Mobile learning generally refers to the use of wireless, portable devices (such as smart phones, tablets, and laptops) in teaching and learning. An often-discussed benefit of mobile learning is the “anytime, anywhere” experience, but it is much more. For example, today’s mobile devices are not just mobile, but also context aware, and they enable powerful new connections, creations, and activity patterns.
Mobile technology can help scaffold students and take ownership of their learning …
- in context (making learning more authentic),
- with direct and immediate access to data and information,
- connecting to peers and teachers as learners and friends,
- discussing, collaborating, and working as a team,
- creating media, authoring mobile apps,
- and easily sharing information, data, and new creations
to learn and achieve in new ways, all the time, everywhere.
Many successful uses of mobile technology have involved simple, reliable functionality that enable inquiry-based learning in the classroom. Roschelle (2003) describes three popular mobile learning examples –– classroom response systems, participatory simulations, and collaborative data gathering –– in which the mobile technology performs a unique, well-defined role (gathering and summarizing responses, exchanging simple data messages, collecting and sharing data) that help students and teachers elicit ideas, investigate hypotheses, view patterns of data and responses, and discuss and critique findings.
With smart phones now outselling laptops, we have entered a new “age of mobilism” that further enables immediate, simultaneous connections to people, events, places, and things (Norris & Soloway, 2011). The ubiquity of cheap, powerful devices can enable a transition from occasional, supplemental use to frequent, integral use of technology that can provide students with new and more powerful opportunities to individually and collaboratively create, study, and learn.
Frequent, integral use of technology to support learning
Mobile devices are affordable and powerful, and are becoming more so by the day. As smart phone features and performance climb and prices drop, they are becoming ubiquitous. They are more affordable for schools to purchase, or schools can harness the power of the mobile devices already in students’ pockets. Students can take devices “into the field” to research, capture, and create on the spot.
Location-based games for learning and expression
Mobile devices can connect students to real issues in their communities through playing and creating location-based, augmented-reality games (Klopfer, 2008). Mobile app authoring tools (such as AppInventor) allow students to create unique and engaging games, and making apps is an on-ramp to programming and computational thinking.
More productive relationships between teacher and learner
Used in innovative ways, mobile devices can help support the transformation of the classroom from a teacher-centric, didactic, direct instruction, pedagogy to a student-centric, project-based, inquiry-oriented, 21st-century pedagogy.
Mobile application creation becomes another medium of expression, like video, photos, or drawing. Creating applications benefits not only creator, but also their audience of users.
Mobile learning activities engage the motivations and interests of under-represented populations in STEM.
Mobile technology enables unusual or unique ways of learning outside of traditional educational settings. Learning can take place while on a boat at sea near the North Pole or when sailing around the world.
Mobile technology provides the vast population of developing countries access to the Internet and mobile applications that have the possibility to leapfrog over legacy practices in the industrialized nations.
Many traditional educational media producers see mobile devices solely as a means to cheaply distribute text, tests, and routine activities along with rewards like animations.
Physical aspects of mobile technologies, such as restricted text entry and small screen size, can be frustrating to use and hamper learning experiences.
Evaluating the wide diversity of mobile technologies to determine the appropriate choice represents a challenge for teachers. Technology quickly becomes obsolete, and IT support is lacking in many schools.
Dissenting Views / Critiques
Although many believe that mobile devices have significant potential to transform children’s learning, most schools and teachers see cell phones as distractions and feel that they have no place in school.
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Klopfer, E. (2008) Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2011). Learning in the age of mobilism. District Admistration, September 2011.
Roschelle, J. (2003). Unlocking the learning value of wireless mobile devices. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(3), 260-272.