Mobile Learning or Learning Mobile?

Mobile learning encompasses a number of different techniques and methodologies that are based on the use of mobile technology for pedagogical purposes.  While a great many pilot projects and initiatives have been launched, their long-term success has yet to be determined.  At the 2011 IADIS Mobile Learning Conference held in Avila, Spain from March 9-11, Osteras presented a paper that investigated why M-learning projects die [1].  During the ensuing discussion, the phrase “graveyard of m-learning projects” was used to describe the fact that the m-learning community has yet to provide a model for the sustainability of m-learning.  One participant described the work in this way (paraphrasing):

“We either do applied research or foundational research.  I believe that we should do foundational research so that when the technology is ready, in say 10 years, we will be prepared to meet the needs of educators.”

I found this statement to be absolutely ridiculous.  The technology is ready now and educators are ready to adopt it if we, as a community, are ready to provide the help necessary to transfer the technology to the classroom.  I wonder, however, whether this particular group of m-learning researchers is necessarily ready for m-learning.  While I enjoyed a lot of the content of the conference, there was definitely a lack of “technology presence” amongst this group.  The lack of a “twitter” feed for the conference, for instance, and the poor wireless connectivity, to go along with just a bit of apathy towards engaging one another with mobile devices made it feel like the conference should’ve been called “learning mobile” instead of “mobile learning” (a phrase suggested to me by one of my facebook friends).

The problem is that no one knows where to start.   The issues range from education and policy to technology, and cost.  Education and policy addresses some of the questions educators have about benefit to the learner, ethical standards, and sustainability.  Technology addresses questions related to acquisition and equipment, while cost addresses considerations for funding long-term projects.  To address these areas, Kristen Bachman and I developed a number of recommendations within each of these areas [2].  We presented these recommendations at the IADIS Mobile Learning Conference and summarize those below.

Education and Policy – M-learning should…

  • Not be viewed as a replacement for existing techniques but rather as a supplement
  • Be used to facilitate different dimensions of learning
  • Be used to facilitate collaboration with instructors and other learners
  • Be adopted as an institutional or broad initiative rather than a pilot by a small set of early adopters
  • Be accompanied by protective measures to prevent abuses
  • Accompanied by training for major constituents

Technology – M-learning technologies should…

  • Be extensible and programmable to support creation of add-ons
  • Be selected according to its intended use
  • Be accompanied with application acquisition policies (to address content abuse)

Cost – M-learning initiatives should…

  • Consider a number of cost attributes including:
    • Quality of alternatives, relative replacement schedules, network infrastructure, management software, IT support
  • Consider pairing digital learning and m-learning with other cost savings (such as facilities costs)

We are currently working on creation of a mobile learning guidebook in which we will provide what we hope to be assistance to educators in the K-20 community with practical methods and issues for adopting m-learning for their programs.  We invite the m-learning community to contribute to this guidebook or to share their own experiences and expertise in this area.

[1]  “The Mobile Science-Project: Life After Death?”, Rolf-Eric Osteras, in Proceedings of the 2011 Mobile Learning Conference, IADIS, March 2011.

[2]  “Integrating M-Learning into a Broad Context: Issues and Recommendations”, Gerald C. Gannod and Kristen M. Bachman, in Proceedings of the 2011 Mobile Learning Conference, IADIS, March 2011.

Posted by Gerald C. Gannod, Director, Miami University Mobile Learning Center


5 Responses to “Mobile Learning or Learning Mobile?”

  1. We would be interested in sharing some of our experiences and challenges in implementing mobile learning, specifically with the K-12 community. Please let us know how we can be a part of this.    


  2. Happy to help since we are actively involved in the mobile learning movement with our product and looking to collaborate with early adopters in higher ed. Contact #6104495899

  3. I also attended this conference (and your presentation), and share some of your impressions.  However, while I think that many of your recommendations are useful, the devil is really in the details.  My takeaway from this pleasantly international conference, where I learned a lot from projects from Brazil, Africa, and Scandinavia, was that we are all at different stages and function in vastly different educational and economic contexts.  Rather than work towards a common set of recommendations, I think there is much to learn from understanding the constraints and challenges that we are working with in our respective contexts. Some were seemingly universal, as evidenced by several presentations on projects seeking to develop device-neutral mobile platforms.  However, access to devices, access to affordable networks, for example, were highly variable, with my own country (Canada) falling behind Brazil for per capita mobile phone ownership and cost of network access.  Additionally, there were a range of types of institutions represented at this conference, from universities to institutes like my own, and this certainly would shape some of these recommendations, particularly in the category of Education and Policy.  Personally, I left this conference feeling like I had learned more about mobile learning from developing countries than from those who had less constraints driving their m-learning.

  4. [...] attended the IADIS M-learning conference in Avila, Spain, and after leaving a comment over on Miami Learning’s blog, who captures his impressions on the sessions, I feel like I need to expand on my [...]

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