifelong learning on the move. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.

Kennedy, C. and Levy, M. (2008). L'Italiano al telefonino: Using SMS to support beginners' language learning. ReCALL, 20(3): 315-330.

Kiernan, P and Aizawa, K. (2004). Cell phones in task based learning. Are cell useful language learning tools? ReCALL, 16(1): 71-84.

Kukulska-Hulme A., Traxler, J. and Petit, J. (2007). Designed and user-generated activity in the mobile age. Journal of Learning Design, 2: 52-65.

Levy, M. and Kennedy, C. (2005). Learning Italian via mobile SMS. In A. Kukulshka-Hulme and J. Traxler (eds.), Mobile Learning: A handbook for educators and trainers. London: Routledge. 76-83.

Lu M. (2008). Efectiveness of vocabulary learning via mobile phone. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 24: 515-525.

Pownell, D. and Bailey, G. (2001). Getting a handle on handhelds: what to consider before you introduce handheld computers in your school. American School Board Journal.

So, S. (2009). The development of a SMS-based teaching and learning system. Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange, 21(1): 113-124.

Stockwell, G. (2007). Vocabulary on the Move: Investigating an intelligent mobile phone-based vocabulary tutor. Computer Assisted Language Learning. Vol. 20, No. 4: 365-383.

Stockwell, G. (2010). Using Mobeil Phones fror Vocabulary Activities: Examining the Effect of the Platform. Language Learning and Technology, Vol 14, No. 2: 95-110.

Thornton, P. and Houser, C. (2001). Learning on the move: Vocabulary study via e-mail and mobile phone SMS. In C. Montgomerie and J. Viteli (eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2001. Chesapeake, VA: AACE. 1896-1897.

Thornton, P. and Houser, C. (2005). Using mobile phones in English Education in Japan. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 21: 217-228

Traxler, J. (2009). Learning in a Mobile Age. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning 1(1): 1-12.

Vavoula, G. and Sharples, M. (2009). Meeting the challenges in evaluating mobile learning: A 3-level evaluation framework. International Journal of Mobile and Blended learning 1, no. 2: 54-75.





Research papers