November 1, 2014

Distance Education and Mobile Learning

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The Australian-based Distance Education journal has just brought out a special edition on distance education and mobile learning.

The articles between them provide a good deal of insight into the main issues around mobile learning.

John Traxler, of the University of Wolverhampton, UK, is the guest editor, and I strongly recommend his editorial article. In it he discusses some of the issues around the definition of mobile learning, the similarities and differences between mobile learning and distance education, and, particularly useful, a summary of the main ‘affordances’ of mobile learning, under two general headings:

  • enhance, extend and enrich the concept and activity of learning, beyond earlier conceptions of learning
  • take learning to individuals, communities and countries that were previously too remote or distant

He draws attention also to the growing lack of connection between practitioners and educational researchers, opening up mobile learning to the criticism that it is under-theorised and project- and technology-based, rather than a consistent, focused approach to meeting specific educational challenges.

This theme is also taken up in another excellent article by Tiffany Koszalka and G.S. Ntloedibe-Kuswani, of Syracuse University, USA. This is a review of the literature and 10 case-studies of mobile learning. The authors build on Stead’s work around the safe and disruptive learning potentials of mobile technologies. The article provides useful statistics on access to portable phones. They conclude that most of the studies they reviewed were poorly designed as research studies. As a result, although all the studies suggest that m-learning may be supportive of the teaching and learning process, it is questionable whether much has been learned about the use of m-learning as a way to enhance learning. It is unclear whether m-technologies or changes in pedagogy are the root of outcomes. (This conclusion mirrors many preceding studies of other educational technologies.)  Nevertheless the article does indicate that there are clear motivational and access benefits from m-learning.

The other four articles are all reports on different m-learning projects.

Elizabeth Beckmann of the Australian National University reports on an m-learning project for a post-graduate program aimed at development workers, who by their nature are scattered in remote parts of the world. Some of the conclusions are generalisable, such as the critical importance of high quality, reliable Internet access, the importance of building rich social practices into the design of teaching and learning, the value of developing a community of learners, in this case development workers in different countries, and lastly, that many lessons learned from the use of past educational technologies, such as the need to focus on the pedagogy and design of learning rather than the technology, need to be adopted.

Taylor et al (all authors from the universities in the north of England) report on a project aimed at health and social care workers in England.

Balasubramanian et al. from the Commonwealth of Learning report on the use of mobile phones to promote lifelong learning among rural women in Southern India.

Vyas et al. (the authors are from Tufts University, USA and the Christian Medical College, Vellore, India) report on clinical training at remote sites in India.

I enjoyed reading and learned from all the articles in this special edition. I highly recommend the edition, even though it is not an open access journal.

Comments

  1. Dear Tony and Elizabeth…

    Thanks. I am very pleased to learn that you are finding our Special Issue on Mobile Learning and Distance Education…useful and interesting.

    Som (Executive Editor)

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