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Mobile learning: Should we get a move on?

Abstract

With mobile technologies, you can run, you can hide, but you have no excuse to stop working – and learning. The worldwide connectivity of telecommunications networks and the internet, as well as the widespread uptake of portable electronic devices for communications and entertainment, opens up new possibilities for making learning as ubiquitous as placing calls and sending messages on our mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). It seems almost as if it were yesterday when we were told that learning was going online. Yet, already, there is talk about e-learning making the transition to mobile learning (m-learning). WHAT IS M-LEARNING? M-learning is a field that lies at the confluence of mobile computing and e-learning. The rationale behind m-learning is to use the wasted or 'down time' we spend travelling on buses and waiting at traffic lights, to facilitate productive learning. It is what David Metcalf (2002) calls the 'stolen moments for learning'. When applied to the context of a specific workplace, m-learning takes us yet another step closer to true, situated learning. The tools that support m-learning are usually thought to be portable electronic devices with computational capabilities, such as digital mobile phones and PDAs, but more generally we might think of any device that is small, unobtrusive and autonomous enough to accompany us as we go about our day to day activities, that can be used to facilitate some form of learning.
A U G U S T 2 0 0 5 TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT IN AUSTRALIAP A G E 8 P A G E 8 A U G U S T 2 0 0 5 TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT IN AUSTRALIA
Mobile learning:
should we get a
move on?
By Mark J.W. Lee
With mobile technologies, you
can run, you can hide, but you
have no excuse to stop working
– and learning.
The worldwide connectivity of
telecommunications networks and
the internet, as well as the widespread
uptake of portable electronic devices for
communications and entertainment,
opens up new possibilities for making
learning as ubiquitous as placing calls and
sending messages on our mobile phones
and personal digital assistants (PDAs). It
seems almost as if it were yesterday when
we were told that learning was going
online. Yet, already, there is talk about e-
learning making the transition to mobile
learning (m-learning).
WHAT IS M-LEARNING?
M-learning is a field that lies at the
confluence of mobile computing and e-
learning. The rationale behind m-learning
is to use the wasted or ‘down time’ we
spend travelling on buses and waiting
at traffic lights, to facilitate productive
learning. It is what David
Metcalf (2002) calls the stolen
moments for learning’. When
applied to the context of a
specific workplace, m-learning
takes us yet another step closer
to true, situated learning.
The tools that support m-learning are
usually thought to be portable electronic
devices with computational capabilities,
such as digital mobile phones and PDAs,
but more generally we might think of
any device that is small, unobtrusive and
autonomous enough to accompany us
as we go about our day to day activities,
that can be used to facilitate some form
of learning.
A myriad of different devices now spring
to mind, including portable music players,
game devices and tablet PCs, that are now
almost everywhere we turn. The birth
of the ‘smartphone’, a communications
device incorporating voice, text messaging,
multimedia and personal productivity
capabilities, means that our mobile
broadband communications and personal
computing needs can now be met by a
single, integrated device.
The best way to explain m-learning is
to illustrate with a few applications that
are possible given the current state of the
technology.
Performance and knowledge support.
The multimedia capabilities of modern
portable devices can be used to deliver
text, audio, images and video to members
of a distributed workforce in small, ‘byte-
sized’ pieces for just-in-time learning. For
example, the capabilities of the Multimedia
Messaging Service (MMS), an extension to
Short Message Service (SMS) now found
on most mobile phones, can be used to
deliver the latest product specifications
to travelling salespeople through their
mobile phones. Repair technicians can
gain instant access to inventory data
as and when they need it, in addition
to accessing job aids such as checklists
and schematics on the fly. Emergency
personnel can be briefed by means of
customised animations or video and can
The rationale behind m-learning is
to use the wasted or ‘down time’
we spend travelling on buses and
waiting at traffic lights…
features
A U G U S T 2 0 0 5 TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT IN AUSTRALIA P A G E 9 P A G E 9
run quick simulators on their mobile
devices to prepare themselves immediately
prior to entering an emergency scene.
Hybrid web-based and mobile courses. The
eXtensible Markup Language (XML)
allows for separation of the content
of e-learning materials from the rules
that specify how it is to be presented.
This makes it possible to have web-
based training resources that are displayed
differently depending on the type of device
that is accessing the resource. For example,
a page may be displayed in standard web-
based (HTML) format when viewed in a
web browser, but can be formatted to be
suitable for consumption on a Wireless
Application Protocol (WAP), General
Packet Radio Service (GPRS) or Third-
Generation (3G) enabled mobile phone
or PDA when requested by one of these
devices. This avoids the cost of having
to develop and maintain separate sets of
resources for the same content.
On-the-job assessment and evaluation.
