Strengths of Mobile Learning

29 06 2006

Many of my posts about Mobile Learning to date have focussed on how Mobile Learning needs to be underpinned by sound pedagogical practice; that it shares many commonalities with computer based learning, and that we can learn a lot about mobile learning by thinking about best practice using other delivery methods, and applying them to the mobile learning paradigm.

While my previous posts tend to have emphasised the commonalities that mobile learning shares with other learning delivery approaches, it’s important to also recognise that it’s not the same; that mobile learning has unique strengths that distinguish it from other delivery modes, and weaknesses that should make educators think carefully about using mobile learning for certain content or contexts.

Mobile devices have the potential to provide services, tools, and opportunities to learners in a convenient, portable, and highly functional form (including graphics, video, text, sound and interactivity).  When learning activities or materials are available to a learner on their mobile phone, for example, chances are it will be available to them almost 24 hours a day. Mobile devices offer functions such as audio, video and photo capture and recall, remote access to information, and interpersonal communication.

These are all definite advantages of adopting a mobile approach to learning.  However, I would like to focus on one particular aspect of mobile learning, which concerns how mobile learning enables a highly contextualised learning experience.  I’ll start with an illustrative example.

How did you study art at school?  I remember that when I was in primary school, the Internet had not yet been invented – computers were beige boxes with black screens and little green letters.  So our art teachers would use textbooks, where there would be a few small colour plates of some of the greatest artworks; classroom videos, where we’d get expert commentary and a more “3D” view of things like sculptures; and slide shows, where a painting could be made really big so we could get a better idea of what the real thing looked like.  In high school, computers began to have more capability, and I imagine the Internet now comprises a significant element of contemporary art education – there are some fantastic online galleries I’m aware of, that have been established for a number of years.

Once a year, however, there would be an Art Excursion.  This is where we’d get a chance to go to an art gallery, and actually be immersed in art; we’d see real masterpieces, at the scale they were intended and created by their makers.  As you can imagine, art viewed like this has a much more significant emotional and sensory impact; all of a sudden, not only were we experiencing the composition of artworks, but also their scale, the texture of the paint, the layering of brushstrokes, the gleam of bronze or steel from different angles.

The contrast I’m illustrating here is the difference between “bound” learning – learning from books or even a desktop computer – and “mobile” learning: learning from being immersed and engaged through all senses with the subject material.  Some critics of mobile learning point out, and correctly so, that mobile devices generally have a small and restrictive interface.  But to me, one of the greatest assets of mobile learning is that it allows you to bring the learning experience into the “real” world – making the whole world an “excursion,” or real-life learning experience that is, in fact, bigger than a book, computer screen or classroom.

To learn about an arboreal ecosystem, while walking in a forest; to have relevant learning materials at your fingertips in a real workplace; or to learn about art in a gallery… this is one of my visions for utilising mobile learning for its strengths.

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2 responses

4 07 2006

Hi Leonard,

I’ve been thinking about the strengths of mobile devices and their potential for teaching and learning and I’m struck by what I see as two key strengths:

1) the enhanced possibility of learning in-situ (think situated learning here), and
2) the nature by which one can connect (think networked and distrubted learning).

I like your example of the art classes which illustrates this situatedness! 🙂

To situate learning is to

create the conditions in which participants will experience the complexity and ambiguity of learning in the real world. Participants will create their own knowledge out of the raw materials of experience, i.e., the relationships with other participants, the activities, the environment cues, and the social organization that the community develops and maintains (Stein 1998, para:2).

If we are to design for such experiences how might it look using mobile devices? We should consider the need to integrate four key areas of content, context, community and participation in order to do so.

On the other hand, I’m not too keen on setting up binary opposites though. ‘Bound’ learning does connote chairs and tables bolted to the classroom floor, but these are differences inherent in the settings, rather than seeing the relational differences I suppose. I guess you could imagine the bounds of learning and teaching as referring to our own restricted thinking (staying within our bounds perhaps?! 😉 )…

What I reckon is worth discussing is the interactional relationship we have to our settings that mobile learning offers, that is indeed inherently different to other versions of e-learning. We can be immersed in a setting (such as your illustration of the art tour) – and still remain embodied in a place and time. E-learning, more generally, usually sees us undertaking cognitive journeys and become disembodied as we do so, while we virtually travel the world via our desktop computer. We pull information to us in this case yet cannot bring much of the physical ‘other’-world to us, so we are dislocated (or perhaps co-located?) from our settings. Imagine being in a dusty Italian art gallery with a 7” x 7” framed work of Da Vinci right in front of you and your mobile device playing you an audio story of the life of Leonardo! That’s quite a different experience than viewing a website with an image of the real artwork and some streaming audio telling you of the man’s life!

I’ll continue with more thinking down the situated and distributed learning line somemore!

cheers, Marg

10 07 2006
Mobile Learning » Mobile Device Supported Situated/Networked Learning

[…] Marg O’Connell, our department’s resident Educational Design guru, has just posted some of her fantastic thoughts on the use of mobile devices to facilitate and support situated and networked learning on her Educational Design blog.  Her post ties in with one of my earlier posts on the strengths of mobile learning, where I focussed on an example of learning art in front of real artworks, supported by on-the-spot mobile learning resources, rather than from a textbook or slideshow.  Marg’s expertise and experience as an educator means she is fantastic at identifying underlying instructional design issues and strategies, and she’s a brilliant person to discuss new ideas with. […]

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