Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mobile Learning

by Susan Codone

Mobile learning is a fast-growing phenomenon commensurate with the pace of mobile phone growth and other communication devices with Internet connectivity.  Originally, distance learning occupied this landscape, then e-learning, and now mobile learning is coming as a worthy successor.  Wikipedia defines mobile learning, or M-Learning, as any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies.

Yi-Shun Wang, Ming-Cheng Wu, and Hsiu-Yuan-Wang, writing in Investigating the Determinants and Age and Gender Differences in the Acceptance of Mobile Learning (British Journal of Educational Technology, 2009), say that mobile learning is the delivery of learning to students anytime and anywhere through the use of wireless Internet and mobile devices, such as mobile phones, PDA's, smartphones, digital audio players, handheld computers, MP3 players, and notebooks.  Wikipedia states that the term covers "portable learning" that is accessible from virtually anywhere; it is also collaborative in nature since sharing is almost instantaneous among learners using the same content. Instant feedback is another characteristic.

The Great Divide in Mobile Learning
Sanjaya Mishra, in a 2009 review of Giasemi Vavoula's book Researching Mobile Learning (British Journal of Educational Technology, 2010) writes that mobile technology can help us achieve the last mile of access to the Net and to a vast range of learning resources in digital form, and create digital bridges for access to education.  In contrast, David Caverly, Anne Ward, and Michael Caverly, in TechTalk: Mobile Learning and Access, write that there is a serious digital divide with mobile technology.  As the graphic shows, there is disparity between access to resources and the literacy required for using mobile technology.  But, this kind of gap existed when distance learning began and then when e-learning began to take over the marketplace.  Given time for the technology to develop and for users to find their way, this divide will shrink as the others did in the past.

Caverly, Ward, and Caverly report Morgan Stanley's research that 60% of the world's population had access to a mobile phone in 2008.  They go on to say that Internet-connected mobile phones are the primary means of wireless access for 68% of English-speaking Hispanics  and 65% of African Americans.  By 2020, Morgan Stanley predicts that mobile phones will be the primary connectivity device for the Internet, surpassing desktop and laptop computers.

Mobile Learning in Real Life
So now that we know mobile learning is growing fast, what's an example of how it works in real life?  Consider this scenario, adapted loosely from Are You Ready for Mobile Learning by EDUCAUSE.  On the way to work, a student listens to a podcast of his professor's lecture on his mobile phone, which also serves as an MP3 player.  When he arrives, he receives a text message on his phone from a fellow student who has questions about the class.  He replies, and realizes she is currently copying the text of the instructor's lecture off the course website to her USB drive to plug into her tablet computer.  They text each other about the question, then text the professor, who calls the student to answer the question.  Meanwhile, the first student Googles a term from the lecture on his mobile phone while talking to the professor.  He texts the other student with the answer, and then goes inside to start his day.  This is learning, but via mobile technology, always on the move.

Mobile Learning Pedagogy
The pedagogy for mobile learning is a bit different from that of the classroom.  Mobile learning requires that the professor use almost any means of pushing content out to learners and allow the learner to easily communicate with him and other classmates.  There no longer is one place for learners to go to get content or to be taught; multiple outlets for content exist so that learners can acquire it using the technologies that pace their lives.

There are two main considerations, pedagogically speaking, in mobile learning: content and communication.  Course content may be posted on a course website, perhaps hosted by the university or an instructor, or it might reside inside a learning management system, or LMS, that learners can reach online.  Sometimes mobile content may be placed inside a social networking program like Facebook -- a class could have a Facebook group, and classmembers can contact each other and the instructor within that group.  Or, content may be aggregated into an audio or video podcast, hosted on a website, in an LMS, or even iTunes.

Once the content is available via multiple outlets, the communication component kicks in.  The instructor may use a web meeting program like Webex with voice over Internet protocol and video feeds so that all learners can talk, be seen, and share documents and websites with the class.  Or, Facebook may be used for class communication.  Text messaging can be used to take attendance or do "exit slips" where learners text a summary of what they learned to the instructor.  Email and telephone are also used for communication.  So, there is a constant loop of content being pushed out to learners and communication via various devices and services to tie in learners to class activities.  Just as e-learning took learning away from the classroom, mobile learning is taking learning away from a fixed location.  The goal of mobile learning is to let learners interact with course resources while away from their normal place of learning, like the classroom or their desktop computer.

Limitations of Mobile Learning
There are some limitations to mobile learning.  Connectivity is sometimes a challenge; in addition, mobile phone screens are small, and they don't usually have much memory or processing power.  Input is sometimes slow on tiny keyboards, and limited memory and battery life sometimes force users to stop using technology for a time.   But since the key to mobile learning is using multiple devices to access course content, learners can usually find a way to maximize their resources.

Mobile learning is the newest and most exciting development in learning. By providing so many options for both learners and instructors, mobile learning greatly expands the canvas on which we teach and learn.  It's a foregone conclusion that it will continue to grow as technology develops more connected devices.  Morgan Stanley may be right; by 2020, phones may indeed be the most common way to connect to the Internet.  It will be interesting to see where mobile learning takes higher education in the next ten years.

Recommended Reading
1.  Are You Ready for Mobile Learning?  By EDUCAUSE
2.  International Association for Mobile Learning


  1. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your post seem to be running off
    the screen in Firefox. I'm not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I figured I'd
    post to let you know. The design and style look great though!
    Hope you get the issue fixed soon. Many thanks

    Also visit my website: barcode reader symbol

  2. I am curious to find out what blog platform you're working with? I'm experiencing some small
    security problems with my latest website and I would like to find something more
    secure. Do you have any solutions?

    Look at my web blog bacode rental
    Also see my website - bacode rental