Recently, I have been thinking about what it is about flexible, online, and mobile learning that makes it an increasingly essential aspect of today’s teaching and learning practice. What is it about mobile learning that helps educators to teach better, or learners to learn more effectively?
To kick of a new year of teaching – and to perhaps inspire some of you to try out mobile learning this year – these are some of the best reasons I can think of for investigating and supporting the use of mobile learning approaches in both workplace professional development and education and training:
1. Mobile learning approaches can enable teaching and learning to occur at the most appropriate time and/or place. Just as an audio tour at a gallery or museum enables learning to happen right in front of a significant artefact or artwork in a way that cannot be replicated by the best textbook or online resource, so mobile learning approaches can enable students to learn about horticulture at a nursery, or medical students to have ready access to learning materials while at a hospital. In these cases, mobile learning could enable the best learning.
2. Mobile learning approaches allow learners to access learning conveniently and flexibly. For example, students can absorb audio resources on an iPod while jogging, feeding a baby, or doing the ironing, rather than putting aside time or leaving work to attend a lecture or class. Because they can be easily carried about, mobile learning resources can be even more convenient than computer-based resources. While computer-based resources provide access to learning *anytime*, they are often dependant upon a computer, plugged to a wall for power or internet access. Mobile devices enable “anytime, anywhere” access to resources designed for mobile learning use.
3. Mobile literacy is becoming a vital basic work skill. Just as computer and information technology literacy is now considered an essential basic skill, mobile information technology literacy will be considered a vital skill in less than ten years time. It is becoming increasingly important to train and maintain a workforce skilled in using mobile information technology to enhance their work performance and mobility. In a growing number of industries, customers expect workers and professionals to have a mobile phone and be contactable during business hours, even if they are “out in the field”.
4. Many industries and professions use digital mobile devices as
industry standard equipment. To ensure its relevance in such
industries and professions, training must include the use of the same
technologies commonly used in the industry or profession. In the medical profession, PDAs are becoming common as references for the latest pharmaceutical information; many Australian plumbers now send picture messages of problems back to the workplace for advice or quotes, and restaurant orders are recorded by floor staff on PDAs and wirelessly transmitted to the kitchen for faster, better service. If we are training the doctors, nurses, plumbers and waiters of the future, we must equip them the the knowledge and experience they will need to stand shoulder to shoulder with those already in their respective industries.
5. Digital mobile devices can do more, better, and faster than ever before. Tried and proven methods of decades past, (for example, recording , sharing, and playback of audio books and lectures, formerly achieved with cassette tapes), can be achieved with far greater efficiency and power than in the past (e.g. keeping a whole semester’s worth of lecture audio or video recordings on a single iPod for instant revision, anywhere, anytime). The power of state-of-the-art desktop computer less than ten years old can now be held in the palm of your hand, enabling true interactivity and connectivity, and advanced learning techniques and materials.
6. Mobile learning can be the least expensive alternative. Many of the tools that can be used for mobile learning are already in the hands of learners: for example, statistics show that almost everyone in the first world, and a high proportion of people in developing countries, own and use mobile phones. Mobile phones have inherant utility as a means of communicating and sharing information, and often also include functions for recording audio, video, or photographs, viewing documents, playing back sound files and accessing the Internet. Other mobile learning devices such as a recording mp3 player that also doubles as a memory stick for saving work, for example, can be bought cheaply (for less than the price of a textbook). This means that it can be cheaper to provide materials on mobile devices than to produce the same materials in printed form – thousands of pages of electronic text and images can be contained on a USB memory stick, if required.
7. Mobile learning can enable better communications and service. Last year, several teachers at my institute began using an SMS-based service to notify students of cancelled classes and remind them of equipment required for field trips. Students have been incredibly positive about this kind of communication – which could be further extended to allow results to be sent out as they are for the HSC, or to enable students to SMS in for information or learning content in future.
8. Mobile learning can be intrinsically engaging. Mobile phones, media players, GPS devices, and PDAs can make learning fun, interesting and powerful. Learning approaches can be devised to encourage students to discover information about a location, to create their own resources using photographs, audio and video, to share, to collaborate, and to interact.
9. Count on students to push the boundaries of mobile learning. Younger students in particular thrive using digital devices, and they will quickly exceed the technical capabilities of their teachers. Paying attention to the new ways students use mobile devices can help to inform and improve future teaching and learning practices, activities, and resources.
10. Mobile devices support and encourage pedagogically sound teaching and learning practices, such as sharing, collaboration, and “building” of knowledge. For example, mobile phones allow students to not just call each other for help, but to also share learning resources, ideas, images, and documents, and to collaborate on or develop web-based projects such as moblogs. This mobile interaction, sharing, and collaboration can facilitate learning aligned with the principles of socially constructivist pedagogies.
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