Do we need to encourage Mobile Learning?

I’ve been lucky enough to have access to a couple of mobile learning devices over the past few months; a couple of my own, and a couple ‘not my own’. So, what are these gadgets, and how are they helping me? Needless to say this list does not include my laptop and home wireless network.

Apple iPod Touch
While I can take some of my 5000 tracks with me on the 16GB iPod Touch, it’s the wireless Internet where I can search online Search Engines, read documents, check email, ¬†post to Twitter, play games, and generally keep in touch with everyone I need to. So far this is possibly the most important gadget to mLearning.

Nokia N800 Internet Tablet
I can do all the things on this that I can do on the iPod, but it has Flash installed so I can see truly all the web. I have films stored on the 16GB external SD Card (about 700MB per film, that’s a few!) to watch when I travel by train and can’t get a wireless connection, as well as check emails and Twitter (but no installable app for the N800 yet to make it as easy as with the iPod).

Sony PSP (PlayStation Portable)
Yes, it’s a games console, but it is also good for watching video / films on (if you’ve gone through the laborious steps to convert it) and browse the Internet. It has one major advantage over the iPod Touch … it can play Flash.

Sony Reader (PRS-505)
Great for reading books and/or saved documents, useless for everything else. However, mLearning doesn’t just mean it’s about the Internet and surfing, it is about being mobile, and this is great for transporting files around, and being able to access them quickly. I know someone who took this into their Management meeting and, instead of printing the 315 pages of documents, he took the 5MB PDF file on the Sony in with him; he’d already bookmarked the sections he wanted quick access to, and found it easier (and cheaper) than printing the documents.

iRex iLiad (eBook Reader)
Similar (very) to the Kindle and Sony Reader with the added advantage that you can scribble in the margins of the screen / book and save your scribble for later. Sadly I found this very difficult to use and gave up pretty quickly. I’m sure if I continued and endeavoured to figure it out it would’ve been good, but it wasn’t, so I didn’t.

So, what has this to do with encouraging mLearning?

Quite a lot actually, as this kind of tool / gadget is becoming common-place in the lives of the student population, Generation Y. The iPod is the ubiquitous MP3 player for everyone, and it’s Internet capabilities is just an additional benefit for most, but essential for the mobile learning to take place. The other tools I use are good, but this is the core for my mobile learning; I’m searching Google for wider reading, I’ve installed TwitterFon so I can update and keep up-to-date with my¬†Twitter account, I’m checking emails, I’m doing all sorts of things I wouldn’t be doing with the other tools … the iPod doesn’t take minutes to boot up.

As with all the newest technology and implications (not to mention applications) for it, encouragement may not be needed, but if it is to be beneficial to the students, we as instructors and facilitators need to fully understand the reasons behind the advantages and disadvantages of the technological break-thrus.

Mobile Learning has a good list of advantages and disadvantages for mobile learning, of which I’ve picked the best couple below:

Advantages:

  • Learners can interact with each other and with the practitioner instead of hiding behind large monitors.
  • It’s much easier to accommodate several mobile devices in a classroom than several desktop computers.
  • Mobile devices can be used anywhere, anytime, including at home, on the train, in hotels – this is invaluable for work-based training.

Disadvantages:

  • Small mobile and PDA screens limit the amount and type of information that can be displayed.
  • It’s a fast-moving market, especially for mobile phones, so devices can become out of date very quickly.

I like the idea of mobile learning, but not everyone will, and we need to be careful not to disadvantage those who want to learn in a different fashion if they choose not to engage in mobile learning.