mobile learning, distance education, handheld device, ergonomics, mobile device


Distance education is the fastest growing educational modality because of advances information technology has made over the past 25 years. Adult learners have become the fastest growing population in distance education. Adult learners, through technical tools and devices they use on the job, have become more digitally literate and mobile, making the ability to access class work on the go a necessity. Mobile learning or m-learning (learning that uses wireless, portable, mobile computing, and communication devices) is becoming an extension of distance learning, providing a channel for students to learn, communicate, and access educational material outside the traditional classroom environment. For adult learners, this modality allows them to take advantage of accessing material using mobile devices they use for job related activities. Despite the portability and readiness to information mobile devices provide its users, cognitive and physical ergonomic issues may impact learner performance. These issues may stem from information overload and physical discomfort from extended use of the mobile device which may negatively affect the overall success and satisfaction of m-learning environments. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between physical ergonomic discomfort, subjective workload, physiological response, and the impact on student performance while using mobile technology to read course material. Activity Theory was used as the theoretical foundation that guided the study. Eighty-four research participants, all over the age of 25, read a passage using one of two distance education modalities: desktop computer or mobile device. While reading the passage, one of three task load levels was imposed on participants: none, low or high. Each participant endured three trials, repeating the same task for each trial. After each trial, participants completed an achievement test and the NASA-TLX assessment. The results from this study provided evidence that mobile learning technologies with increased levels of task load introduced physical ergonomic discomfort and affected perceptions of mental workload in participants. The study also provided evidence that mobile learning technologies with increased levels of task load affected the performance (reading and learning) of participants. Study results provided insight into capabilities and limitations of students in their use of mobile devices for educational purposes. The limitations identified need to be further examined to aid in building successful m-learning environments with the goal of mobile device usage not affecting student performance.


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Graduation Date



McCauley-Bush, Pamela


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Industrial Engineering and Management Systems

Degree Program

Industrial Engineering








Release Date

May 2009

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)