Mobile learning, as we saw in what is mobile learning? is a concept that depends heavily upon context. It is a flexible term used to cover a spectrum of approaches that help learners in a variety of ways. One way to consider this is diagrammatically:
Most large-scale mobile learning initiatives and implementations lean (understandably) towards the left-hand side of this spectrum.
They focus on getting key pieces of information to staff and students in timely and contextually-useful ways. Examples of these include informing learners that a lecture has been postponed or cancelled, or that library books are due back soon.
At the other end of the spectrum are rich teaching and learning experiences. This includes engaging in activities that were previously either impossible or very difficult and time-consuming to undertake. Visualising an ancient building at an archaeological site through augmented reality would be an example of this: without mobile technologies this would not be possible in real-time.
The majority of ‘quick wins’ for mobile learning lie at the left-hand side of this spectrum. They often include either slight tweaks or modifications of existing content or turning on tools that are available through institutionally-purchased e-learning solutions.
Five quick wins for mobile learning are set out below. These are approaches that can be implemented quickly in ways that, to use Agile project management terminology, are high in Business Value and low in Complexity.
5 quick wins to kick-start institution-led mobile learning initiatives
1. Add a mobile stylesheet to your website
Through the use of media queries in an alternative, mobile-friendly stylesheet, an existing website can be made to render more effectively on mobile devices.
A presentation by Meagan Fisher from 2009 entitled designing mobile interfaces does a good job of explaining the options in an entertaining way.
2. Provide a mobile-friendly front end to an existing RSS feed
RSS feeds are generated by most content management systems (CMS), blogs and wikis. They allow for content to be syndicated to places other than the existing website. An example of this would be university press releases.
Although some mobile devices can make sense of these RSS feeds, some need a helping hand. There are several ways to do this.
- The easiest way is to run the RSS feed through Google’s free FeedBurner service. After some straightforward configuration, this provides a mobile-friendly front end for your RSS feeds
- Some CMS have add-ons that allow RSS feeds to be displayed in ways that can be read by mobile devices. There are too many CMS to list the options for each but, if this solution is lacking, Tiny Tiny RSS is a free mobile-friendly RSS feed reader that could be used for this purpose
- Although it is moving away from ‘quick win’ territory, developing a ‘hybrid app’ is an increasingly-popular approach. The idea is that the application, available through (for example) the Apple, Android and BlackBerry app store, is a ‘shell’ for updates provided from your website.
3. Set up social media accounts to broadcast relevant news and updates
According to Facebook’s official statistics, those users of the social networking site who access it on a mobile device are “twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users”. Moreover, Facebook accounts for more than 50% of the online time spent by UK users when using their mobile devices.
"The number of Smartphones amongst our students has gone up to around 20% but it would still be hard to convince a lecturer to spend time on such a small portion. Luckily for us our main learning platforms, Blackboard, QuestionMark Perception and PebblePad have all released mobile apps / mobile friendly web versions / APIs… So [soon] pretty much any elearning a lecturer does will be available on both Computer and Mobile without any extra effort on the lecturers part. Whilst it may not represent my ideal bite size nugget format, I do think it’s a major win."
John Fairhall, University of Bradford
Facebook, along with other social networks such as Twitter and Google+ have extremely mobile-friendly websites and apps. For important news and announcements it can be a good idea to go to where people already are. Sending an RSS feed to a range of social networks can lead to very quick wins: learners see them as they often spend much of their time in these environments, and the cost to the institution is effectively zero.
4. Turn on the mobile version of your learning platform, VLE or e-portfolio solution
Many, if not most, providers of virtual learning environments and e-portfolios have developed a mobile version of their offerings. According to the 2010 UCISA Survey of technology-enhanced learning for higher education in the UK, apart from those solutions developed in-house, the most popular learning platforms are Moodle, Blackboard and Microsoft SharePoint. These all have mobile-friendly apps or versions of their online solutions that are tailored to mobile devices.
5. Invest in secure SMS text messaging services
Janet txt, along with competing services, allow for secure institutional SMS text messaging to learners. This can be done on a granular basis, as opt-in (recommended) or opt-out, and provides flexible options for integrating with existing provision.
As SMS is guaranteed to work on any type of mobile phone – ‘smartphone’ or otherwise – it can be a good place to start with a mobile learning initiative.