There are two dominant approaches that seem to be adopted by educators with regards to the issue of what hardware platform should be used for delivering m-learning.
One strand of thinking is to supply any required hardware as loaned or supplied, standard-issue equipment – such as a class set of PDAs, all of uniform specification. This helps to provide a reliable experience for learners, simplifies development and support, and to reduces such potential inhibitors to learner engagement as compatibility problems caused by disparate hardware platforms.
To remove such potential barriers to the use and sharing of learning materials is an attractive proposition for educators; but it comes at a cost. There is obviously the financial cost of acquiring a uniform set of mobile devices, but perhaps more problematically, there is a potential cost in the amount of usage the provided devices will get – generally limited to short periods when the devices are temporarily issued, or to short periods when the devices are carried by learners, which will be carried less preferentially than those mobile devices chosen by, and personalised by, the learners themselves. Furthermore, it cannot be assumed that the uniformity of equipment used within a small scope, such as a classroom, will extend further – to the scope of a whole institution, or multiple institutions – to enable sharing of mobile learning resources throughout an organisation or between organisations or jurisdictions.
Thus, resources created for use for a single hardware specification may, in the long term, inhibit the use and sharing of those resources more widely. The opposing philosophy is to develop learning opportunities that are intended to be used on equipment already used by learners – the mobile phones already in their pockets, or the portable media players they already have in their backpacks. While this requires development of mobile learning opportunities to consider a full range of potential learning delivery platforms, the benefits of such an approach include zero cost of hardware by both organisation and learner; the utilisation of devices for learning which learners are already used to operating and carrying with them, often ubiquitously; the removal of a need to possibly carry separate, duplicated, mobile devices to achieve hardware standardisation; and the ability of resources so developed to be inherently more shareable within an organisation as well as between them.
To properly address issues of cross-platform compatibility and ease-of-use that may be caused by disparities in capabilities and specifications between the digital devices used by learners, it’s vital to consider how resources may be developed to best support cross-platform use and sharing. This is where the documentation of standards, adopted across a number of organisations, may be a useful reference for developers of mobile learning content.
A range of suggested standards for M-Learning in Australia will be published here for public comment shortly. Having other educators and mobilists review the suggestions should help to refine those standards and ensure their utility.
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