Models of Mobile Learning: Learner-centric vs Techno-centric

1 08 2006

A number of models of “mobile learning”, or m-learning identify it as a subset of e-learning, including the main Wikipedia entry on the topic. These models focus on how digital convergence and miniaturisation nowallows us to access electronic resources using small, portable devices such as mobile phones, iPods, and PDAs.

The risk to my mind, however, is that educators may view m-learning through the mindset of the devices with which it is now so strongly associated – what I term a”techno-centric” approach to m-learning. The focus becomes providing learners with PDAs or mobile phones, without an understanding of the learning methodologies and activities these devices enable.

In my opinion, the focus should be on the learning process, rather than the learning platform. This position is supported by the statement “it is the learner who is mobile – not the technology” (a reflective outcome of the European 2004 MobiLearn project, cited: Sharples, M. (2005) Towards a theory of mobile learning

One way to understand this paradigm is to realise that mobile learning precedes e-learning by over a decade. E-learning became popular following an increase in the affordability of personal computers in the mid-to-late nineties.

A decade earlier (in the mid-eighties), we were

  • listening to audiobooks and lecture recordings on our cassette walkmans and car tape players,
  • calling up classmates on the phone to ask for help with homework outside of the classroom,
  • taking photos of relevant learning experiences, and
  • writing in portable reflective and visual journals – albeit on paper.

I posit that these mobile, learning activities (and many others) were no less valid than the “mobile learning” activities enabled by digital devices today.

What the new generation of mobile devices facilitate is more convenient, portable, and immediate access to very similar tools. Given this link between “new” mobile learning and “old” teaching practices, we can use our understanding of best-practice teaching and learning to stimulate and derive powerful ideas for education.

I’d like to explore the idea that practical mobile learning activities can be informed by, and derived from, our understanding of teaching and learning theory, mobile learning activities that have not previously been digitally based, and e-learning standards and practices.


Originally posted at the EdNa forum, where the topic of the month is m-learning. Other interested educators are invited to join the forum and participate in the discussions on mobile learning.

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