A quick summary of some of the recent research on mobile learning.
Mobile devices are becoming ever more important due in main to their ubiquity. The number of mobile phone subscribers will increase to five billion people this year thanks to the growth of smartphones in developed nations and mobile services in poor nations, according to the United Nations (2010).
Industry predictions are that the sales of smart phones, able to access internet services, will surpass that of ;ordinary’ mobile phones by March, 2011. Added to this is the rapid development and take up of all kinds of different mobile devices, ranging from tablets such as the iPad and book readers such as the Kindle.
Although in an early phase, the potential of these devices for teaching and learning is being recognised (indeed so much is being written, it is hard to keep up to date with the research)
Alan Livingston, writing in Educause Quarterly (2009) says:
“The past decade has witnessed two revolutions in comunication technology. The first — the Internet revolution — has changed everything in higher education. The second — the mobile phone revolution — has changed nothing. We’re vaguely aware that our students have mobile phones (and annoyed when they forget to turn them off in class), but it hasn’t occurred to us that the fact they have these devices might have anything to do with our effort to provide them with educational experiences and services.
HELLO? as our students sometimes say when trying to communicate with someone who’s being particularly obtuse. Mobile phone usage among our students has become virtually universal. Isn’t it time for us to stop ignoring and start taking advantage of this fact?”
The definition and scope of mobile learning is central to the debate over the pedagogic use of such devices.
According to MoLeNet, mobile learning can be broadly defined as “the exploitation of ubiquitous handheld technologies, together with wireless and mobile phone networks, to facilitate, support, enhance and extend the reach of teaching and learning.”
The London Mobile Learning Group (LMLG) have been working on conceptualising pedagogies for mobile learning.
“Mobile learning – as we understand it is not about delivering content to mobile devices but instead about the processes of coming to know and being able to operate successfully in and across, new and ever changing contexts and learning spaces.m And, if it is about understanding and knowing how to utilise our everyday life-worlds as learning spaces. Therefore in case it needs to be stated explicitly, mobile learning is not primarily about technology (Pachler, Bachmair and Cook, 2010, p6)
The London Mobile Learning group have developed the idea of a “social-cultural ecology of mobile devices” based on the triangular relationship between structures, cultural practices ad the agency within which they conceptualise the use of mobile devices.
In this approach they say “learning is understood as the process of coming to know and being able to operate successfully in and across ever changing contexts and learning spaces as well as understanding and knowing how to utilise our everyday life worlds as learning spaces. It is viewed as a process of meaning making through communication / conversation across multiple contexts among people within a triangle of social structures, cultural practices and agency as well as an augmentation of the inner, conceptual and outer semiotic resources – increasingly with and through mobile devices.” (Pachler, 2010)
Socio-semantic tools including language, material artefacts and technology mediate the actions of learners as they seek to augment their conceptual resources.
John Cook (UK) develops the idea of mobile phones as mediating tools within augmented contexts for development further through a re-conceptualisation of Vygotsky’s notion of a zone for proximal development as “responsive situations for development’ in recognition of the socio-cultural, economic and technological conditions of the early 21st century.” (Cook, 2010)
Other writers have looked at mobile devices as offering a pedagogy for the social inclusion of at risk groups or people socially marginalised.. Margrit Boeck (2010) says mobile devices are:
- making learners mobile so that they are able to expand their horizons
- engaging learners on their own ground and addressing them as people who are learners already and as knowledge makers;
- according them full recognition in their position and achievements in their lives; as well as of their position as learners and makers of knowledge. In this context,learning means being mobile, being able to change.
Reporting on a symposium on m-learning, Laurillard (2007) reports Geoff Stead as arguing that mobile learning is important for access, personalisation, engagement and inclusion providing learners with control over learning, ownership, and the ability to demand things, and thus meeting the rights of the learner.
Naeve (2005) points to the ability of mobile learning to support more learner centric interest oriented and knowledge pulling types of learning architectures. The traditional educational architectures are based on teacher-centric, curriculum-oriented, knowledge-push. The new demands are largely concerned with a shift along all of these. (Naeve, 2010).
Diana Laurillard (2007) has highlighted the mobility of digital technologies in providing “opportunities for new forms of learning because they change the nature of the physical relations between teachers, learners, and the objects of learning.” (p1).
Nial Winters (2007) suggests we have to address three mobilities in mobile learning – learners, technology objects, and information – and the objects can be differentiated by being in:
- regional space – 3-dimensional physical space;
- network space – the social space of participants and technologies; or
- fluid space – learners, relations, and the object of learning.
