The Future of M-Learning

30 08 2006

Mobile learning has existed as long as learning itself: a book is a mobile learning resource, and so is a cassette walkman. Both of these tools enable a learner to take information resources with them to learn mobile-ly. And a cassette walkman is just as valid a source of audio learning as an iPod. Sure, it’s not as sexy, maybe; but by the time the sound reaches my ears from either device, it’s essentially the same thing.

What differentiates the current crop of mobile tools (such as mobile phones, PDAs, and iPods) is that they support a digital, connected learning environment, providing a compactness and convenience of information, a remote and instant access to a range of people and resources, and an ability to process data, that was never previously possible.

This translates to education opportunities that have previously never been possible – rather than pre-made resources, which must be collected and carried by a learner prior to “going mobile,” mobile learners can now get information remotely on demand; record information from wherever they are in a number of formats; communicate with other people such as other learners or teachers; and use the processing power in their pockets to achieve tasks they could not otherwise accomplish unassisted.

These new opportunities provide the basis of my learner-centric “Four R’s model” of mobile learning activities. When viewed through this activity model, it’s clear that these learner interactions will always be useful adjuncts to teaching and learning practices; indeed, Stephen Downes has previously commented on how simply “teaching and learning” these activity classifications seem. It’s because of the inherent usefulness of these activities that I don’t see them as a fad; rather, as standards become further established, and DIY content tools are made available, I believe mobile digital devices will become increasingly affordable, accessible, and predictable platforms for facilitating learning.

My ultimate vision for m-learning is a personal, connected mobile device that provides a full range of connected information and communications services, providing a learner with contextualised, situated learning opportunities through a real-world interface (whether this is achieved through a symbology such as 2D Barcodes, or through image recognition as hypothesised by Stephen Downes).

The Age reported in 2005 that 8 million phones were sold in Australia in 2004, and that the vast majority of mobile phones sold are equipped with built-in cameras. That’s close to one new mobile phone sold in 2004 for every two people in Australia. It adds that 13.7 million MMS messages were sent in the 12 months leading up to July 2004 – the figure two years later would be considerably higher, as analysis of the Net Gen demographic points to instant messaging (such as SMS and MMS) becoming their preferred option for communication, validating IDC Market research cited in this paper on mobile learning in higher education (citing Chaisatien, W. (2004). Australian cellular 2004–2008 forecast and analysis: Upwardly mobile. IDC Market Analysis, #AU202116L, Vol. 1.).

All of these indicators point to camera phones, and MMS, being readily available for the majority of adult learners within a relatively short period of time – particularly among younger attendees. I believe that there is far better penetration of mobile technologies amongst students than among teachers – if educators want to capitalise on the tools available to students, we’ll need to savvy up quickly!

In a world where sources of information are as plentiful as versions of “the truth”, I envisage the ability to communicate with trusted peers and mentors as vital. In a world where the amount of new technical information currently doubles every two years, and by 2010 will double every 72 hours, I see a future where imagination will be the new intelligence: where the ability to quickly adapt to change, and to connect with the most up-to-date information will be more important than what we can memorise and repeat, and the ability to do this anywhere will be essential. Even now, resisting change is like holding your breath: if you succeed, you die.

I see a future of learning that is mobile, personal and connected; and in which the real world and real people provide the context and validation of new learning experiences and rapidly evolving opportunities.

(Abridged repost of this post in EdNa forums).

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3 responses

31 08 2006
Matthew Nehrling

You make a good point that I see quite often overlooked in conference- mLearning is not a new issue, it has been around as long as man could walk. The difference now is that we truly can segment portability with learning styles.

The modern incarnation of mLearning also brings us the advancement of having truly portable interactive learning, versus in the past, mLearning (albeit not named as such) was truly only informational- not interactive.

4 09 2006
Mobile Learning » The next wave is where it gets interesting…

[…] As well as heralding new possibilities, pressure from new and better technologies should also improve the cost and availability of older mobile technologies – making access to connected, digital mobile learning more affordable and accessible to all.  Altogether, it’s a future for m-learning worth looking forward to! […]

30 11 2007
» A Brief History of Learning With Mobile Computers Mobile Learning

[…] integrated, connected, computers supporting constructivist learning activities. As I’ve previously blogged, they can provide a digital, connected learning environment, offering compactness and convenience […]

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