- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
Innovation in education
From eLearning to mLearning
Heather Watson compels all educators to consider the potential of assisted learning using mobile devices over more formal learning delivery methods.
Academic research of mLearning has resulted in various definitions, although the most broadly accepted is the view that it is ‘information and communication technology (ICT) assisted learning, using mobile devices’. Typically, the mobile devices are the new, sophisticated wireless Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), mobile telephones, laptop computers and tablet PCs. To an extent, these activities continue the traditions of distance education, with an increasingly broad range of media from earlier correspondence school mail-outs, audio cassettes, TV, CDs, teleconferences and eLearning with online engagements. Flexible delivery, librarianship, research and other self-directed learning and independent inquiry approaches are all supported by mLearning.
Increasing numbers of students, (called ‘Digital Natives’ by Marc Prensky) engage in complex online and mobile communication interactions, for both social and informal learning activities. This engagement with anywhere, anytime communication, and personalised access has changed student expectations of more formal learning delivery methods.
The creation of sophisticated learning object content and easy access to handheld devices has combined with the convergence of media and increased volume of information to boost the influence of mobile devices. Mobile technologies are more affordable, portable and effective, with Smartphones now having 90 per cent of the capacity of a laptop. This makes mobile delivery a functional option for learning, particularly delivering ‘just in time’ learning, testing and managing learning activities.
Advances in wireless technologies support mobility and flexibility and reduce the cost of installing and maintaining wired infrastructure. Worldwide, education projects, pilots and collaborative activities are identifying and adapting learning to acknowledge the mobile communication behaviours of students.
What are the implications for education?
Many of the issues raised by mLearning reflect those already being addressed by flexible delivery and eLearning. A range of innovative learning projects worldwide are currently identifying, adapting and sharing experience and information to overcome a range of delivery issues. These include addressing the ‘Digital Divide’, delivering effective teacher development and support, and establishing education links to engage mLearning with delivering local and national education priorities.
Kate Anderson, director of research at the Learning and Skills Development Agency, United Kingdom, said in 2005: ‘The concept of learning in a fixed place is being challenged by these new technologies. Although books and printed communication will still be fundamental to learning, to reach certain people—particularly the young who have been put off by traditional education—we need to devise ways of reaching them using modes of communication that are familiar and fun. The mLearning projects demonstrate how speedily the technology and content is moving to enable this to become the normal way of learning for many young people.’
PDAs to support teaching and learning
As early as 2002–03, the UK Department for Education and Skills (DfES) sponsored a handheld computing pilot with 150 teachers at 30 schools. Australia now has several similar activities in varied subject areas and levels of schooling.
Other international projects exploring ideas, innovations and technologies include:
- encouraging disaffected young people (some of whom are homeless) to become involved in learning through games, quizzes and mini soap operas on mobile phones and PDAs (UK)
- using mobile messaging to motivate students and make revision fun (UK)
- having multimedia guides to galleries and museums incorporating movies, images, music, Internet access and email facilities on handheld devices (UK and Italy)
- providing context-aware, location-based services which make learning available anywhere, anytime to anyone
- using mobile collaboration and ad hoc networks to support organisational learning
- incorporating video clips onto handheld devices to deliver training to staff in hospitals (Sweden)
- integrating learning through mobile phones into traditional classroom teaching (Germany)
- learning a foreign language through mobile phones (Finland and UK).
Mobile technologies are already applied in varied education contexts and learning activities, particularly in Europe and the United Kingdom. Their more integrated approach to using mobile, handheld devices has implemented learning applications that include podcasting, blogging, sensors, Global Positioning and various multimedia and collaborative content projects. The increasing convergence of media rich content, including Internet, TV, and learning objects delivered to PDAs and mobile phones, can support a range of teaching and learning strategies and applications. Selecting appropriate components for mobile delivery stimulates the design of a blended learning experience to meet individual student needs.
Ways to take the issue forward in Australia
The Internet does not belong to any single group and, because it is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, it does not lend itself to conventional terrestrial legal and political mechanisms. It is vital, however, to create a sense of trust in the technology for learning purposes and to protect the interests of the relatively powerless and marginalised against the large players who might seek to exploit the digital domain unfairly or to compromise learners’ access to needed information. Individual state authorities, government departments and other authorities have only limited power to ‘control’ the digital domain through traditional means. This increases the importance for Australian education to approach mLearning collaboratively, to leverage developments across sectors to include schools, training, higher education and lifelong learning experiences, enhance delivery strategies and refine its learning applications.
Empowering learners by amplifying their capacities and strengthening the quality and availability of information requires governments to work with businesses, researchers, professional associations, education and training institutions, information providers, communities of interest and others, to provide the best possible conditions for the emergence of a society of learners. Such conditions start with a commitment to the ideal of access to learning, and strong support for the intrinsic value of learning, not only for economic competitiveness but also for personal satisfaction and growth.
Implications for education
Education can benefit from using emerging mobile technologies to deliver learning matched to the increasingly ‘neomillennial’ learning styles of their students. We need to use online technologies and communities to collect, disseminate and refine the currently separate mLearning experiences of education practitioners and researchers. A coordinated approach would stimulate effective and widespread use of innovative mLearning applications for both student learning and for workforce development and professional learning. A managed online community of users, researchers and critics would assist the dissemination of research, classroom experiences, resources and national expertise.
The first step into mLearning seems to be the most important. In a majority of trials and project activities, the organisations have continued to do their own mLearning long after the trials have finished. The key starting point for them on their m-journeys was taking that first step: trying it out, learning from others and defining effective solutions for their learners into their local context.
Prensky, Marc (2001). ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’, On the Horizon, NCB University Press 9, (5), Oct. 2001. See also www.marcprensky.com/writing
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