FrontlineSMS let users send, receive and manage SMS over a mobile network.

Recently I shared some ideas w/Josh & Ken about a potential module for FrontlineSMS that would focus on application in education & training settings. I threw out the name "FrontlineSMS:Learn," inspired by the FrontlineSMS:Medic & FrontlineSMS:Credit monikers. Here is some of the functionality that, based on my experience, I thought might be useful:

Short term:
- Quizzes/Assessments
- Polling w/chart visualization (for real-time use in the classroom)
- Learning reinforcement messages (scheduled or real-time)
- Virtual study groups (think discussion group or bulletin board)
- Event notifications/reminders (exams, holidays, conferences, etc)

Integration w/LMS (e.g. Moodle)

What do folks think? Would this be useful functionality for an education &/or training setting? What would you remove from the list? What would you modify? What would you add?

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Replies to This Discussion

This is a very exciting thread, James! I'm really looking forward to seeing responses from the community.

I love this vision. I'm currently working on how to use mobile phones to make available our social venture development curriculum to support the ideas of grassroots women change agents. How can we transmit a greater level of content - even short (interactive) lessons over a series of text messages, that would help women step-by-step plan a venture to advance social change in their rural communities? Is instead the best use of such an application reinforcement of learning content delivered in person or disseminated in other ways?

Gretchen Wallace
Global Grassroots
Hey James

Great to see some progress on this! I've pointed a couple of people this way, so you'll likely get some interest on/off Forum. Keep us posted on how things develop.

Thanks for spreading the word & connecting us, Ken! :)
Thanks for the thoughts, Gretchen!

There are obvious challenges to transmitting learning content via SMS. I've included reinforcement in the initial list of functionality only because it's easier to do than deliver new content. That being said, guidelines, checklists, (relatively linear) decision algorithms, etc could easily be delivered in a series of messages assuming there wasn't much need for explanation or elaboration. Once FLSMS gets MMS capabilites (it's coming, right?) then the opportunities would be even greater as long as your learners had phones that were MMS-capable.

BTW, I like how you mentioned content being "disseminated in other ways" (i.e. not necessarily in-person). That opens possibilities for blending the the use of SMS/MMS with printed materials, radio, TV, Talking Books and other media/channels. The trick is to find w/in your context the most appropriate tools & approaches.

What do you think?
Hi Everyone. I guess I'm quite well placed to describe 'mobile learning' globally and could briefly say that it's matured and consolidated over the last seven or eight years (see the reviews by Cobcroft, 2006, and Naismith et al, 2004).

It now has a created peer-reviewed academic journal, the International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning and a professional body, the International Association for Mobile Learning. It also has a vibrant on-line community, much of it logging onto the Handheld Learning forum ( and a critical mass of prestigious international conferences such as IADIS Mobile Learning in Europe, IEEE’s WMTE workshop in Asia Pacific and Handheld Learning in Great Britain. Mobile learning has gained clarity about the significant issues (see for example Sharples 2006, defining the ‘big issues’) and a more sharply defined research agenda (see for example, Arnedillo-Sánchez et al, 2007).

There have been ongoing efforts in this period to conceptualise and define mobile learning (for example, Wali et al, 2008; Traxler, 2008) and relate it to the theorising of ‘conventional’ e-learning (for example, Laurillard, 2007). There are also some key emerging working texts (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2005; Metcalf, 2006; JISC, 2005) and some emerging guidelines (see, for example, Vavoula et al 2004).

Perhaps most importantly however, in this period the mobile learning community has demonstrated that it can:
•Take learning to individuals, communities and countries that were previously too remote, socially or geographically, for other educational initiatives. The m-learning project ( ) in Europe, the MoLeNET programme in England and the MobilED project in South Africa ( are some of the best examples.
•Enhance and enrich the concept and activity of learning, beyond earlier conceptions of learning. The MOBILearn project in Europe ( was a good example of this achievement.

(can provide refs, no problem)

My experience in 'development' contexts has been too much focus on the 'deficit' model implied by the first of those two acheivements and not enough on the second, which is becoming increasingly affordable & sustainable for people and communities at the bottom of various socio-ecomonic pyramids around the world.
Hi all,

John's work in mobile learning is very inspirational, so I'll keep this brief

I am looking at a mini-project which is just looking at connecting SMS with web discussions - doesn't have to be an LMS like Moodle or even Ning, one of the areas where I've recently connected with some people is using open source technologies such as Elgg. They have experimented with integrating SMS into Elgg. Looking at some other options too beyond twitter if possible, seeing what can do with RSS generally.

Would be very happy to post in more detail soon too, but just wanted to say that not necessarily looking at under the 'education' umbrella for this, i.e. outside of schools, colleges, universities etc

James, re. your short-term list:

One of the more popular apps/services last summer at ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education) in DC was PollEverywhere, a simple text message voting application. They're no longer free, alas, but I mention this company because they were providing free access to a simple tool that could be used for assessment, polls, charts, feedback/communications, etc. So despite fancy/costly whiteboards and T1's in some US schools, teachers (and students) were excited about basic tools (SMS) that helped achieve simple learning goals. There is promise here.

Of course, there are hurdles: cost(s), incentive, learning/teaching ethos, language, gender, culture, etc. I am sure Ken, John Traxler, Steve Vosloo, MILLEE/Mat Kam,, and many, many others, have good insights on those myriad complexities. A discussion that begins to investigate these topics would be immensely valuable.

Let me know how I can help.

Hi James, I love this vision also. I have done some m-learning and reminder type mini projects before with disadvantaged young people in Australia. I'd be happy to contribute any way I can. I was also thinking.

FrontlineSMS:Mentors would be a useful module for those who are small business owners or entreprenours to be able to join a group and access mentoring from successful business people worldwide.

I'm just about to launch a bully reporting tool using Frontline SMS. FrontlineSMS:Bullyproof

Check it out here:


P.S Might be worth contacting for a chat.
Richard, the polling w/charts item on the list was directly inspired by my own personal experience with PollEverywhere :) It has been very popular with people & can be a deceptively powerful tool for formative assessment. Glad you agree. Please feel free to add other thoughts as they occur to you!

And I'm hoping we can coax some of the folks you mentioned over here to share some ideas, too...
Thanks for the input, John! So, how might we begin to use a tool like FrontlineSMS as a basis for a new, mobile-enabled approach to learning? Any thoughts about specific functionality that could help us move in that direction would be greatly appreciated :)
Love the Bullyproof application :) Looking forward to hearing about impact...


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