Constructivism and Mobile Learning

24 05 2006

I’ve recently become very interested in the special strengths of mobile learning that promote Constructivist approaches to learning.

The basic premise of Constructivist learning theory is that learners must actively “build” knowledge and skills, and that understanding comes from these cognitive constructs, rather than from any external sources of data.

Where I see one particular strength of mobile devices in learning is as tools for recording and supporting life-long, “life-style” learning, where a learner’s experiences in and out of the classroom or workplace provide both the stimuli and the evidence for learning. The learner becomes an active “discoverer” of information and the process of their discovery can be recorded and supported by mobile devices that can be conveniently carried with them.

For example, a learner could use a digital camera to record a new process being demonstrated in the workplace; or could use a mobile phone to do the same thing and upload the images with comments to a moblog. A graphic design student could do a similar thing with design influences they see as they’re shopping in a supermarket. These visuals become the basis of a process or learning journal that can be reviewed by other students or a teacher.

Alternatively, a mobile device could be used to access information to facilitate learning. A horticulture student who comes across an interesting plant could try to identify it from a PDA database of local plants, or use wireless networking or WAP to access the Internet for access to a other sources of information. They could possibly even take a photo of the plant with their mobile phone or digital camera and bring it to class or email it to their teacher for more information.

By bringing support for learning into the learner’s personal environment, they could become more empowered to bring their own perspectives into the learning experience, and build new learning from what they already know. This kind of approach could be more engaging, more relevant, and more authentic than other learning strategies, and because many mobile technologies also facilitate communication, there’s an additional layer of collaboration and information exchange that could further enhance learning outcomes.




5 responses

9 06 2006
Jo Mcleay

Just found your blog when you listed it on the Directory of Aussie Edubloggers. I have to say, looking back through your posts, that I really like what you have written here, even though it is apparent that your context is different to mine. (I’m teaching in a normal secondary school classroom, and it’s a bit harder to see using mlearning), but your suggestions and ideas can be adapted of course.

14 06 2006

While I like your take on ‘constructivist’ approaches to learning, I’m concerned that a connection to ‘instructivist’ remains inherent in constructivist approaches. Yes, learners certainly build their learning, but they also develop socially. This premise, to me, presents a stronger case in relation to mobile learning, as it realises the social connectivity of the learning that can potentially occur.

Vygotsky, amongst others, presents a thesis based on the sociocultural aspects of development (albeit child development, but we all start somewhere! 😉 ). In order for the learner to develop and learn they must do so with an awareness of the social and cultural processes (as well as their cognitive processes) in which they live. Where constructivism says we develop our own ‘rules’ and ‘structures’, sociocultural educational theory suggests we cannot develop in such ways that ignore the social structures and rules by which we live. We are ‘enmeshed’ in our culture(s), that is our families, schools, workplaces. So, our cognitive development is derived from and influenced by cultural determinants.

Your post talks more to these aspects than to constructivist principles, as I see it! I wonder if a slight shift in focus to sociocultural connectivity might be worth pursuing?

What we learn and how we learn are inextricably linked to who we are and how we ‘be’ in society. As with the underpinning principles that seem to be driving Web 2.0 and e-Learning 2.0, we preference our identity over the carriage of information, as a way to pursue knowledge and develop as human beings.

Cheers, Marg

14 06 2006

Thanks Marg, for your insight. I’ve heard similar responses ( to my ideas that other social networking tools might promote Constructivist approaches to learning – that Constructivism doesn’t take into account the social context of learning.

Two alternative learning theories were suggested to me as better parallels for social networking tools, and perhaps they also sit better alongside mobile learning. These were Connectivism and Social Constructivism.

George Siemen’s theory of Connectivism ( makes an attempt to model learning and its relationship with information in an age of technology. It recognises the complexity and fluidity of information and that it’s necessary for learning to incorporate a range of opinions and connected resources to form knowledge.

Lev Vygotsky, as you mention, presented the theory of Social Constructivism (, before the Information Age, but his theory resonates better with me than Siemens’. Vygotsky posited that learning was the product of social interactions, and therefore learning could not be isolated from its social context. His ideas resonate strongly with Web 2.0 technologies, as well as mobile technologies that allow learning to become strongly contextualised within social interaction and learner lifestyles.

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