The History and Future of Mobile Learning : Part 1

Our CEO Justin Smith recently sat down with Professor Mike Sharples to host an in-depth discussion about mobile learning and the pedagogical concept behind it, which has been broken down into a video playlist currently available to view in full on the EAS YouTube channel. Professor Mike Sharples is an Academic Lead at the Educational App Store, and is considered by many to be an expert in the field of mobile learning, having done extensive research into human-centred design and the evaluation of technologies of learning.

The interview covers the History and Future of Mobile Learning, with Prof. Mike offering insightful answers to the questions raised by many educators who have implemented tablets into their school, or those who are thinking of doing so.

The below article covers the content discussed in videos 1-3 of the afore mentioned interview.

What are the origins and history of mobile learning?

Mobile learning had some fascinating pioneering work in the early 1970’s by Xerox, the photocopier company, who set up a new group to develop what they called the Dynabook, a personal dynamic medium that was about the size and shape of a book. It’s niche was that anyone could use it and it had high definition simulations and material from around the world, which forty years ago was an amazing concept. Unfortunately the technology couldn’t keep up with it then.

It was around the early 2000’s that practical mobile learning really started up with the introduction of tablet computers. We started an early project at Birmingham Uni, surrounding the idea that people should have access to learning whenever and wherever they needed it.

What did you learn from that early work at Birmingham University? Could you identify key factors that would influence mobile learning even then?

The key aspect was personalisation – the idea that anyone could have access to learning opportunities whenever they needed them, not simply the technology they ran off.

What advice would you give schools in relation to their tablet use in the classroom?

The main piece of advice is to not consider just the tablet but also the potential for learning that comes with it. For instance, getting the right software applications and apps that will run on the devices. Firstly, the school has to have a strategy for securing the devices before they consider which pieces of software are going to benefit individual learners. It’s all about maximising the child’s capacity for learning. The questions to ask are: where can they then use it? In the classroom? The school? Home? The aspect of connecting learning from school to home is the most important. It allows children to continue learning on a device they have a constant connection to and can then bring back to school for assessment in the classroom.

There are quite a large number of programmes being rolled out in schools in regards to tablet adoption. Some revolve around certain individuals having tablets, some around a class and some around a whole year. What’s your view on the premise of different programmes for different schools and what should we be aware of?

There are a number of different programmes because each school is different and has different needs. There was an issue when the early programmes started, where a whole year group got access to tablets at the same time and then two years later the tablets were out of date, again all at the same time, and the school would often have issues relating to the repurchasing appropriate technology.

A different model relates around working with the parents. This involves a subscription service that the parent pays each week for, approximately the cost of a price of beer, which they can pay for a period of up to three years. After that the child gets to keep the tablet. That’s a good model, which many parents can afford and which can be subsidised by the school if they have identified a hardship case.

What types of software are currently available and what should teachers, parents and students be aware of in regards to software?

It’s an important opportunity to introduce appropriate software that matches the curriculum and the needs of each individual child. There are thousands of apps online, some free and some paid, so it’s a challenge to decide what to buy or adopt that will meet the needs of each child. That’s why the EAS is so valuable, in providing advice on how you can correctly match software to the diverse needs of children.

From the perspective of parents, schools and teachers, many believe that free apps are not necessarily of the quality they need to be. Does a piece of software being free equate to quality?

There is a huge variety of free software applications, but generally they haven’t had the design and thought of learning put into them. It’s fine to have a glossy base to an app, but it has to enable and foster deep learning. There are a number of good ways to learn; through practice, through constructing knowledge, through sharing with other people, and through enquiry. The key is to firstly identify what that app is trying to promote, then secondly think ‘how does that app meet the needs of that child?’ The best apps change with the learner, analysing their ability whilst having customisation features that constantly stretch a child’s learning potential. There are two main things to consider – what sort of learning those apps enable and how they adapt to the learner as they develop new knowledge and skills. To do that, the teacher needs to understand that software in-depth. Again, as the EAS provide recommendations by teachers who have used those apps in class, it gives others confidence in the app, not from a commercial point of view, but from actual teachers in a real classroom capacity.

Part two of this article will be published next week, but if you’d like to watch the interview in full don’t hesitate to visit our YouTube channel.

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