Some researchers in the field of mobile learning refer to “ubiquitous learning” (meaning “everywhere at once”). They refer to the ability of a learning tool, resource or technology to be available to a learner everywhere they go – although it might only be deployable on a very specialised platform such as a PDA equipped with GPS (e.g. http://cnm.open.ac.uk/projects/prolearn/mobiles/m02.html). The paradigm for ubiquitous learning is that if you have the right gear, you can then access your learning anywhere.
It’s a nice idea, but the risk of “u-learning” is that many (if not most) “ubiquitous” approaches rely on data connectivity either via mobile phone (GPRS) or wireless data networking (802.11a/b/g), both of which require expensive hardware and considerable ongoing costs for mobile bandwidth. Unless the hardware is supplied to a group of learners, and the costs of connectivity are paid for, there’s a real risk that not everyone in a learner group will have the resources available to access the learning opportunity or resource, making for a potentially inequitable situation.
It’s for this reason that I prefer to focus on making learning resources deliverable to, and usable on, a range of devices (mobile or otherwise). For example, a video resource can potentially be viewed on a PDA, a Video iPod, a normal desktop computer, or even many mobile phones, making it accessible to a wide range of learners with varying preferences or opportunities. Bearing in mind the strong similarities in human, technical and pedagogical best practice between mobile (m-) and computer-based (e-) learning, I like to think of “ME-learning” – a learner-centric approach to the deployment of flexible learning, in a way that makes it accessible, cross-platform compatible, and equitable in terms of its ability to be used by learners of widely varying socio-economic statuses and digital literacy levels, on the widest possible range of delivery platforms, both computer-based and mobile.
By making learning opportunities accessible on a wide range of platforms, a ME-learning philosophy facilitates a personalised learning experience (the “ME” in ME-learning), such that a learner can access learning on their choice of preferred mobile device, or on a normal desktop computer if that was the preferred or only available option.
Ultimately, the best solutions will combine both U and ME approaches: accessible by the widest range of learners, on the widest range of platforms, and available everywhere. It’s certainly possible to create persistent ME resources (stored in a mobile device’s memory) that can be carried everywhere with learners; but it may be some time until we see data connectivity to a wide range of mobile devices at a price that makes it a reasonable option for the vast majority.