One of the least touted features of mobile learning is the amount of accessibility it affords learners. Whilst some, quite rightly, point out the potential for mobile learning to widen the ‘digital divide’ the amount of personalisation devices enable can be liberating for some learners. The fact that learners are using devices they have chosen and are familiar with means they are in a context with which they are comfortable. Although there is no such things as the ‘perfectly’ accessible device, learners are likely to have developed workarounds if they know the device’s shortcomings.
As John Fairhall from the University of Bradford comments, some smartphones such as the Apple iPhone have “amazing accessibility features” built into them, of which should be made a “bigger deal.” However, he points out,
“it’s important that you don’t disadvantage students… unless you’re going to ensure everyone’s got an appropriate mobile device you need to make sure there’s an equivalent PC experience.”
Although the iPhone has a high level of accessibility at the operating system level, it should be noted that this is not necessarily true of other platforms such as Android and Windows 7. In addition, specific apps may not be accessible to some learners as the text-to-speech functionality may have been neglected by the app developer.
There are two important strands to accessibility. The first strand is accessibility as access to learning and resources, with the second is accessibility as being usable by those who have some form of disability. Whilst institutional purchasing of mobile devices has previously been favoured in order to avoid problems around the ‘digital divide’, such policies may not only be financially unsustainable (see cost/benefit) but can also marginalise disabled learners.
Planned appropriately (see strategy), mobile learning experiences can be inclusive and designed to be ‘accessible’ in both the ways outlined above. The issues with the first type of accessibility tend to be cultural and financial, whereas with the second type they are likely to be technical (for example the font cannot be enlarged) or pedagogical (to do with the overall learning design). For advice on the latter, Jisc has a wide range of advice and guidance on designing for more inclusive mobile learning. The model of accessible m-learning asks four important questions:
- Does it support me? (accessible content)
- Can I work it? (accessible interface)
- Do I value it? (cultural capital, using ‘cool tools’)
- Does it engage me? (accessible task)
GoMobile! and Upwardly Mobile resources (2009) provide guidance on a range of inclusion opportunities and accessibility issues specifically related to mobile learning. It also has more specific advice on technologies such as e-books and helping those with disabilities choose a mobile device. In addition, the considerations mentioned in accessibility and mobile and wireless technologies within the innovative practice with e-learning project (2005) remain relevant.