Thursday, April 06, 2006

M-Learning: The future starts with "M"

M-learning: The future starts with “M”

What is m-learning?
Mobile learning, also known as m-learning, refers to learning that takes place using portable computer devices such as advanced cell phones, tablet computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) including Blackberries and Ipacs. It also implies wireless internet access as a component. (Mobile Learning Group, 2004). Alexander (2004) refines this point by stating that wireless access is not essential to m-learning as a handheld device may result in mobility but not necessarily connectivity, depending on how it is used and where. A handheld device can be used for asynchronous learning activities such as reading, using e-mail/texting, and composing documents to be sent later in a connected environment or be used synchronously for conversations, for example. Livingstone (2004) refers to the fact that these devices will become the Swiss Army knives of the future learning.

What will m-learning’s role be in the future of educational technology?
As evidence by the presence of the Mobilearn Consortium’s website (2004) and that of the Mobile Learning Group (2004), m-learning can arguably be considered a current trend, albeit one in relatively early stages of adoption. Alexander (2004) points out that overall North America lags behind other areas of the globe in m-learning uptake. Nevertheless some North American universities are active in the field including North Carolina’s Wake Forest University, which has produced ClassInHand, a software program that can be used to enable pocket personal computers with internet connectivity, communications options and quizzing tools to enhance learning. (Bishop, et al., 2003) The Horizon Report (2006) flags personal broadcasting as a technology that will be widely adopted within a year due to the portability and affordability of devices that produce high-quality audio and video. In the longer term, two to three years according to The Horizon Report (2006), cell phones will be enabled by faster and more sophisticated data transfer networks to provide educational content to users.

The potential of m-learning is not isolated to a particular hardware or software but rather speaks to the future of teaching and learning which will increasingly be facilitated on devices that will become increasingly smaller, more affordable, and more ubiquitous in the coming years thanks to advances in nanotechnology. (Brumfiel, 2001) Instead of necessarily taking the form of a handheld device, the tool could be contained in everyday items and accessories modified and enhanced so they take on new potential for learning and interaction with classmates and instructors. For example, someday “smart glasses” may mean that public transit commuters can see vodcasts of lectures or listen to audio presentations of their classmates in the lenses of their glasses or their PDA may be held in their wristwatch.

What does m-learning mean for students and teachers?
Educause’s Learning Initiatives website (2006) notes that m-learning can support learning experiences that are accessible, collaborative and available beyond the physical classroom. Moblogs, or mobile Web logs, are, for example, one way in particular students can contribute their thoughts and perceptions while in the field or track their research as it matures.

Alexander (2004) points out that students interact differently with m-learning devices than with wired desktops by drawing attention to student behaviour on shared lab computers versus their own handheld devices. Use of the public machines does not, he claims, result in the same level of emotional investment or collaboration as the smaller devices as evidenced, for example, by the fact that students often turn the large computer screens in labs away from prying eyes so they create a sense of privacy which handheld devices readily offer.

Kroeker and Ally (n.d.) summarize the benefits of m-learning for distance students. Namely, they state m-learning permits different interactions for the student with the material, with each other and in collaborative work, as well as with the instructor.
Alexander (2003) suggests that m-learning can result in truly virtual classrooms or classrooms that generate based on swarm behaviour whereby interested, physically distributed students converge on an expert in a field they are interested in. What does m-learning mean for the traditional classroom? Alexander (2003) reminds us that one of the key aspects of the traditional classroom is the co-location of teachers and students. Does this mean the traditional classroom is to be a thing of the past? In keeping m-learning in perspective, it should be viewed as a means to augment classroom and formal learning. Feenberg (1999) cites the work of Shoshanna Zuboff on the complementarity of human and computer skills. There are some things people do better, such as counselling, while other things, like field reports and on-going education may be best done using technology.

Ultimately m-learning, whether incorporated into hybrid models of education or used as stand-alone educational components, will help prepare students of all ages for the social and work worlds they will be entering. As an example of this, Alexander (2004) asserts that use of mobile devices can increase the ability to multitask, a key skill required in many professions. The emphasis on portable offices, self-initiating, multi-tasking, ubiquitous connectivity and lifelong learning and professional development is certain to continue.

While m-learning is definitely the future, it is important to reiterate that the technology itself, neither software nor hardware, will alone improve teaching and learning. (Dawson, n.d., Scott, n.d.) What the future holds is unprecedented access to learning opportunities but the challenge will lie in the preparation of appropriate resources that utilize the potential of the technology while also ensuring value to attending more traditional educational settings where necessary. Future technology will make teaching and learning more convenient and accessible but, realistically, may not make it appreciably different from what is available now.


Alexander, Bryan (2003). Teaching in the Wireless Cloud. Retrieved April 1, 2006 from:

Alexander, Bryan (2004). Going Nomadic: Mobile Learning in Higher Education, EDUCAUSE Review, Vol. 39, No. 5, September/October 2004.

