The first mobile learning workshop took place in Birmingham, UK in 2002 and the 6th International Mobile Learning Conference just concluded in Melbourne Australia. In five very short years we have gone from ‘playing’ with toys to planning the future or our infrastructure to accommodate mobile delivery in all its forms…
I have been involved in mobile learning since 2003 and it is interesting to reflect on the way in which it has grown and been taken up over what is really quite a short time. As a person who has worked hard to introduce mobile learning I am very aware that the reaction to my efforts has moved from “what on earth are you on about?” to “please come and help us get it happening!”.
For those who are asking the question, mobile learning is the delivery of teaching and learning by means of portable, handheld or mobile devices as a part of the overall mix in the way in which teachers and students interact. But like all new concepts there is a flow in the evolution and reflecting on each of the mobile learning conferences I have mapped it as follows:
2003 – mLearn in London:
The theme was ‘New Possibilities’ and we looked at mobile phones and some personal digital assistants (PDAs). We talked about issues like navigation on such small devices and texting and some of the games that already existed on mobile phones. We also started talking about knowledge management and the types of learning that might apply.
The state of mobile learning was best summed up at the time by John Traxler who is currently at Wolverhampton University in the UK:
“mobile learning is at a stage of small scale projects working to extablish aspects of techninal feasibility in specific educational settings”
2004 – mLearn in Rome:
Holding a conference dealing with leading edge technology in a 12th century castle in Rome was an interesting experience!
The theme this time was “The Potential is Significant” and we started to discuss shifts in pedagogy, the impacts of using portable devices and usability of the digital learning materials that were being developed. We were starting to see the newer smart phones and wireless was starting to appear in some places which would immediately expand the concept of mobility.
We were now talking about using PDAs and mobile phones for delivery of materials in a way that suited different learning styles, in context and overcoming some of the earlier barriers.
2005 – mLearn in Cape Town:
The theme “Learning is in your hands” was particularly appropriate in a country where internet coverage is minimal but mobile phone coverage is almost total!
At this conference we started to hear about convergence and mobile content management. We looked at practical examples of how people were rolling out mobile learning to larger groups and organisations and we started to talk about the strategies required for teacher training and student learning support by means of and for these technologies. Wireless was now available and expected.
We were now really seeing how mobile technology had the potential to break down the barriers of location and time.
2006 – mLearn in Banff:
OK, so we did manage to go from one great location to another but we are supposed to be mobile and learning – right?
The theme in Canada was “Across cultures and generations” and in context of the then small but growing social computing revolution this theme picked up on the way in which communications technology was breaking all barriers for those who wanted to stay in touch.
We heard about the $100 laptop and the desire to see every child with a laptop. We talked about digital libraries where every book was being converted to digital format and therefore accessible anywhere on any device. We talked more seriously about audio as part of teaching material mix and explored the evry increasing means by which delivery could take place and the ever increasing variety of devices that offered mobility.
We started to understand the ‘Net Generation’ who have hypertext minds and who approach learning in a totally different way to those who left school a longer time ago!
This conference opened our eyes to the way in which exploring mobility was shrinking the world and making access to learning a reality for anyone from anywhere.
2007 – mLearn in Melbourne:
The theme we chose for this conference was “Making the Connections” and connectivity was certainly the flavour of the conference!
Even before the first keynote speaker had finished her comments and the reaction to those comments was being blogged, twittered, ninged, wikied and otherwise posted into cyberspace! Speakers were asked questions relayed through attending delegates from places all over the world.
We explored infrastructure issues and we talked extensively about pedagogy incorporating technology and how the devices themselves are now evaluated less for their ‘wow’ factor as for their usability in the teaching mix. We talked about integration and embedding and the way in which social computing might be used on mobile devices as well as the fact that mobile devices now incorporates laptops with wireless connections.
And we closed the conference looking forward 10 years and speculating what we might do now to make sure we continue to delivery quality education by means of the new and emerging technology.
So where are we now: Mobility is simply a reality and we expect to be connected at all times on all devices. Technology, no matter how marvelous it is, will not fix bad pedagogy but it will give massive impact to good teaching practice.
At the end of the Conference we officially launched the International Association for Mobile Learning. Find out more by following the links at my website.
The area continues to grow and develop and I am busier and busier working with those who want to go down this road – contact me via my website http://www.caryloliver.com