At a practical level there are many discussions, often in social media such as community web sites or blogs suggesting how mobile devices can be used in teaching and learning (see for example Hughes, (2010, a). Hughes (2010, b) also provides a useful summary of the arguments for and against the use of mobile devices in the classroom.
The presenters at a 2006 Kaleidoscope Convergence Workshop on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, entitled ‘Inquiry Learning and Mobile Learning’ collectively offered a wide range of learning activities that could be supported through mobile digital tools and environments (Laurillard, 2007):
- exploring – real physical environments linked to digital guides;
- investigating – real physical environments linked to digital guides;
- discussing – with peers, synchronously or asynchronously, audio or text;
- recording, capturing data – sounds, images, videos, text, locations;
- building, making, modelling – using captured data and digital tools;
- sharing – captured data, digital products of building and modelling;
- testing – the products built, against others’ products, others’ comments or real physical environments;
- adapting – the products developed, in light of feedback from tests or comments; and
- reflecting – guided by digital collaborative software, using shared products, test results, and comments
There is a growing body of research over the use of mobile devices for work based learning. Sharples et al, (2005) say “Just as learning is now regarded as a situated and collaborative activity (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989), occurring wherever people, individually or collectively, have problems to solve or knowledge to share, so mobile networked technology enables people to communicate regardless of their location.” (p5).
Liz Kolb (2010) links the use of technologies for learning to the way we communicate, not just in education but in the world of work: “…many are still shying away from this new literacy (even dismissing it as a negative form of communication). Knowing that text messaging is fast becoming the #1 form of communication reminds me that it will also be an important literacy for the 21st century job force.”
Winters, (2007) points to the potential of mobile devices for learning in the workplace to: enable knowledge building by learners in different contexts. and to enable learners to construct understandings. Mobile technology, he says often changes the pattern of learning and work activity.
Naeve (2010) also points out that mobile devices can link learning to knowledge management.
“At the same time, within most organisations, new demands are being placed on effective and efficient knowledge management. Promoting the creation and sharing of knowledge in order to assure the right person with the right knowledge in the right place at the right time for the right cost is the overall aim of these demands.” (Naeve, 2010).
Attwell (2010) has pointed to the potential of mobile devices for developmental learning in the workplace. This allows the bringing together of learning from different context and domains, including the informal learning which is developed through work processes. He outlines the design of a “Work Based Mobile Learning Environment” (WoMBLE).
Perhaps the greatest impact of mobile devices may be in changing the relationship between institutional or classroom based learning and learning in a wider society. Steve Wheeler, in his presentation on Web 3.0. The Way Forward? (2010) says that whilst in the past we have brought the world into the classroom in the future we will bring the classroom into the world.
Attwell, G. (2010). Work0based mobile learning environments: contributing to a socio-cultural ecology of mobile learning, in Pachler, N. (ed) Mobile learning in the context of transformation. Special Issue of International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning
Boeck, M. (2010). Mobile Learning, digital literacies, information habitus and at risk social groups, in Pachler, N. (ed) Mobile learning in the context of transformation. Special Issue of International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning
Cook, J. (2010). Mobile phones as mediating tools within augmented contexts for development. in Pachler, N. (ed) Mobile learning in the context of transformation. Special Issue of International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning
Kolb, L. (2010). From Toy to Tool: Cell Phones in Learning. http://www.cellphonesinlearning.com/.
Laurillard, D. (2007). Pedagogical forms for mobile learning, in: Pachler, N. (ed) (2007) Mobile learning: towards a research agenda. London: WLE Centre, IoE
Livingston, A. (2009). The Revolution No One Noticed: Mobile Phones and Multimobile Services in Higher Education. Educause Quarterly, 32(1).
Naeve, A. (2010). Opportunistic (l)earning in the mobile knowledge society, in Pachler, N. (ed) Mobile learning in the context of transformation. Special Issue of International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning
Pachler, N., Bachmair, B., & Cook, J. (2010). Mobile Learning. Structures, Agency, Practices. New York USA: Springer.
Pachler, N. (2010). Guest editorial, in Pachler, N. (ed) Mobile learning in the context of transformation. Special Issue of International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning
Sharples, M. Taylor, J. Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a Theory of Mobile Learning
Winters, N. (2007) What is mobile learning? In M. Sharples (Ed.), Big issues in mobile learning (pp. 7–11): LSRI University of Nottingham