Mobile Devices and Embodied Learning

Winn’s (2003) concept of “Umwelt” was interesting and it had me thinking about how we all “see” the world very differently. As students embody experiences, they make meaning through their interactions. Winn states that “..the uniqueness and variability of Umwelt are not the result of limited sensory capacity, which we saw above is a physiological constraint. Rather, they arise from differences in each individual’s experience of the environment” (p. 12). Stemming from this I consider about our students with learning challenges who have always interacted with their environment in different ways than neuro-typical students and how embodied learning provides opportunities for more inclusive education in all subject areas.

Novak’s article (2014) was thought provoking. Grade three students were instructed in one of 3 types of problem solving strategies:

  1. physical action
  2. a concrete gesture miming that action
  3. an abstract gesture

All three types of strategies aided students in solving problems they were trained to solve, but the abstract gesturing was successful in applying this knowledge to general conditions. This gesturing led to deeper and more flexible learning. I found these results very surprising as an educator who was always told to incorporate the use of concrete manipulatives in math class. I have, however, used gesturing in science class teaching concepts such as the kinetic molecular theory and the movement of molecules and a applied the performing arts through a student-created play based on the digestive system. I am left wondering how we take this knowledge and apply gesturing into the teaching of mathematics? When I use Sphero with students, I have students use their bodies and arms to construct angles so that they understand the directions Sphero will roll on their commands, but I think using gesturing for more complicated tasks would be a challenge. Based on the works of Novack et all (2014) gestures were shown to foster generalization of math concepts – this was done without technology. How much of a role does technology or should technology play in Embodied Learning?

Finally, the article by Baya’a and Dahler (2009) I was not surprised in students’ positive perceptions of using mobile devices for learning mathematics and their role in embodied learning. The researchers found students enjoyed the novelty of using mobile devices especially within a mathematics class and that “mobile devices extend the learning environment in which the students work, and integrate it in real life situations where learning can occur in authentic contexts” (p. 6-7). Mobile devices offer the opportunity for learners to physically interact with the world outside of traditional classrooms. Coming back to students with learning (or physical) disabilities mobile technologies afford opportunities for students to interact with their environment in a ways that may not always be possible through traditional routes. In this study middle school students were using mobile technology in an outdoor education setting, using their own devices. How could we replicate the same positive educational experiences for our students using the hardware in our schools? How do we manage these tools within a school environment? Do we start with the technology and build the experience or the other way around? I was trying to reflect on how I have used mobile technology along the lines of this theory. What experiences do we as educators (and consumers of technology) have using mobile devices from an embodied learning perspective?



Bayaa, N. & Daher, W. (2009). Learning Mathematics in an Authentic Mobile Environment: The Perception of Students. International Journal of Interactive Mobile Technologies, 3, 6-14

Novack, M.A., Congdon, E.L., Hermani-Lopez, N., & Goldin-Meadows, S. (2014). From action to abstraction: Using the hands to learn math. Psychological Science, 25 (4), 903-910.

Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation. Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114.




  1. Thanks for the post Natalie. I’m also surprised at how using abstract gestures seemed to be more effective than concrete manipulatives, though I imagine would depend on various learning styles. I can imagine some learners enjoying activities for the novelty, but having difficulty later on translating back to formal understanding. The readings certainly highlight the ‘physical’ embodiment of cognition, though does manipulating objects on technology provide the same benefits? School hardware will always have limitations (ex. capacity, installation), but technology is moving towards more open source for easier access (ex. PhET simulations are changing from JAVA to HTML). So I don’t know if technology drives activity or vice versa, but it certain provides the tools to enable activity that is otherwise impossible.


  2. Hi Natalie.
    I am all for mobile devices in the classroom. This summer I am teaching an Intensive English course to intermediate students from China and Korea. One student asked if he could use his phone to translate a word from Chinese to English to help another student understand. I was amazed to see how they were using technology to support their learning of another language. I have also found that using gestures when teaching English has helped students remember vocabulary. I hadn’t realized this until I read the articles. Thanks for your post.

  3. I am left wondering how we take this knowledge and apply gesturing into the teaching of mathematics? Based on the works of Novack et all (2014) gestures were shown to foster generalization of math concepts – this was done without technology. How much of a role does technology or should technology play in Embodied Learning?

    Great post Natalie. I was left pondering similar questions. This feels very new and judging from the responses to this weeks readings, many of us feel this way. Not to answer a question with a question but I am left struggling with how you add gesturing to 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication but at the same time my interest is piqued if there is another way to support students learning. It feels like you need to gather some other teachers that are interested in this idea, do some research/readings, and try it in the classroom. I also wonder if the students generated their own gestures if it would still work too? So many thoughts. Sarah

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