Making M-Learning Mobile, Open, and Ubiquitous

7 03 2007

Stephen Downes responds to my last post discussing the difference between mobile learning and mobile technology:

None of these conditions have anything to do with being mobile (indeed, the definition explicitly excludes mobility as a consideration). And it just happens to favour closed, proprietary platforms that access restricted networks over open or open source platforms that communicate via open protocols on a peer-to-peer or networked basis (in other words – it favours, for no good reason, telephone-like devices over computer-like devices).

This is an interesting interpretation of my “definition,” which reads as follows:

Mobile learning is about the mobility of learning, and not merely the mobility of technology, which is a different thing altogether…

How we achieve that mobility of learning must consider the context of the learning, and not just the use of mobile technology, if it is to achieve its full potential.

This conjecture (which is derived from that of Sharples et al., itself derived from the outcomes of the MobiLearn 2004 Conference), supports the idea that merely making a resource available on mobile technology may not actually constitute mobile learning – any more than putting information in a book or on a web page is learning. Attention to *how* the resource will be used – including social context of that use – supports learner *engagement* with the resource, and facilitates learning processes.

The statement “mobile learning is about the mobility of learning, and not merely the mobility of technology” certainly doesn’t explicitly exclude mobility as a consideration, but rather focusses on the mobility of the learning experience, rather than the portability of the hardware. The alternative definition – focussing on the mobility of the technology, rather than the learning – preferences the highly specced laptop full of resources that is usually switched off in the learner’s bag, over using the connected, communicative and creative device that is always on, in the learner’s hand.

Furthermore, this definition of m-learning certainly doesn’t favour any particular platform, hardware, or proprietary standard; it favours transparency of technology and ubiquity and ease of access to learning – factors, to my mind, that actually support open standards and encourage learner engagement. Placing mobile learning above mobile technology embraces the concept of using the most appropriate medium to achieve the objectives of learning, and making the technology as transparent and free of impediments to that learning as possible. Furthermore, Stephen’s claims of closed-ness and proprietariness in handheld devices don’t really align with current handheld technology. Stephen claims:

“it just happens to favour closed, proprietary platforms that access restricted networks over open or open source platforms that communicate via open protocols on a peer-to-peer or networked basis (in other words – it favours, for no good reason, telephone-like devices over computer-like devices).”

Reading this statement, one might ask what it is that a laptop can do that is more open and less proprietary than what can be achieved using a mobile device? PDAs, mobile phones and even media players can run open-source operating systems such as Linux. They can (and almost without exception, do) run open-source applications written in open-source languages such as Java. They can network and communicate, peer-to-peer, using free, open protocols including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Photographs taken with handheld devices are saved in the ubiquitous JPG format; the most commonly supported audio format by all handheld devices is the non-DRM encumbered MP3 format; and there is a wealth of free and open source software available for all handheld devices.

Indeed, with the growing power, capabilities, and openness of desktop computers now in handheld devices, is it any wonder that companies like Google perceive handheld mobile devices as key drivers of the next stage of our society’s technological growth? And with such a boom of opportunities in the hands of our learners, won’t they expect the same handheld, mobile opportunities for quality, personalisation, access and convenience in their learning?

As educators, we are no longer the “Sage on the Stage,” to dictate to our learners what and how they will learn. Whether we are the “Guide on the Side” or the “Hack at the Back,” it is not in our mandate nor our ability to lead the way in which our learners choose to interact with their world. Rather, we must astutely observe their path and be there along the way to provide guidance and support where opportunity allows.

That opportunity for learning is often at the shops, where a student is buying milk; in the woods, as they jog through the trees; or at their workplace, which may not have computers, but will certainly have plenty of opportunities for learning.

In every such case, learning can be provided via the devices they already have with them – always on, in their pockets. It would be a shame to overlook, or underestimate, such opportunities.

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4 responses

7 03 2007
Making M Learning Mobile, Open, and Ubiquitous | Pilka

[…] read full story […]

7 03 2007
Daniel Costello

Readers of your blog might enjoy my own research on m-learning scenarios in the Korean Higher Education Industry.

http://crossculturalreviews.blogspot.com/2007/03/korean-higher-education-industry.html

8 03 2007
content source » Blog Archive » Making M-Learning Mobile, Open, and Ubiquitous

[…] Original post by Leonard Low […]

9 03 2007
geoff

Hi Leonard

For what it is worth, your descriptions of how (and why) mobile learning works, as well as your suggestions about the places it seems to fit well into learning have an almost exact match with what we are finding in our projects here in the UK.

And yes – we also find that the bits that are most exciting are the non-proprietary, non-technology specific aspects. Connecting. Sharing. Creating. Owning your knowledge.

Geoff

smallprint: I know that at the same time as saying this I work for a place that sells m-learning resources which by their very nature narrow this open-ness to focus down on specific technologies, but for me that is also a valid part of the spectrum of use. That way you can also exploit what specific handsets do well.

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