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:


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