Simulations can be built for quick,
formative and/or diagnostic assessments
that can be completed by learners at
their convenience. Assessors or supervisors
observing learners’ on-the-job performance
can complete assessment checklists or
reports on their mobile phones, PDAs
and tablet PCs, to be either uploaded
wirelessly in real-time or stored locally
on these devices for later synchronisation
with a server-side database when a network
connection is available.
Mobile collaborative learning.
Mobile devices come equipped
with a variety of multimedia
input devices including built-in
microphones and cameras. This
opens new doors in the way of
delivering learner-generated
content, for both learning as well as
assessment purposes. In addition to
text, learners can capture voice, images
and video to be shared with their peers
and instructors, either asynchronously
(discussion board, SMS, MMS, e-mail)
or synchronously (chat, phone call, video
conference).
M-mentoring. A workforce that is not only
distributed but also mobile will benefit
from the ability to connect learners with
their mentors from out in the field with
minimal delay to provide on-demand
feedback and assistance, for example
through instant messaging. Once again, by
making use of the multimedia capabilities
of mobile devices, learners can be supplied
with guidance while performing job tasks
through opportunities for observation,
correction, remediation and/or feedback
by their mentors.
Mobile classrooms. The traditional classroom
can be replaced with one comprising
mobile devices that form networks in
an ad hoc fashion, using technologies
like Bluetooth, for instructor-led training
delivery, supported by electronic software
tools such as shared whiteboards and slide
projectors. Learners can be encouraged
to engage in problem and project-based
learning by working in groups with their
mobile devices, and forming personal
area networks (PANs) through these
devices for wireless communication and
data exchange. This type of application
is ideal in situations where there is a need
to remove the confines of the traditional,
four-walled classroom, but where face-
to-face contact (‘same time, same place’
learning) is still desired, such site visits
and field work. Apprentices and other on-
the-job learners can have the classroom
brought to them, rather than vice-versa,
for authentic training and assessment that
is tightly integrated with their workplace
context.
WHY SHOULDN’T WE GET
A MOVE ON?
While mobile technology does open up
a world of exciting new possibilities for
‘anytime, anyplace’ learning, one may
justifiably question the feasibility of
learning on the move from a pedagogical
perspective. For example, the brevity
of expression that is characteristic of
‘SMS discourse’ (‘CU L8R’) threatens
to discourage deep thinking and critical
reflection. Relying on these modes as sole
delivery mechanisms also causes us to run
the risk of stifling the development of
critical interpersonal communications and
oral presentation skills. In the first place,
is it educationally sound to fill up every
last spare second of our day with online
learning?
The fact of the matter is, whether we
like it or not, mobile technology has
already made and will continue to make
inroads into every aspect of our daily
lives: ‘...the number of mobile devices
[is] predicted to surpass the number of
conventional computers for web access
in the near future and…bandwidth for
mobile devices [is] predicted to increase
In the first place, is it
educationally sound to fill
up every last spare second
of our day with online
learning?
We can either leverage the
technologies people already use
extensively and are familiar with
to further the cause of learning, or
we can let the opportunity slip by.
mobile learning
A U G U S T 2 0 0 5 TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT IN AUSTRALIAP A G E 1 0
dramatically in the short term’ (Avellis,
Scaramuzzi & Finkelstein, 2004). Mobile
phones, more so than any other type
of portable device, are finely ingrained
into contemporary society, with Australia’s
cellular penetration surpassing ‘natural
saturation’ in 2004, according to IDC
(2005), a leading provider of global IT
research and advice. This signifies that
every Australian who could be using a
mobile phone is already using one; and
100 per cent penetration will be achieved
by the end of 2008. We can either
leverage the technologies people already
use extensively and are familiar with to
further the cause of learning, or we can let
the opportunity slip by.
M-learning has experienced explosive
growth in Europe and Asia, largely due to
the availability of broadband multimedia
connectivity, with countries like the U.K.,
Norway, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea
leading major development efforts in
this area. The U.S. is quickly following
suit, with higher education providers in
particular attempting to take advantage of
existing technology through applications
like ‘iPod learning’ (see Duke University),
while actively exploring possibilities for
the near future in eager anticipation of
Wi-MAX (wireless broadband). Will
Australia miss the bandwagon?
CAN WE GET A MOVE ON?
A recent article in the Sydney Morning
Herald indicated that the growth
of m-learning in Australia is being
hampered by the practices of the major
telecommunications companies. The
ability to switch between networks to
maintain connectivity is important for
m-learning to prevent dead spots and
dropouts from interrupting real-time
learning and assessment activities.
Unfortunately, the telcos are causing
mobile data transmissions to be confined
to high-cost cellular networks, neglecting
the viability of wireless networks and
satellite technology (Wilson, 2005).
