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Mobile Learning Applications for Refugees: A Systematic Literature Review (2022)

Posted on:
December 1, 2022


The proliferation of mobile devices in everyday life since the end of the 20th century has led to mobile applications for  educational purposes and the creation of the research field of mobile learning. Despite the extended research interest on the effectiveness of this field, there is limited research on mobile learning for various social groups, such as refugees, students with learning difficulties and disabilities. Due to the unprecedented number (over one hundred million) of refugees during the second decade of the 21st century worldwide, many NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and UN (United Nations) initiatives have proposed leveraging mobile learning for refugee educational needs. This research article focuses on mobile learning for refugee education.

Namely, the present systematic literature review results from 2015 to 2020 will give a concrete picture of the recently existing mobile learning apps for refugees and their characteristics. According to the research findings, 15 characteristics were collected out of 14 applications. According to prior literature, areas of agreement or discrepancies in the field were found. Two new -to previous literature-characteristics were revealed: interwoven psychological and educational features and refugees’ cultural features in the apps. The summarization and categorization of the app’s characteristics aim to contribute to mobile learning research and impact game developers, educators, and NGOs according to refugee needs. . The limitations of this study and issues for further exploration will also be discussed in the last sections."

The authors sought to answer two questions about mobile learning for refugees:

  1. What are the recently existing mobile learning apps for refugees? 
  2. What are the characteristics of the recent mobile learning apps for refugees?

Table from report outlining app inclusion and exclusion criteria

Key findings

  • During the search for research articles on mobile learning apps for refugees, the authors came to an exact conclusion in line with the view of Weibert et al. [28 ] and Taftaf and Williams [8]. Notably, from the 3456 sources found in the electronic databases and search engines during 2015–2020, only 14 apps were found to meet the inclusion criteria (see Table 4). The selected articles were read thoroughly, and the mentioned characteristics of the apps were extracted, as shown in Tables 5 and 6. Examples of the mobile apps’ objectives, which were excluded, were: healthcare information or tracking apps, aid-service or informational apps, apps about collecting important info from refugees, already existing for the general public apps and games/apps for raising awareness about refugees in the local population.
  • To answer the first question of our literature review, it was found that many apps focused on early primary education (5/14). In contrast, the rest focused on higher/adults’, primary and secondary education accordingly. The majority of the app content was about language learning (9/14). Analytically, six apps aimed at the host country’s language learning and two at native language learning. The rest of the apps’ content focused on Literacy acquisition, reading, mathematics, engineering, and vocational training skill.
  • As far as the second question of this review is concerned, most of the apps (10/14) were free to download and needed no Internet connection for their use (8/14).
  • The language of the apps was: the refugees’ native language (4/14), the spoken language of refugees’ host country (3/14), and refugees’ native language with one more language (i.e., host country’s language or English) (4/14). Lastly, three multilingual apps (in 3 or more languages) were found.
  • The majority of the apps included visual and audio representations suitable for the age of their target group and a user-friendly interface. However, only a few apps mentioned scaffolding in their use (technology-based scaffolding) as an included characteristic. A total of 5 of the 14 apps provided instructions in refugees’ native language [ 78, 80 ,81 ] or both in English and in refugees’ native language [63 ]. Alternatively, in an app with no scaffolding, the same structure  navigating the app was adopted as a compensatory way [64].
  • Refugees’ cultural backgrounds seemed to be considered in a small number of apps.
  • According to users, most of the apps (11/14) included content relevant to refugees’ needs. Many refugees stated in their feedback that they found the app content helpful for their everyday lives.
  • The majority of the mobile apps for refugees have been focused mainly on teaching their host country’s language.



The authors sought to answer two questions about mobile learning for refugees: What are the recently existing mobile learning apps for refugees? What are the characteristics of the recent mobile learning apps for refugees?