Top 10 Learning Ideas to Try with Mobile Devices

In no particular order (as different learning situations will be suited by different approaches) … here is my personal list of the most powerful and innovative learning approaches that can be achieved using digital mobile technologies.

Situated/Proximal: Mobile devices can enable learning to be situated in the most appropriate physical location – for example, learning about horticulture in a nursery, or learning about art in an art gallery – instead of in a classroom, which is usually removed from the richness of a truly immersive and “real” environment for the learning. “Proximal” approaches are related to situated learning, in that the mobile learning content can tie in directly with particular objects or locations the learner interacts with, such as realia, machinery, or, as with situated approaches, particular locations.

Social/Collaborative: Mobile phones are obviously useful communication tools, and allow teachers and learners to interact, share and collaborate using voice, text, and even email, photos and videos. In addition to these built-in communication tools in mobile digital devices, many online Web 2.0 tools have now been designed to support integration with mobile phones (for example, moblogs), and this is creating many more opportunities for utilising social, interactive learning approaches in teaching and learning.

Just-In-Time: Mobile access to data comes with relatively high data costs, slow data speeds, and storage memory sizes considerably smaller than those enjoyed by desktop PCs; however, mobile devices such as mobile phones are easy for learners to always carry with them. This makes mobile devices suited to accessing small, highly relevant chunks of learning, where and/or when the learner requests it.

Lifelong/Informal: Portable media players, mobile phones and PDAs can be used to store and play content downloaded by a learner from many sources. For example, audio podcasts or video files downloaded from the web can be downloaded by a learner, and then taken around with them for them to access learning on a personal area of interest, which may not be formally assessed. Learners can also use mobile devices to record and share their own informal or life experiences with other learners or friends, and get interesting and informative feedback that can help them develop personally or professionally, without a formalised course structure.

Contextualised/Adaptive: Mobile devices such as mobile phones and PDAs have significant processing capabilities and can provide a learner with content automatically modified to suit their context – such as the time of day, a learner’s particular location, or their personal/learning preferences. It could be something as simple as a language learning resource, which might greet the learner appropriately depending on the time of day (e.g. “bonjour/bon soir”), or something more complex such as a resource which “learns” the student’s learning style (e.g. visual, auditory, kinaesthetic), records their progress, and provides them with just “new” content, presented in their preferred medium (e.g. audio, or text). It could also be a resource which presents itself in the best possible format for the device on which it is displayed – for example, scaling down images and summarising content appropriately for a mobile phone or PDA, while providing a richer experience when the same resource is used on a PC.

Convenient/Portable: Portable Media Devices allow hours of rich media content to be convieniently and portably carried by a user for ready reference; PDAs provide the same convenience for documents, data, and media; while mobile phones are the ultimate in convenience, with their small size, low weight, and increasing functionality making them an ideal way to carry audio or video files, or small text messages of useful information. Many mobile devices also converge a number of tools which, seperately, would be both bulky and expensive, such as digital video and still photo cameras, calculators, and audio recorders. Mobile phones tend to be carried by their owners all the time, putting these tools and learning resources always within arms reach.

Personalised/Individual: All mobile devices tend to be customised by their users – whether it’s putting a custom ringtone on a phone, a personalised wallpaper on a PDA, or favourite tracks on a media player. The same concept can be applied to learning on mobile devices – learners can be given the ability to customise or “remix” the learning they download to their mobile devices or the presentation of the learning experience itself.

Connected: PDAs and mobile phones have increasing data connectivity capabilities, including the ability to access internet and mobile web sites. While data speeds are still relatively slow for most users, and there’s not a huge amount of suitable mobile content available yet, mobile connectivity provides additional convenience in terms of a learner’s ability to access new information remotely, as well as upload files for instant viewing over the web.

Ubiquitous: Mobile phones, in particular, tend to be everywhere their owners (learners) go. M-learning approaches can be devised to take advantage of this to provide ubiquitous (“anywhere, anytime”) access to learning. An SMS autoresponder system could enable learning to be provided to a learner, anywhere or anytime it’s requested, and proximal or situated learning could become increasingly pervasive in our lives. With projects like Semapedia “tagging” objects and locations with digital links to the relevant Wikipedia articles, and Google acquiring technology to get information on just about anything, just by taking a photo of it, anywhere, anytime, ubiquitous learning is already here…

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