Mobile Learning – Much More Than Just Content Delivery #acuconnected

Earlier this month, Abilene Christian University hosted the Connected Summit, a conference for K12, college, and university educators and administrators interested in the role of mobile devices (including, but not limited to, the iPhone and the iPad) in education. I was, unfortunately, not able to attend the conference, but I did participate actively on the Twitter backchannel organized around the hashtag #acuconnected.

During the first day of the conference, most of the discussion on the backchannel seemed to be around the use of mobile devices as content delivery mechanisms: e-books, open educational resources, and the like. It’s certainly a challenge to create content that works well on these platforms, and there’s definite potential in mobile content delivery to improve aspects of education. But I wasn’t entirely happy with this focus on only content delivery. This tweet from Mark van ‘t Hooft (@dutchboyinohio) motivated me to jump in the backchannel and comment:

ACU should focus on learning outside of classroom and how to connect it to classroom learning. Learning exp should be 24/7 #acuconnected

Here’s my two-part reply:

@dutchboyinohio Not sure I buy that. Transforming what happens *in* class is where there’s potential for growth. #acuconnected

@dutchboyinohio Students already have lots of access to tech outside of class, esp. on residential campuses. #acuconnected

Mark van ‘t Hooft continued the conversation:

@derekbruff Right,but what do they do with them 4 learning? #acuconnected

So I clarified:

@dutchboyinohio My point is that (perhaps) mobile doesn’t add much to the out-of-class experience that’s not already available #acuconnected

@dutchboyinohio It does, however, open up lots of new options for changing what happens in class. #acuconnected

It felt productive to have that interchange, to point towards the use of mobile devices in the classroom itself. But as the backchannel started on the second day of the conference, there continued to be a focus on content delivery. I decided that if no one else was going to direct people’s attention beyond just content delivery, I would:

Content delivery is fine, but I’m more interested in what you can’t do *without* mobility. #acuconnected

My new sparring partner Mark van ‘t Hooft wrote back:

@derekbruff: “Mobile learning *in* the classroom”: sounds like an oxymoron to me…. #acuconnected

Those were, to me, fighting words!

@dutchboyinohio When stdts walk into class w/powerful, connected computers in their pockets, class can work very differently! #acuconnected

It occurred to me that some, perhaps many at the conference were using a definition of “mobile learning” very different from mine. As I noted in my post, “Five Types of Mobile Learning,” back in 2009, some take the “mobile” in “mobile learning” to modify the student. If the students need to be mobile, then I can see why mobile learning in the classroom might sound like an oxymoron. But if it’s the devices that are mobile, then classroom uses of iPads, iPhones, and the like are back on the table.

I’m not alone in my definition of mobile learning. Check out this short video of Bill Rankin, director of educational innovation at ACU, talking about the potential of mobile devices to transform what happens in the classroom:

Bill’s not talking about content delivery here, at least not in the sense of delivering educational content to mobile devices when students are out and about. As I mentioned in my tweets, I think that mobile devices can transform that kind of out-of-classroom learning, but they have even greater potential to enhance what goes on in the classroom.

Here are those five types of mobile learning again:

  1. Super-clickers” allowing for multiple-choice as well as free-response questions during class
  2. Tools for student-to-student communication and collaboration during class (e.g. backchannel discussion)
  3. Portals to the world outside of the class (e.g. Google jockeys)
  4. Mobile platforms for delivering content (lecture notes, videos, texts, etc.) anywhere students happen to be
  5. Tools for collecting and analyzing data (interviews, photos, scientific data, etc.) while out in the field

Note that types 1, 2, and 3 happen during class, not outside of it. These activities are difficult-to-impossible to facilitate without student mobile devices of some kind–laptops, cell phones, smart phones, tablets. That’s what I meant when I tweeted “I’m more interested in what you can’t do *without* mobility.” These powerful, connected devices have the potential to turn our students’ classroom experiences into events they don’t want to miss. Let’s not leave this potential out of our discussions of mobile learning!

Two other points about mobile learning:

One, I’m open to adding “augmented reality” to that list as a sixth type of mobile learning. It involves mobile content delivery, but the interactive and place-based aspects of augmented reality means it’s more than just that.

Two, when we focus on mobile learning’s potential outside of the classroom, I’m not sure content delivery is the “killer app” anyway. Gary Olds (@GoldsAtWork) tweeted the following, reporting on a presentation by Lousie Duncan at the ACU conference:

Mobile learning is bite sized, context aware, spontaneous personal, pervasive, informal, portable, opportunistic –#LouiseDuncan#acuconnected

I buy that, but that list is missing something. I replied:

@GoldsAtWork Isn’t mobile learning also social? Connected? Collaborative? #acuconnected

I don’t know about you, but I use my Android phone for social networking (via Twitter and Facebook) more than anything. And I suspect that most of our students use their phones for social activities more than consuming content. Larry Rosen reports in his book Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn that 16-to-18-year-olds spend an average of 3.5 hours texting a day. I’m guessing they watch some YouTube videos on their phones, too, but… 3.5 hours?! That’s incredible. Focusing on content delivery again misses the potential of these devices.

Here’s another tweet from me from the second day of the conference:

How do students use mobile devices? For consuming content? Or for interacting socially? #acuconnected

Trent Gillaspie (@TrentBbMobile) got my point and responded:

@derekbruff both again. Without content creation by students on mobile, consumption loses so much value. #acuconnected

Me again:

@TrentBbMobile Re: content creation. That’s why mlearning needs to focus on the interactive & the social. Not just delivery. #acuconnected

Mobile is social, and those interested in mobile learning should keep that in mind.

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