International Association for Mobile Learning

Key Issue: Participants’ awareness of device capabilities, what data is being logged etc. , informed consent and participant voice, training

Scenario: What does ‘informed consent’ really mean?


An educational researcher working with learners’ mobile phones wants to gather research data from a group of learners; informed consent is needed.

This scenario is designed to draw attention to the fact that, with respect to informed consent, there is no abstract or ideal solution, it depends on the context and how people react to be asked for their consent or otherwise. There is unlikely to ever be an overarching recommendation that we can make as to how, we as researchers manage informed consent as it will depend on the cultural context. The generalisation is that there is no generalisation.

Questions to be considered:

  • A researcher plans to ask individual learners for their consent to being involved in his or her project. How might this scenario play out if the setting for the research involved each of the following?
Researcher Learner Context
Contract researcher Military personnel Trials of performance support systems
Foreign international development professional Teachers in remote rural African schools In-service teacher development
Male researcher Female learners Any traditionally gendered society
European researcher School students UK state schools
University professor Gulf States students Traditional Arabic/Islamic culture
Education ministry official Romany children Marginal traveller community
Government official Aborigine/Indigenous adults seeking literacy Minority community with endangered language
  • What, for example, sociocultural pressures might be present? For example, power relationships, social desirability or financial expectations?
  • How can the researcher be sure the participants have understood what they are being asked to consent to? Should there be a second stage consent procedure once the project is underway and more is known?

Other similar situations:

Informed consent becomes an issue in any area of mobile learning research where the participant may not share the researchers’ understanding of the functionality offered by mobile device being studied. Sometimes researchers are surprised by the extent of the personal information offered to them.