SMS (or texting) for learning and training

woman textingShort message services (SMS) allow users of mobile devices to send text messages of 160 characters or less at a time.  As of 2009, it was estimated that 76% of all mobile phone subscribers worldwide use SMS text messaging (Ahonen & Moore, 2009).

Given the comfort level that mobile device users have with the technology and its popularity, it makes sense to use SMS to complement learning and training experiences. As with most technologies, SMS will only be one facet of an instructional strategy. (In this post I’m considering only text messaging versus  multimedia messaging delivered via multimedia messaging services or MMS.)

Like all mLearning platforms, SMS offers the potential to:

  • reach learners in geographically far-flung areas
  • complement just-in-time training
  • make learning both an individualized and collaborative experience


Tools for group messaging
These types of platforms allow instructors to  send a message to groups or individuals from a computer or Smart phone. Messages can be scheduled for delivery at set times and delivery can be tracked.

SMS polling
The polleverywhere platform allows instructors to collect learner responses through their texts (or via Twitter or the Web). Instructors can display results graphically and in real-time  via PowerPoint, Keynote, or the Web.

Tools for quizzing
These platforms include authoring software to help instructors craft SMS quizzes and collect results.

Instructional strategies

Reminder applications
SMS can be readily adapted for:

  • project/task reminders
  • course scheduling reminders
  • healthy habit reminders (e.g., for health education applications)

Polling students
SMS-based polling is different from the use of a clicker system. In general, SMS provides learners with the potential to receive as well as transmit information, can be anonymous or personal, and can be used in asynchronous as well as synchronous settings.

SMS-based polling can be used to:

  • get real-time feedback on learner perceptions of their comprehension
  • get real-time feedback on actual comprehension
  • stimulate discussion as students observe answers to polls or as instructors probe individual responses  (preserving anonymity if desired) and group responses
  • gauge responses to case studies and experiential learning scenarios
  • alter the course of instruction in real-time to reflect learner needs
  • stimulate metacognition by asking students to submit their 160 word summary of a lesson and comparing answers

Providing information and feedback
Although it’s challenging to provide information and feedback  in 160 words or less, SMS can be used in instruction to:

  • send tips and tricks to reinforce learning
  • implement spaced repetition (e.g., to maximize retention of facts)
  • provide immediate feedback on accomplishments and efforts
  • provide feedback on individual questions
  • provide clues to learner challenges, like scavenger hunts (which can implicate “hunting” in the physical world or in the virtual world)
  • redirect learners to Web sites for further information/learning challenges

Practice and assessment
SMS can be used to send short quiz questions that don’t necessarily have to involve memorization of facts. For example, SMS can be used to provide short math problems and even pose scenario questions. For this latter application, SMS systems can be used in conjunction with other mobile applications where the student has access to more information and media and merely answers questions via SMS.

Mobile applications can  be used to create simulation questions, allowing students to dive deeper into case studies and scenarios and to identify optimal actions via texting. If a student doesn’t identify the best answer, there’s the potential to automate additional quizzing at timed intervals ( a riff on the idea of using spaced repetition to enhance transfer).

SMS systems also can be used to provide assessment results, redirecting students to additional feedback online.

Enhancing collaboration
The ease and immediacy of texting can enhance  collaborative projects, as students can use SMS to set up meetings, ask each other questions and share information. Part of an instructor-facilitated SMS experience might be a “text-a-friend” project where the challenge is to share a reflection/solution/or ask a question of different members of the class on a rotating basis. Learners can also take advantage of synchronous chats on Twitter by texting relevant hashtags to 40404 in the US and tap into a wider network of learners.

The use of mobile devices for learning is rapidly evolving and the use of SMS is just one small part of it. Have you seen other SMS tools that you’d like to share?

If text messaging is new to you, here’s a short video introduction:
how to text message .

Ahonen, T.T. & Moore, A. (2009).  3 billion use SMS, what does that mean? Communities dominate brands. Retrieved July 2010 from


3 responses to “SMS (or texting) for learning and training

  1. Pingback: Making Twitter a more versatile tool « Instructional Design Fusions

  2. Pingback: Giving learners space and time | Instructional Design Fusions

  3. Pingback: The near future of mobile devices and mlearning | Instructional Design Fusions

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