"Mobile devices give us a unique opportunity to have learners embedded in a realistic context at the same time as having access to supporting tools."
Mobile learning is more than simply learning via mobile devices (see what is mobile learning?). Planned and implemented properly, mobile learning initiatives allow for educational institutions to reflect upon the nature of their provision for learners. Although the technology involved in mobile learning can be attractive to staff and students there are also tangible and strategic benefits that mobile learning can bring.
Mobile learning aligns well with many goals of educational institutions, including:
- Curriculum redesign
- Personalisation of learning
- Student satisfaction1
- Digital literacies
- Reducing costs (doing more with less)
- Graduate attributes and employability
- Enhancing assessment and feedback
- Widening participation
- Improving student engagement and retention
- Energy efficiency
Many of those interviewed as part of the research for this guide commented upon how relatively simple uses of mobile technologies can help in reducing frustration and in student retention. Examples include SMS messages sent to inform students of cancelled or rearranged lectures, and keeping in touch with learners at risk of falling behind with (and therefore dropping out from) their studies.
Tangible benefits of mobile learning
There are many tacit benefits of mobile learning but those that can be measured and made tangible include the following.
- Personal, private and familiar (reduce perceived barriers to learning)
- Pervasive and ubiquitous
- Fit into the lives of learners (allow for productive ‘dead’ time – eg when travelling or queuing)
- Portable – allow anywhere, anytime learning
- Immediacy of communication (including speech and data-sharing)
- Allows access to learning by those in dispersed communities and isolated situations
- Contextualisation through location-aware features such as GPS
- Allows data to be recorded and learning processes captured wherever they happen
- Access to mentors, tutors and others learners on-the-move
- Perceived as an acceptable way for learners to receive reminders and chasers – and to manage their time
- Bite-sized e-learning resources can be delivered to learners (especially useful for basic skills or work-based learning)
- Abstract (representational) and concrete (environmentally-situated) knowledge can be integrated.
- Peer-to-peer networks make learning more student-centred
- Promotes active learning
- Enable new learning environments
- Increases accessibility for learners with special educational needs
- Encourages reflection in close proximity to the learning event
- Reduces technical barriers to e-learning
"Looking at mobile learning in a wider context, we have to recognize that mobile, personal, and wireless devices are now radically transforming societal notions of discourse and knowledge, and are responsible for new forms of art, employment, language, commerce, deprivation, and crime, as well as learning."
Educational institutions both drive societal change and have to respond to it. According to GSMA (2011) a survey by Blackboard found that:
“virtually all students own a mobile phone and a third have [a] smartphone.”
Indeed, GSMA cites data from Ofcom showing that:
“99% of people aged between 15 and 24 have a mobile phone, the highest penetration rate for any age group.”
Whilst before the year 2000 ownership was restricted to the privileged few, it has become increasingly socially problematic and disabling not to own and use a mobile phone. This transformation of “societal notions of discourse and knowledge” (Traxler, 2007) is the context which educational institutions must both understand and operate within to remain relevant.
As is explained throughout this guide, mobile learning can be a ‘trojan horse’ for wider institutional changes. Considering the extent to which learning can be made more social through the use of mobile devices, for example, may force teaching staff to reflect upon the methods of assessment they use on a course.
Similarly, if ‘content’ can be delivered in a personal way to mobile devices, educators may deem discussion, debate and practical ‘hands-on’ activities a better use of face-to-face contact time. As this diagram from Upside Learning shows, mobile learning can be used both for content delivery and as a performance support system.
A final point to consider is the ease with which mobile devices allow for the creation of user-generated content. Coupled with the rise of social networks and location-aware services, mobile learners can engage with the content and skills they are expected to learn in more ways than ever before.
- 1 This is especially the case in relation to the National Student Survey