The QWERTY Mobile Learning Conundrum

The future of mobile.

August 20, 2013

Why are we pushing ahead into mobile learning?  

One possibility is that we are all making a huge collective mistake. That we have drunk the iPad / iPhone / Android Kool-Aid.   

That we will look back on all this talk about mobile learning the same way we look back on netbooks and MOOCs (did I just say MOOCs?). 

We will wonder why we did not ask the mobile learning evangelists the hard questions.  

Why did we see mobile learning as an ends, rather than a means in which to accomplish our educational goals?

That is one possible future.

The other potential future is that we will look at the early mobile learning enthusiasts as ahead of their time.  

Educators who saw that the future of technology enabled learning was not the laptop and the browser, but the mobile device and the app.

In this future, mobile learning has unleashed a new wave of educational creativity and experimentation.  

Freed from the constraints of computer, untethered from the closest wifi signal, mobile platforms will do for education what they have done for communicating, socializing, banking, and entertainment in much of the world.   

I'm somewhere in the middle.

I cannot imagine a rich and immersive course in the absence of a good keyboard.  

We communicate, collaborate, and create by writing. We write with keyboards. Laptops have good keyboards. Smart phones and tablets have bad keyboards.

Solve the QWERTY conundrum and I'm hooked.  

How wonderful would it be to have our professors, students, and curriculum in our pocket? Wherever we went our courses would come with us. A course could stop being something that we "attend" or even "log in" to, and morph into something that is integrated with the rest of our lives.

Will mobile learning replace laptop learning?   

There is little doubt that the current state-of-the art for mobile learning platforms (which ranges from atrocious to merely mediocre) will change rapidly. I expect that in 5 years that the mobile learning apps that we endure today will seem as primitive as bag phones, bulky CRT screens, floppy disks, and Windows 3.1. 

Future mobile learning apps will be designed around mobile rather than web platforms, built for apps rather browsers, and optimized for small screens.

What I can't wrap my head around is how the input will work. What will replace the keyboard?   

Voice recognition will no doubt get really good. But composing a thoughtful argument requires re-writing, not just dictation, and editing and revising is almost impossible with dictation.

Software keyboards are limited by screen real estate. Typing on my iPad mini screen is a chore.  Slow, painful, and prone to error.  Forget typing on a phone.

External keyboards seem to defeat the purpose of the mobile device. If I need an external keyboard to work than the advantage that the mobile device has over the laptop seems to disappear.

Maybe holographic keyboards? Laser keyboards?

What do you imagine as the path forward for mobile learning?


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