The key characteristics of a device capable of being used for mobile learning are that it is digital; easily portable; usually owned and controlled by an individual rather than an institution; can access the internet; has multimedia capabilities, and can facilitate a large number of tasks, particularly those related to communication.
Historically, (static) computer-delivered e-learning projects have tended to be constrained by the relatively expensive cost of hardware; the system’s capabilities and bandwidth, and security/ control issues over the system. In contrast, mobile devices tend to be owned by the user/ learner, not the provider of the learning materials.
Ten areas in which mobile learning is proving its worth as a learning delivery platform are:
- Expands the reach of education – extending educational opportunities to learners who may not have access to high-quality schooling, creating communities of learners where they didn’t exist before and reaching far more people than via traditional classroom-based training and learning.
- Facilitates personalized learning – since mobile technologies are highly portable and relatively inexpensive.
- Helps learners with disabilities – with the integration of text-enlargement, voice-transcription, location-aware and text-to-speech technologies, mobile devices can significantly improve the learning of students who have physical disabilities. This applies to both resource-poor and resource-rich communities.
- Provides immediate feedback and assessment – messages sent by mobile devices tend to be fast, reliable, and less expensive than other communication channels, so learners and educators are increasingly using them to facilitate the exchange of information, streamlining assessments and providing learners and teachers with immediate indicators of progress.
- Enables anytime, anywhere learning – since people carry mobile devices with them most of the time, learning can happen at times and in places that were not previously thought to be the preserve of ‘education and learning’.
- Bridges formal and informal learning – using a mobile device, students can access supplementary materials to clarify ideas introduced in a classroom, ensuring that learning which happens inside and outside classrooms is mutually supportive.
- Ensures classroom time is productive – when learners use mobile technology to complete passive tasks, such as listening to a lecture or memorizing information at home, they have more time to discuss ideas, share alternative interpretations, work collaboratively and participate in activities in class. So, seemingly paradoxically, mobile learning can give people increased opportunities to cultivate the complex skills required to work productively with others.
- Supports situated learning – examples include the ‘audio guides’ on offer at museums and art galleries that allow visitors to learn about particular artefacts or works of art while viewing them in three dimensions. Some learning materials developers, including eXact learning solutions, have made similar ‘site-specific’ mobile applications to facilitate learning in disciplines as varied as history and chemistry.
- Enhances seamless learning – via accessing up-to-date information via cloud computing and cloud storage, regardless of the hardware learners use to access that content. Since both learning materials and information about a learner’s progress are stored on remote servers rather than on a single device’s hard drive, students can access their learning material from a number of devices, as and when they need it. Moreover, because computing is increasingly moving to the cloud, devices don’t necessarily need expensive processors to make use of sophisticated software. They merely need to provide a learner a connection to the internet.
- Minimizes educational disruption in disaster areas – mobile devices can help ensure the continuation of education during times of natural or man-made crisis, since mobile infrastructure is usually easier and quicker to repair than other infrastructure.
By Bob Little. For over 20 years, Bob Little has specialised in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning – especially e-learning – and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the UK, Continental Europe, the USA and Australia. You can contact Bob via firstname.lastname@example.org His e-book, ‘Perspectives on Learning Technologies’ (e-book; ASIN: B00A9K1VVS) is available from The Endless Bookcase and from Amazon. It contains over 200 pages of observations on issues in learning technologies, principally for learning & development professionals.