Limelight on Mobile Learning: Integrating Education and Innovation

Article excerpt

Mobile apps and tablets have assumed a prominent position in the landscape of technology use in education and training, as anticipated by the EDUCAUSE 2012 Horizon Report. With mobile phone subscriptions totalling around six billion, and predictions that sales of tablets and e-book readers will increase substantially as prices continue to fall, mobile devices are rightly seen as a compelling means of solving pressing global problems in education. Numerous successes have already been recorded.

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However, concurrently, the rise of social, round-the-clock Internet activity supporting voluntary, loosely organized, informal learning is posing significant challenges for traditional classroom-based education as well as distance teaching. In the en of Web 2.0, an individual's blog post or shared video can generate debate and commentary akin to a successful classroom discussion. At the other end of the scale, astonishing numbers of people registering for massive open online courses (MOOCs) testify to the growing popularity of free, semiformal learning environments that afford good learning materials, a degree of social interaction, and tolerance of intermittent participation due to varying interests and constraints. Use of mobile technologies bolsters this phenomenon.

It is widely known that mobile learning expands access, but less well understood is that it also provides additional channels for communication and collaboration, facilities for context-inspired content creation, location-specific learning, and augmentation of a person's surroundings through extra layers of visual and audio information automatically triggered or delivered on demand. Mobile devices will soon be capable of supporting learners intelligently across study locations and contexts of use, breaking down barriers between formal and informal learning. This article alerts readers to the impacts that these developments are having on traditional models of teaching, since they call into question the role of schools and universities as fixed locations imparting largely static knowledge.

Conveniently, mobile access to educational resources, together with opportunities to join new networks and conversations, has created an irresistible combination. This is a winning formula, even without the latest innovations and advancements. As highlighted in the recent UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning, use of mobile phones and other mobile devices can have a positive impact on education by facilitating student learning, helping teachers do their job more effectively, and enabling the development of education systems across the globe. In the case of people who have been subject to serious educational neglect, the benefits of mobile learning can be discerned within a short space of time. The Cambridge International Development Report, Upgrading Development, highlights how mobile technologies can serve those who have been previously excluded from education, due to poverty or disability.

Mobile learning now caters to blind learners, as well as those with other visual impairments. It has been shown to work on a country-wide scale, as well as for individuals. In Bangladesh, the English in Action development project has been deploying mobile technologies as a means of improving communicative English language skills in 25 million people. In conflict zones, mobile devices provide an essential alternative means of sustaining education. From far-sighted digital learning initiatives in Asia, South America and Africa, to flexible and inclusive learning solutions in Australia, via mobile social media in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and underpinned by strong research and development efforts in Europe, mobile learning has been extending its reach to many locations on the globe.

Across the spectrum of education types and levels, mobile learning pedagogy has produced a multitude of examples and cases showing improvements in learning, and greater engagement on the part of students. …