Bishop, Anne L., Dinkins, R. Kriss, and Dominick, James L. (2003) Programming Handheld Devices to Enhance Learning, EDUCAUSE Quarterly , Vol. 26, No. 1

Brumfiel, Geoff (2001). Nanocomputers Get Real. Wired News.,1282,48278,00.html

Dawson, Jerry. (n.d.) The Future of Educational Technology.
Retrieved March 16, 2006 from:

Educause Learning Initiative (2006) Retrieved March 31, 2006 from:

Feenberg, Andrew. (1999). Whiter Educational Technology? Peer Review, vol. 1 no. 4.
Retrieved March 16, 2006 from:

Horizon Report 2006. The New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative. Retrieved March 19, 2006 from:

Kroeker, P. Paul and Ally, Mohamed (n.d.). Interaction Strategies for Mobile Learning. Retrieved April 4, 2006 from:

Livingston, Alan. (2004) Smartphones and Other Mobile Devices: The Swill Army Knives of the 21st Century, EDUCAUSE Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2004. Retrieved March 31 from:

Mobile Learning Group. (2004). Retrieved April 1, 2006 from:

Mobilearn Consortium. (2004). Retrieved March 31, 2006 from:

Rose, David (2001). Universal Design for Learning. JSET Journal, Volume 16, Number 4, Fall 2001. Retrieved March 18 from:

Scott, Peter. (n.d.) Will Technology Enhanced Learning ever deliver ‘genuine’ innovation? Retrieved March 16, 2006 from:

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Assignment 3 progress

Of the assignments so far, this one is my favourite. There is so much written about discussion forums but to actually use our own class postings to conduct an analysis of skills employed or demonstrated in such a forum is truely interesting. Actually looking at each message and determining the level of thought and the processes behind it is giving me a whole new outlook on how research into discussion forums has taken place.

It is also a great experience to conduct a study using a framework that is popular and capture the results in a 1000 word essay that mimics the manner in which any empirical research would be presented. Excellent preparation for thesis work!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Assignment 2

It has been a while since my last posting--a factor of being too busy, no doubt. :-)

Assignment 2 has been handed in and I have to say it was an interesting experience. Linking a technology trend to a learning theory and then doing a PowerPoint presentation to capture all the salient points was a very different type of assignment in my experience. It was a great way to pull ideas together in a succinct but meaningful way.

On a different note, one of the reasons I started doing this program was to learn more about the field in which I am working. I have never studied part-time while working before and have also never done a solely distance program. While I like the flexibility that the online courses provide, they do take discipline. The key is getting into some kind of routine to do all the work.

The most difficult thing for me by far, though, is the realisation that I could (and, arguably, should) be doing a better job on the assignments. The problem I am finding is that with so many commitments both personally and professionally it is difficult to really give 100%. Consequently I find myself having to say that something will have to be "good enough"--not a motto I would like to live by but is the reality of my situation now.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The first assignment has been uploaded. I cannot say that I am 100% satisfied with it but, as much as I hate to admit it, I am learning that sometimes when you are juggling several differerent aspects to your life there is just not enough time to do everything to one's best ability. Often it comes down to the best one can do at that time. Anyway, regardless of the mark, the experience and exercise of module 1 was very worthwhile and has given me a tool I will use in my daily work.

I am going to concentrate instead on module 2 and being better organized for that. This evening I listened to the Stephen Downes presentation provided in the course and he raised many good points, especially about the role of post-secondary institutions. Before posting anything I am going to take a day or two and let the information sink in, read some good articles on the trends and then wade into the discussion activity.


Monday, January 30, 2006

Assignment 1

It is now the fourth week of the course and assignment 1 is due on Friday. My goal is to have it online Wednesday just in case I have problems uploading it. The concept map process really helped to breakdown the issue into manageable chunks so I think I will try to use this technique when dealing with complicated issues at work. It has also helped to demonstrate visually the depth and layers of some aspects of the issue I chose to explore. The hard part for me was the 500 word summary to explain the map and link to the literature. 500 words is not much to work with but then clear and concise writing should be an expectation at this level. One thing that was in the back of my mind when reading articles was that I did not want to read too many and not be able to refer to them in the write-up!


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Well into first module

It is week 3 of the course and we are well into the first module. I have chosen to explore for both the first discussion activity and the first assignment an issue which I personally find very interesting. Namely, how to best offer support to faculty members who are using technology either to teach via distance or to supplement their on-campus offerings. Having the opportunity to search the library website for articles and resources makes life so much easier than in my undergrad days when you had to rifle through index cards and shelves! Having said that, there is so much to read on the internet that it is difficult to know when to stop. I am already, surprisingly, at the point of saturation regarding the issue since most of the articles I am finding are basically saying the same things about the issue and ways to address it. Now it is time to get the concept map started and begin framing the content of the literature read so far.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Learner Profile

Over the past week I have been trying to think of what to write to describe myself as a learner. Ironically a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine jokingly asked me if I was addicted to anything and I replied that I am addicted to learning! For most of my life I have been studying both formally and informally, whether it be a language, fitness leadership, degree programs, etc. I generally like to learn by reading and then reflecting on the material. In class settings I usually do not abosorb the material on the spot but rather need to review it a couple of times before it sinks in. It is almost as though the initial information serves as an introduction and then I have to study it and make it my own.

With regards to the M. Ed. (IT), my goals are twofold: 1) I am hoping to become more well versed in the language and concepts of the educational technology field in which I work, and 2) I want to apply the principles to the courses I teach in Business. My main goal for the M. Ed. (IT) is to prepare a thesis and contribute in some way to the field by exploring and adding to an important issue.