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Developing mobile applications to support My Learning Journey

January 25th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

A quick post about mobile devices and work based learning – which I know I have been going on about a lot lately.

So far most of the work on mobile learning at a practical level seems to me to fit into four categories:

  • applications designed to provide information for students – about their courses, lecture times, venues, transport information, buildings etc.
  • what might be called learning objects – small apps designed to support learning about a particular topic or issue – often using multi media
  • apps or projects aiming to improve communication between learners or between learners and teachers
  • information – revision guides etc. designing to promote mobile access to resources

There is nothing wrong about any of these and they all may be useful in pushing mobile learning forward. But I think they may fail to really extend forward ideas about tecahing and learning 0 they are all essentially repackaging existing elearning applications for mobile devices.

The big potential I see for mobile devices is in their affordances of being always on – or almost always on, in the fact that we already accept the idea of the frequent but sporadic use of the devices for all kinds of activities such as taking photos and messaging – as well as making telephone calls – and that they are portable.

in other words – taking learning support to areas it has not been taken to before. And prime amongst these is teh workplace. It is little coincidence that many of the main take-up areas for elearning are for those occupations which involve regular use of computers e.g in ICT occupations, in marketing and management etc. Ans one of the main issues in developing elearning for vocational or occupational learning is the contextual nature of such learning and the high cost of producing specific learnng materials for relatively low numbers of learners. Vocational students often wish for learning materials to be in their own language, thus exacerbating the problem of small numbers of users for specific occupations.

It is also interesting to note that despite many researchers pointing to the importance of reflection as a key pedagogic tool, there has been limited pedagogic and technical development to facilitate such an approach.

The use of mobile devices can overcome this. They can be used in specific contexts of location, tasks, experince, colleagues and allow ready means of reflection through the use of photographs, video, text and audio.

If linked up to a server based ‘portfolio’ this could form an essential part of a Personal Learning Environment. Furthermore the learning materials become the entire work environment, rather than custom built applications. And tools such as Google Goggles could easily be incorporated (although I have to say it seems more alphe than beta ot me – I havent managed to get it to recognise a single object so far!).

I am mush taken with a free Android Ap called Ontheroad. It doesn’t do much. It is designed its ays for you to share your adventures on the road You have to set up a free account on a web site. You can publish active trips (I am going to try to make one this week). You can add articles including your position by GPS, you can add text, multimedia, dates and choose which trip to publish it to though the telephone network or by SMS. You can browse existing articles and look at comments. You can add media including photos already on your gallery. Or you can record a video (audio support seems limited).

And it is all synced through a server. It would not take much to refocus this app to a Learning Journey, rather than a road trip. And it could be incredibly powerful in terms of work based learning.

So I do not see a great technical challenge. the bigger challenge is in developing a pedagogic approach which incorporates informal learning in the workplace and such a portfolio based on practice within formal approaches ot education and training.

If you are interested in working with me to develop these technologies and ideas please get in touch.

5 Responses to “Developing mobile applications to support My Learning Journey”

  1. Paul Clothier says:

    Nice post. I very much agree with your comment about, “…they are all essentially repackaging existing elearning applications for mobile devices.” One thing I am concerned about and which I am already seeing evidence of is the “porting” of eLearning content to a mobile device. We went through the same thing when eLearning appeared – people would try to move what they knew (instructor-led-training) to an online environment instead of embracing the characteristics of the new medium. We will fail trying to promote the virtues of mLearning if we do the same again. We need to look at the unique characteristics of mobile content and mobile devices and create learning innovations that emerge from these.

    I think we are still struggling with how to best use a mobile device for learning. I believe the possibilities are many and varied. We need more creativity than simply taking what we know and shaping it so it fits on a mobile device.

  2. There is much to ponder here. “Portable” and “always on” are indeed key affordances. Another one which I think may be important is “it knows where it is”. This may be via the cellphone network, or via GPS. As well as obvious navigational possibilities, this raises some exciting possibilities for guided instruction at a distance, for recording journeys via multimedia (for reflection or accreditation), and also perhaps for augmented reality. I am looking forward to experimenting with some of this myself, when I find some time to do it….

  3. Frances Bell says:

    I like your ideas here Grahame of using mobile devices for recording of evidence, and can see that OnTheRoad would work for some students. I would go further though and suggest that a real attraction of mobile internet devices is their ability to publish (say tagged) media objects (evidence of activity or outcome of research) that could be later organised in a desktop package that hoovered up the tagged objects for organising in a reflective activity. What attracts me about that is that the reflective activity could be done in a variety of apps including standard desktop ones – getting away from the dreaded time-limited single provider portfolio.
    I carry around a small camera and my iphone, and choose to take photographs with the iphone when I want to use the published photo immediately or later that day.

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