Two researchers discuss myths associated with mobile adoption and use

mobile-learningBy now, educators are familiar with the term mobile learning — or mLearning — having experienced its rush in classroom popularity starting as early as 2000. But two researchers say it’s now imperative that educators slough off the myths from the reality to avoid ineffective classroom practice moving forward.

“In recent years, many projects have assisted in the maturation of mLearning and much has already been done to integrate mLearning into mainstream education. However, mLearning is still in its infancy and we are merely seeing the tip of the iceberg,” notes Tom Brown, a former associate professor of research and development in tech-enhanced learning at the University of South Africa , Pretoria (UNISA), and co-author of the report (after the report’s publication, Brown left to become CEO of a portfolio management company).

“Our perspectives on [mobile learning] seek to…stimulate an appetite to embrace the opportunities in open and distance learning, while minimizing the potential negative effects of technological, social and pedagogical change,” explains Lydia Mbati, senior researcher with specialties in higher ed-tech and pedagogic theory at UNISA, and co-author of the report.

Most of the myths identified by Brown and Mbati focus on mobile learning’s oft-described “techno-centric” characteristics, which the researchers say may do a disservice to those educators either interested in implementing mLearning, or have already done so.

Next page: Mobile isn’t just learning with smartphones

1. Mobile learning is learning while mobile: the assumption that “mobile” refers to mobility, or learning while “on the move”. Instead, learners tend to take learning tools to the static and appropriate places. Though many learners that make use of public transport do participate in mLearning activities while on the move, that is not the misperception; the misperception lies in the fact that mLearning can take place while the learner is static.

2. Mobile learning refers to learning with mobile phones: Mobile phones are not the only type of mobile device that can be used for mLearning. Some researchers include laptops in their definitions, while others feel that a laptop restricts the ‘mobility’ of a learner and that a mobile device would be those devices that could be operated in a learner’s hands.

3. It’s all about the mobile device: “Technology should always be regarded as the enabler and not as the driver of our teaching and learning activities,” emphasize the authors. “The primary purpose of integrating technology into teaching and learning contexts is to enhance the learning experience.” They note that, unfortunately, a large body of pilot studies and trials in the use of technology for enhancement of teaching and learning experiences and outcomes are without explicit educational foundations.

4. Mobile learning is merely eLearning accessed through mobile devices: According to Brown and Mbati, some skeptics refer to mLearning as “e-learning lite” as they believe it can only offer snippets of content. It has also been defined as a subset of eLearning and/or as an extension of. “Although this is true to an extent…this view does not take into account any of the additional affordances of the mobile device, for example location awareness and both synchronous and asynchronous collaborative communication,” they explain.

5. It’s only applicable to distance learning and not to face-to-face classroom activities: There are what the authors call “excellent examples” of successful mLearning activities taking place in both distance learning and face-to-face classroom environments. In one example, note the authors, learners can extend their formal face-to-face learning to homework, field trips, and museum visits by reviewing learning material on mobile devices or collecting and analyzing information using handheld devices.

6. Mobile learning means accessing and completing all course material and coursework on a mobile device: “The misperception here is that it should be ‘fully/totally mobile’ similarly to the concept of ‘fully online’ in cases of eLearning solely delivered online,” clarify the authors. However, mLearning opportunities can be small components, activities or events within any mode of delivery. The key would be in the value that the mLearning component adds to the success and quality of the teaching and learning.

7. Mobile learning uses existing learning environment designs and current teaching and learning methodologies: According to Brown and Mbati, the transition from face-to-face education to eLearning is not a case of merely converting learning materials to distance learning and electronic format, and making it accessible through the internet. “It is now an accepted “no-brainer” that eLearning provides new and unique affordances to the teaching and learning environment in terms of, for example, resource-rich multimedia learning materials, interactivity and communication. The same goes for mLearning,” says Mbati. “We cannot merely use our existing eLearning or ODL environment designs and teaching methodologies. It is essential to (re)design our teaching and learning activities to be able to optimize our mLearning environments and to exploit the new and unique affordances that mLearning provides.”

The report also details pedagogical affordances offered by mobile learning, emerging pedagogies in mobile learning, challenges to implementation and sustainability, and what lies ahead for mLearning. To read the full report, “Mobile Learning: Moving Past the Myths and Embracing the Opportunities,” click here.