About this guide
There are a number of myths surrounding mobile learning. Some have a basis in fact but most demonstrate a fear of the known.
Here are 10 myths about mobile learning that can be dismissed with an explanation as to why such statements are false:
1. Mobile devices have screens too small to allow for learning
Whilst mobile phones do not have screens as large as desktop computers, ‘mobile devices’ also include laptops and devices such as e-book readers. These screens are certainly large enough.
Mobile devices with smaller screens are often used in different ways from more fixed technologies and are heavily context-aware. Touchscreens, for example, can allow for text input in non-traditional ways and users can also use video, audio and GPS to input data.
2. There are no consistent standards for mobile learning
At the turn of the century and for a few years afterward, Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) was seen as the de facto standard for e-learning products.
With the development of HTML5, CSS3 and other frameworks, along with the various app stores (iOS, Android, BlackBerry), however, existing content is becoming a lot more mobile-friendly.
3. Mobile devices are unsuitable for learning as they are a distraction
Distraction is nothing new to learning, with the scenery beyond the classroom window being a perennial source of fascination to students.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘distraction’ as “the drawing away (of the mind or thoughts) from one point or course to another; diversion of the mind or attention.” Whilst it is true that mobile devices with notification features turned on can be detrimental to sustained concentration, the fault lies not in the mobile device but in its use.
The appropriate use of technology in a given context is a socially-negotiated process.
Of course, the best way to avoid distraction of any sort is to, as one MoLeNET project report stated:
'give the learners something interesting to do in the first place.'
4. Mobile learning is just ‘learning on the move’
Mobile learning may be about the mobility of the learner, but this is to do with moving across contexts rather than accessing content whilst being on the move. This could be in a context that suits the individual learner, for example on public transport, waiting in a queue, or sitting in a favourite chair at home. Alternatively, it could be in a context more suitable and appropriate for learning.
For example, Arboriculture students at Myerscough College use digital cameras up in the tree-tops to explain where they would cut diseased or damaged limbs. This could be carried out in real-time by using their mobile phones for formative assessment meaning they would not repeatedly have to descend and ascend to check with lecturers.
5. Students with disabilities cannot use mobile devices for learning
It’s a little-known fact that Apple’s iOS phones and tablets have some of the most consistent, rigorous accessibility features ever seen on a mobile device. In fact, if an app does not meet core accessibility guidelines, it is not approved for entry into the iOS store (see accessibility section for further discussion).
Although this is less true of other app stores, the ability for learners to personalise their device, to have it constantly set up for their use, removes a barrier to learning. Far from providing a hindrance, therefore, mobile learning is a great boon to students with disabilities.
6. Mobile learning means content delivered in bite-sized chunks
Bite-sized chunks may seem like the best way to deliver ‘content’. This, however, is a ‘transmission’ approach to mobile learning where an instructor has some knowledge to impart and delivers it, via a mobile device, to a learner. A more holistic approach is to engage the learner in creating user-generated content and engaging through audio, video and other features of mobile devices in the learning experience.
7. Young people already know how to use mobile devices for learning
As the 2008 Google Generation report demonstrated, the use of mobile devices by young people for social activities does not mean they know how to use them for learning. Educators should be aware of, and continue to experiment with, new ways of using mobile (and other) technologies for learning within their discipline.
8. Mobile devices cannot be relied upon for learning as they are likely to be lost, broken or stolen
Mobile devices tend to be both expensive for their size (and therefore desirable to thieves) as well as being easy to lose or damage.
The MoLeNET programme, however, found that of 10,000 handheld devices purchased across various projects, less than two percent were damaged, lost or stolen. Just as it can be a good idea to have spare versions of older technologies such as pens and books, so it is sensible to have spare mobile devices in the case of various eventualities.
9. Content on mobile devices cannot be as secure as on desktop computers.
Whilst mobile devices are more likely to be lost or stolen than desktop computers they often have additional security features. For example, Apple iOS devices and BlackBerries can be set to require a PIN to use whilst Android devices can be unlocked by drawing a shape on the screen. In addition, individual apps have various security features and separate pincodes, with a certain number of incorrect entries trigging data deletion. Finally, software such as Prey allows for the tracking of mobile devices should they be lost or stolen.
10. Mobile learning is an expensive option
This is a common criticism of mobile learning initiatives and is often raised in relation to ‘digital divide’ issues. The latter is the idea that there is a widening gap between those who can afford technology and those who cannot with the former group profiting from greater access to resources and information at the expense of the latter.
Mobile devices cost less today than they ever have done, with basic mobile phones being available behind the counter at petrol stations and ‘smartphones’ given away free on cheap monthly contracts. The cost to the learner can be defrayed by the provision of wireless networks, ‘loanership’ schemes and employing a multi-pronged strategy (see University of Bradford snapshot).