Moreover, whether or not we have already
achieved the technology required to
facilitate true m-learning is debatable. For
example, some argue that the miniature
screens present on mobile phones and
PDAs severely restrict the types of learner-
computer interactions that are possible.
Indeed, the full potential of learning ‘on
the move’ may only be realised when user
interfaces have developed to a stage where
learning activities are able to integrate
into our daily lives in a truly
unobtrusive fashion. Learning
should be able to coincide with
other, manual tasks such as
walking the dog, washing the
car and doing the dishes. At this
stage it is difficult to imagine
how it will be feasible for us to walk down
the street with PC displays mounted
inside our eye glasses, without causing a
hazard to ourselves or those around us!
We may also need further advancements
in an area known as pervasive computing,
to enable the development of context-
aware devices that are sensitive to their
environment, able to cooperate with one
another and smart enough to know when
to supply content, or otherwise intervene
to facilitate learning (for example, see
Carnegie Mellon University, 2001).
This all having been said, as is always the
case with technology, it is purely a matter
of time before any technical shortcomings
of m-learning are overcome. Far more
important to its success is the need for
us to be prepared for a paradigm shift in
the way we think about learning. For one,
the advent of m-learning will blur the
distinctions between learning, work and
play – and this goes far beyond even the
notion of moving training out of the face-
to-face classroom and into the workplace.
The emphasis will be on providing short,
five to ten minute, informal learning
events that can be completed by the learner
at various interspersed moments during
the day, rather than having large blocks
of time dedicated to deliberate learning
efforts. The ‘learning object’ philosophy
now widely adopted and integrated
into most popular LMS’s – has begun to
prepare us for this to some degree.
As we have seen with e-learning, we may
find in many cases that a blended solution
is required, incorporating different
delivery modes, at least in the immediate
future. However, even more so than with
e-learning, the designer of an m-learning
experience must cater for the seemingly
infinite number of possible combinations
of needs, backgrounds, situations, learning
styles, preferences, and so on. How can
this be done effectively with a set of finite
resources? One possible answer is to look
toward the learner to take some of this
responsibility off our shoulders.
THE M-LEARNER IN FOCUS
It’s time to bring the learner back into the
spotlight. With e-learning it almost seems
as if we have come full circle in terms of
instructional delivery methods. A sense
of déjà vu is experienced when realising
that what is needed in e- and m-learning
is to remove some of the emphasis from
the content and the instructor, and place
it back onto the learner. Birch (2002)
…the growth of m-learning in
Australia is being hampered
by the practices of the major
telecommunications companies.
mobile learning
features
A U G U S T 2 0 0 5 TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT IN AUSTRALIA P A G E 1 1
Mark J.W. Lee is an Adjunct
Lecturer with the School of
Information Studies, Charles Sturt
University, and managing director
of his own consultancy, Enable
Learning Solutions. Mark has had
managerial as well as teaching/
training and instructional design
experience in the corporate, VET
and higher education settings. He
serves on the NSW Council of
the AITD, in addition to being
a director of the International
Board of Standards for Training,
Performance and Instruction
(ibstpi) and a member of the
Executive Committee of the Open
and Distance Learning Association
of Australia (ODLAA).
Mark welcomes feedback and
questions on the article and
can be contacted via email at
malee@csu.edu.au.
describes the competencies demonstrated
by a successful e-learner, categorised into
three broad areas:
Self-directive competencies
management of the learning
environment;
Metacognitive competencies
interaction with the learning
content; and
Collaboration competencies
interaction with virtual learning
facilitators and classmates.
The importance of these competencies
becomes even more apparent in a mobile
environment. Of particular interest are
the self-directive competencies, in which
learners must be able to exercise self-
advocacy in charting out their own learning
journeys to meet their ultimate needs
and goals, making use of the myriad of
resources (including instructors!) that are
available to them. Self-reliance becomes of
utmost importance as time management
is necessary to cope with the fact that
time and place do not provide an escape
from the reach of our modern mobile
communications technologies.
As learning moves steadily towards
a learner-directed, resource-based
approach, there is a need for learners
to develop metacognitive competencies.
Metacognition, which entails actively
controlling the cognitive processes
involved in learning through higher order
thinking skills, has traditionally been the
concern of instructors and instructional
designers. The m-learner must ‘learn how
to learn’ through an awareness of basic
adult learning theory, and the ability to
structure their learning experiences to suit
their own individual learning styles and
preferences.
Moreover, the successful m-learner will
be one who is able to operate across and
switch between multiple media types,
interacting with others as necessary, face
to face or online, constantly multitasking
to interweave learning and other activities
throughout the course of a day.
The characteristics of a successful m-
learner are in fact attributes that are
exhibited by any successful lifelong
learner, although the importance of certain
competencies is further underscored by
the removal of the confines of time and
place. Eventually, the boundaries between
e-learning and m-learning will disappear.
