Both interviewees and the literature reflected ‘silos’ of research and practice in the mobile and wireless technologies landscape. These can be defined, broadly, as:
- Technocentric (technology for technology’s sake)
- e-Learning related (mobile as part of the wider picture)
- Augmentation of formal processes
Whilst there is nominal referencing of academic literature by practitioners there is a reasonably clear demarcation between the two. It is clear that some projects have not learned from previous research and experience well-documented in the literature.
In many cases, and much like conversations surrounding ‘digital literacy’ and ‘cloud computing’, discussion of mobile learning within and between institutions is used as a proxy to consider the bigger picture of changes happening within education. With a greater focus on learners as customers and institutions being run very much as businesses, both publications and interviewees were at pains to point out how mobile learning can help improve retention, engagement and outcomes.
There may be nothing particularly ‘special’ about e-learning to many students, but ‘m-learning’ (as it is sometimes known) still retains some glamour and can inspire awe. Learners who know how to use mobile technologies for personal entertainment and communication do not necessarily know how to use the same technologies to aid their studies.
At the turn of the century Prensky’s ‘digital native/immigrant’ dichotomy caused many educators to advocate a ‘hands-off’ approach when it came to directing learners with technology. The theory was that ‘Millennials’ or the ‘Google Generation’ not only had access to more personally owned technology than any previous generation, but that they naturally knew what to do with it. This has been widely debunked in favour of a more nuanced ‘digital visitors/residents’ metaphor (White, 2008) that brings the experience and expertise of educators back into focus. Failing to place pedagogy at the heart of change management initiatives has led to many mobile learning failures.
Three things that learners do expect, however, are:
- To be able to use their own devices with corporately-owned IT infrastructure.
- For technology not to be used as a crutch for poor learning and teaching experiences.
- Unhampered digital communication with their peers, tutors and administrators.
In addition, it would appear that learners’ study habits are changing. They expect learning resources and relevant information to be available as and when required. Increasingly they are expecting to connect their social networks through Facebook, Twitter and the like to their studies. With social networking driving sales of smartphones a spectrum of ways exists in which institutions can embrace such functionalities, including altering filtering protocols and enabling sign-in to services through 3rd-party authentication system.
Although much is made of the ‘revolutionary’ nature of mobile learning, it is those institutions with a clear digital strategy that have been successful. For these institutions, the affordances of mobile learning allow an evolution towards a shared vision of a further or higher education institution in the twenty-first century.
There is, and never will be the ‘perfect’ mobile learning device. The fast-paced nature of change coupled with the business and/or entertainment focus of mobile devices means that education is likely only ever to be able to appropriate them for learning activities. So long as institutions place pedagogy first as part of a wider digital strategy, this should not pose a barrier to adoption.