3 Theories Why We Are Intrigued By Mobile Learning

Maybe different, possibly better, and definitely the future.

May 11, 2016

Why are we so interested in mobile learning?

What is it about moving online education from our laptops to our phones and tablets that has gotten us so intrigued?

Is it because the world of social media has largely moved to mobile?

Over three-quarters of all the time that people in the U.S. spend on social media is done so on a mobile device.  90 percent of people that access Facebook on a daily basis are doing so via mobile, and over 50 percent of Facebook users only access the social network on a mobile device.   Over 80 percent of Twitter users are mobile users.  More than half of YouTube views come from a mobile device.

I have 3 theories about why we are so intrigued by the siren song of mobile learning:

Theory 1 - Mobile Learning Could Be Different from Laptop Learning:

You are going to have to help me out with this “difference” argument.  The reason is that I am not a big social media person.  Therefore, I don’t have a first-hand understanding as to how Twitter or Facebook (or whatever - Instagram, Pinterest, what else?) is different on a phone than a laptop.

I suspect that mobile social media is different because the barriers to interact are lower than on a computer.  Your phone is always in your hand or in your pocket.  We are now never without our phones (except maybe in the shower - and even then they are right outside the shower).

The opportunity to interact on social media through a phone is constant - and increasingly socially acceptable.  Nobody thinks anything of it when we whip out our phones before a meeting, while waiting in line, and increasingly (and depressingly) socializing with friends.

Learning on a mobile device (can’t really call these things phones anymore) could also be different than learning on a laptop.  Interacting with a learning community could become organic to activities of daily living.  Course time would no longer be separate from social or work time.   If you can read your Facebook Timeline while waiting in line at Starbucks, why not check class discussion boards and catch up on some course readings?

Mobile learning could get small, chunked, and be less about typing and text.  Video capture could replace typing.  Short statements could replace long paragraphs.

I have trouble envisioning what a quality mobile learning experience could look like - but maybe I’m just too old fashion. 

Theory 2 - Mobile Learning Could Better Than Laptop Learning:

Forget just different - maybe mobile learning could be better.

Is there any educator on the planet that loves the LMS?  We universally dislike the browser based learning management system (LMS), and universally love our phones.  We love apps.

We love apps because they are purpose built, simple, lightweight, cheap, and fast.

Imagine a mobile first online learning platform that strips away all the unwanted features of the LMS.  No more complicated gradebook.  No more list of features that we never use.  Only a method to collaborate, share materials, complete and collect assignments, engage in formative assessment, and build a community in the class.

What would a simple and relational based mobile learning platform look like?

I still think that the lack of a keyboard is the killer.  The fundamental flaw of mobile-only learning is that typing is bad - and when typing does not work nothing else in online learning can work.  We need to type to construct complex arguments.  We need to type to attach evidence to our assertions.  We need to type to engage, rebut, and persuade.

How in the world in mobile learning possible without a keyboard?

Theory 3 - Mobile Learning Is the (Emerging Economy) Future of Learning:

The most persuasive argument for mobile learning (at least to my ears) is that mobile learning must be our future.  Mobile learning is going to come - whether we want it to or not.

The reason that the future of learning is mobile can be found in demography and geography.  Tomorrow’s postsecondary students will not be found in North America, Europe, or the already wealthy parts of Asia.  Tomorrow’s college students will come from Africa, South Asia, parts of South America, and everywhere else that a young population will be fighting for access to higher education.

In this vision, higher education is not a campus based activity.  Nor is higher education about seat time or diplomas.  Rather, higher education is a lifelong endeavor (following secondary graduation) that is competency based, occupation related, and mediated by the mobile phone.

Just as banking and payments have moved to the phone in Africa and much of Asia, higher education will also migrate to the mobile.

If this vision is correct - that the future of higher education is in the mobile world, and that future is mobile - then exploring mobile learning today makes good sense.  We should be doing everything we can to spread the benefits of postsecondary education to as many people as possible.  We should be pushing the limits of mobile learning.

Why are you intrigued by mobile learning?



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