For that matter, we will no longer need
to make distinctions between e-learning,
m-learning and learning altogether, as the
‘e’ andm’ will be a given, just as there
was never a need for labels like ‘f-learning’
and c-learning’ to denote ‘face-to-face’
and ‘classroom-based’. At the heart of
our endeavours is the goal of maximising
the quality of learning. Our high-tech
toys are simply enabling tools that, in
combination with sound strategies, can
assist in this endeavour. Learning involves
a set of internal processes that are the same
irrespective of the external mechanisms
that help support them. Until we recognise
this, there is little hope of getting a move
on, at least in the right direction.
REFERENCES
Avellis, G., Scaramuzzi, A. & Finkelstein,
A. (2004). Evaluating non-functional
requirements in mobile learning contents
and multimedia educational software. In
Attewell, J. & Savill-Smith, C. (Eds.),
Learning with mobile devices: Research
and development (pp. 13-20). London:
Learning and Skills Development Agency.
Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http://
www.lsda.org.uk/files/pdf/1440.pdf.
Birch, P.D. (2002). E-learner competencies.
Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http://
www.learningcircuits.org/2002/jul2002/
birch.html.
Carnegie Mellon University (2001).
Situationally appropriate interaction.
Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http://
www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~hudson/sai/.
Duke University (2005). Duke iPod first
year experience. Retrieved 21 June 2005,
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IDC (2005). Australia’s mobile phone use
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com/pdf/2/March02-Metcalf-H.pdf.
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mobile learning
Article
Podcasting is one of the new applications of mobile technology. People could enjoy the audio content on their MP3 players through a subscription to websites. This research tries to explore the acceptance and the critical factors when applying Podcasting in language learning based on the revised UTAUT model. The result shows that people do have the positive attitude toward the Podcasting, and performance expectancy should be the most important factor while applying Podcast in language learning.
Article
Full-text available
Many practitioners are looking for ways to bring the vitality of Mobile 2.0—for example, social networking via a mobile phone (cellphone), or photo sharing on a mobile blog—into formal learning and teaching. But they face a complex and even paradoxical challenge: how can they harness that vitality without stifling its most distinctive feature—the fact that it is user led? This chapter begins with an analysis of that paradox as a foundation for understanding the challenges that practitioners face now and in the future. Drawing on data from interviews with six experienced tertiary practitioners, the authors describe and analyze a number of examples that point to the particular power of mobile devices to blur formal and informal activity in people’s lives. The aim is to look beyond the hype around innovations in mobile devices and connectivity to focus on the opportunities for practitioners to bend the arc of Mobile 2.0 to the needs of their learners.
Article
Abstract Wedeveloped,a scheme ,for representing critical non functional requirements (NFRs), and,apply it to ,the domains ,of mobile ,e- learning contents and Multimedia Educational Software to validate it. Our approach extends the model for representing design rationale by making explicit evaluation goals, providing the means,to improve ,the quality of e-learning contents, especially m-learning contents. Further research ,issues will be discussed including the need ,to relate ,NFRs to the architectures and a set ,of architectures to an application domain.
E-learner competencies
  • P D Birch
Birch, P.D. (2002). E-learner competencies.
Why mobile e-learning fails to make a move
  • E Wilson
Wilson, E. (2005). Why mobile e-learning fails to make a move. Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 2005, Next, 5. mobile learning
Australia's mobile phone use to exceed 100% in 3 years, predicts IDC Stolen moments for learning. eLearning Developers
  • D Metcalf
IDC (2005). Australia's mobile phone use to exceed 100% in 3 years, predicts IDC. Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http://www. idc.com.au/press/detail.asp?releaseid=162 Metcalf, D. (2002). Stolen moments for learning. eLearning Developers' Journal, March 2002, 18-20. Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http://www.elearningguild. com/pdf/2/March02-Metcalf-H.pdf.
Learning with mobile devices: Research and development
Attewell, J. & Savill-Smith, C. (Eds.), Learning with mobile devices: Research and development (pp. 13-20). London: Learning and Skills Development Agency. Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http:// www.lsda.org.uk/files/pdf/1440.pdf. Birch, P.D. (2002). E-learner competencies. Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http:// www.learningcircuits.org/2002/jul2002/ birch.html.
Australia's mobile phone use to exceed 100% in 3 years, predicts IDC. Retrieved 21
  • Idc
IDC (2005). Australia's mobile phone use to exceed 100% in 3 years, predicts IDC. Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http://www. idc.com.au/press/detail.asp?releaseid=162
Stolen moments for learning. eLearning Developers
  • D Metcalf
Metcalf, D. (2002). Stolen moments for learning. eLearning Developers' Journal, March 2002, 18-20. Retrieved 21 June 2005, from http://www.elearningguild. com/pdf/2/March02-Metcalf-H.pdf.