Three New "R's": Building Blocks of M-Learning

13 04 2006

The use of mobile devices for mobile learning may be classified into three new “R’s” (replacing the old Reading, wRiting and ‘Rithmetic).

Our team finds it useful to classify mobile learning opportunities into Record, Recall, and Relate tasks.  This helps us think about ways that learners can use mobile devices to engage in learning: by gathering information; by having information at their fingertips; and by communicating with other people. 


Many mobile devices have a capacity for capturing information that can be recalled at a later stage.  Recording formats include: text entry using a PDA (into, for example, a document or a database), image capture such as with a mobile phone, video capture using miniature cameras, or audio capture, such as using an iPod or audio recorder.  Many mobile devices (such as modern mobile phones and PDAs) can do all of these things.

Some mobile devices can even record remotely, as in the case of moblogging.  Moblogging refers to the ability to send a MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service – a message containing media content such as images, video or sound) to an email or web address or telephone number, and have the content automatically and instantly displayed on a web page.  Moblogging could be uses as a means of publishing to an online visual journal without needing to use a computer.  Potentially, it removes restrictions of storage memory sizes, although it does so at a cost (the cost of transmitting lots of data over a mobile phone data connection).


Recall is the ability to access information using a mobile device.  This includes things like references, databases, e-books, and documents or media stored on either the mobile device itself, or a remote service such as on the Internet. 

Essentially, a mobile device can be used as a means of accessing information when it’s needed, where it’s needed. A database on a PDA could enable a learner to quickly identify a plant or the first-aid response for a particular poison; or to find a passage in a Shakespearean play while on a field trip to the theatre.  Some people refer to this as “Just-In-Time” learning.  Having information at a learner’s fingertips helps them to access knowledge in its most appropriate and immediate context.

Alternatively, mobile ‘recall” may simply provide a learner with a convenient way to carry around a lot of information in a more portable, electronic form, as in the case of e-books: rather than lug around volumes of printed text, electronic texts can be comfortably stored on an e-book reader, PDA, or even an iPod.


“Relate” is a word that infers connectedness between people.  It is in this sense that we apply this word to a mobile learning context; mobile devices can be used as communications tools, over small distances (e.g. ad hoc Bluetooth networking within a classroom) or much larger distances (e.g. mobile phones, MSN messenger in PDAs, or mobile email and internet).

Some unlikely mobile devices can in fact be used as mobile communications tools.  For example, MSN Messenger on PDAs supports “Push-To-Talk” functionality (over a wireless 802.11b/g Internet connection), effectively enabling a PDA (with no mobile phone included) to be used as a voice communication device.  We can expect similar software tools to emerge in platforms like the Sony PSP – a portable games device that supports audio input and output. 

Some technologies will also change the way we think of mobile communications. One relatively new technology is “Push-To-Talk” (over GPRS), which converts a mobile phone into a virtually unlimited range walkie-talkie for around $1 for a day of use (about as costly as replacing AA batteries in a hand-held CB radio with only a 5km range).  Learner groups with access to inexpensive mobile communications technologies will be able to operate in very different ways to those we are accustomed to.

As technology provides us with ever more options to Record, Recall, and Relate, we’ll need to be on the lookout for ways that these can enhance the learning experience for students, or make the task of supporting learners easier for teachers and education professionals.




2 responses

11 07 2006
Mobile Learning » The Fourth R…

[…] While co-authoring a white paper for the “Learning On The Move” OLT Conference, I realised that there is, in fact, a “Fourth R” to add to my previous post on the learner-centric “Three R’s of Mobile Learning“. […]

11 08 2006
Mobile Learning » Four R’s Model and Mobile Learning Activities

[…] Repost of posting to EdNa forums, with other commentary here. A summary of previous theorisings on this model, here and here. […]

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