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Is Mobile Learning a Viable Option for the Future of Education?

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

A recent post by Fabio Sergio on the Fast CoDesign site explored "10 Ways That Mobile Learning Will Revolutionize Education" on a global level based on research that Frog is conducting on the ways that learning models are evolving and can be improved through mobile technologies. Here in two parts is a summary of Sergio’s 10 innovative possibilities for mobile learning (mLearning) and a consideration of the efficacy of each.

1. Continuous Learning: "Up until now, most people relegated ‘education’ to a finite time in their lives: entering school at around five years old and attending school institutions all the way to university. Education had an expiration date, then working life began. This model, which has its roots in the industrial era, is quickly becoming less relevant or applicable to the way we live our lives in the connected age" (Sergio, 2012).

Assessment: This idea about the future of mobile learning fits nicely with the notion of what education in the information age should look like. Highly individualized options, always on connections, and a wide array of free and low-cost online options for education make the possibilities for continuous learning more realistic than at any previous time in history.

2.  Educational Leapfrogging: "Continuous learning isn’t just happening in the developed world. With low-priced computers, tablets, and cell phones in the hands of children in resource-challenged communities, many kids who are engaging in technological leapfrogging will have the opportunity to skip past outdated formal school systems, too. This is especially relevant in the case of children living in poverty, who may be denied an opportunity to improve their condition through education because they start working very early to help sustain their families or do not live near schools" (Sergio, 2012).

Assessment: There may be some disadvantaged children who are motivated and capable enough to take advantage of sophisticated learning technologies to "leapfrog" their peers mired in outdated educational systems, but it will take an extraordinary effort to leap very far. The lack of prior education, connectivity, peer and parental support, language barriers, and even the technology itself all work as obstacles to effective leapfrogging for many disadvantaged students (Daniel, 2009).

3. A New Crop of Older, Lifelong Learners (and Educators): "A by-product of the continuous learning phenomenon is the fact that the grandparents of children growing up with a touchscreen in their hands–people in their 60s today–are being pulled into mLearning more than ever, motivated to adoption by the need to stay in touch with their grandkids" (Sergio, 2012).

Assessment: This socially driven model for lifelong learning and engagement with a younger generation facilitated by mobile technology harkens back to an older, pre-industrial model of familial relationships in which multi-generation households encouraged intergenerational knowledge sharing. The difference now is that the relationship has been inverted. The younger generation is, as often as not, sharing their knowledge with their elders. Additionally, the shifting demographics in online learners and the availability of free or discounted tuition to seniors are driving this trend.

4. Breaking Gender Boundaries, Reducing Physical Burdens: "In parts of the globe where, because of centuries of cultural practices, young women may still not be allowed to access a formal education, mLearning promises to be able to put girls and women of all ages in contact with high-quality education privately and on their own time. Along similar lines mLearning also helps bring educational material within the reach of people with extreme disabilities, who may not be physically able to get to a classroom or campus on a regular basis" (Sergio, 2012).

Assessment: In keeping with the assessment of educational leapfrogging above, it is unlikely that there will be sufficient access, support, or prior knowledge to make mLearning easily accessible to persons living in extreme poverty or isolation. In contrast, those with disabilities living in industrialized countries should be able to reap significant benefits from online learning and mobile technologies. Physicist Stephen Hawking is an excellent example of this phenomenon in practice.

5. New Literacy Emerges: Software Literacy:  "MLearning could usher in a boom of interest in learning software programming languages, which could very well become a new lingua franca. This is already happening; Numerous startup web-based businesses today such as Codecademy teach people via interactive lessons how to understand and write software programs" (Sergio, 2012).

Assessment: The reliance on software programming as a lingua franca is vastly overrated. New innovations are constantly emerging that make the need for programming on a wide scale unnecessary. HTML, for example, has been rendered largely unnecessary for anyone short of professional Web designers by easy to use desktop tools that place the entire range of coding tools within a black boxed interface. Similar advances are happening with Flash and other interactive media production platforms, particularly via free, online tools.

Tomorrow’s post will examine the remainder of Sergio’s possibilities for the mLearning future of education.

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Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net