Mobile learning: Ready or not!

I must admit that even though I am a long-time advocate of distance learning, as we wrote about mobile learning as an emerging trend in Keeping Pace 2010 I was skeptical about its potential.  I love my Droid phone as much as the next person, but is it truly a vehicle for learning? Research (discussed below) from Project Tomorrow and a group of researchers at UT Austin suggests that the answer may be, or become, yes.  In the same way that I worked with faculty and administrators 10 years ago to convince them that high quality teaching and learning can happen online, I am being convinced that high quality teaching and learning experiences can happen in a mobile environment.

The advancement of mobile learning may be happening with or without us through the choices that students are making.  According to a survey released by Project Tomorrow in October, 48% of high school students and 34% of middle school students reported that they use their profiles on Facebook and other social networking sites to collaborate with classmates on projects. Though “collaboration” was self-defined by each student when answering the survey, it is indicative of students’ willingness to use technology to enhance the learning experience.  The report also notes that “students no longer view their school’s Internet filters as a primary barrier to using technology at school; but rather, the primary barrier is the inability to use their own devices, such as cell phones, smartphones, MP3 players, laptops or net books.”  This is in parallel to the study’s findings that 62% of responding parents reported that if their child’s school allowed devices to be used for educational purposes, they would likely purchase a mobile device for their child.

Dr. Joan E. Hughes, Michelle Read and graduate student researchers from the University of Texas at Austin are working to understand how students, teachers and leaders in middle schools are using technology.  They reported in a recent blog post that about 68% of students studied reported accessing social networking websites, while an average of about 80% use email.  Students are increasingly comfortable with mobile technology (often more comfortable than their parents!). Why don’t we give them a constructive outlet for this energy?

Sitting in those classrooms around the country 10 years ago, we talked about the benefits of “anytime, anywhere” learning, and that there would never be a substitute for high quality teaching – online learning was only a new medium by which to connect with students.  We shared best practices from the faculty who were on the bleeding edge of online learning at the time, and found the definition of the “classroom” expanding rapidly.

So here I am, making what sound like similar arguments for mobile learning – it’s not going to replace effective teaching, it’s simply another way to connect with students that is expanding our definition of the classroom.  And it still does rely on high quality implementations.

What ways have you seen mobile technology implemented successfully? How can it expand the school sday?