There are, at the last estimate by Mike Short, Vice-President of Telefonica Europe, currently 82 million mobile phones in the UK (a penetration rate of 130%). This is due not only to the phenomenon of many people having both work and personal mobile phones, but the increasing use of specialist mobile phones in certain sectors and machine-to-machine communication by devices such as ‘smart meters’.
Mobile devices are changing societal discourse and knowledge (Traxler, 2007, p.10), providing advantages not only for work but for learning. Some are predicting mobile phone ownership to rise to 20 billion by the year 2020 (Mike Short), some 50 billion (GSMA) with their networked nature comprising an ‘Internet of things’.
When researchers talk of the ‘affordances’ of a mobile device they refer not to cost implications but to its quality or ability to perform an action. An advantage of a mobile phone, for example, might be its inbuilt Global Positioning System (GPS). An associated affordance would be the user’s navigation to a desired location. Affordances are experiential.
Woodill (2010:53) identifies seven main affordances of mobile learning:
- Context sensitivity
These affordances permeate the review and discussion elements of what follows. Each should not be taken as independent of the others, but seen as overlapping and being influenced by other elements. For example, is the notion of ‘privacy’ assumed in ‘Individuality’ indeed what does privacy mean in this context?
This mobile and wireless review is concerned with only one of the following three categories:
- Mobile NOT wireless
- Wireless NOT mobile
- Mobile AND wireless
Examples of the first type are devices such as the Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) that allowed so much of the earlier work in the mobile learning landscape to take place. They include some form of technology that enables students to learn ‘on-the-go’ but no wireless functionality. The second type include devices such as fixed wifi-enabled LCD projectors or various types of sensors. Whilst information can be sent to and from these devices, the device itself is immobile.
It is the third category that we are concerned with primarily here: devices such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets. These devices are mobile and wireless as they can be moved whilst connecting wirelessly, providing functionality that would not otherwise be available. For the sake of convenience and reading ease this review shall assume that devices referred to under the term ‘mobile learning’ are both mobile AND wireless.
There is much overlap between games-based learning, mobile learning, cloud computing and other new education-related technologies. Where it is useful to do so, these differences shall be spelled out. As will become clear, however, it is very difficult to consider mobile technologies and mobile learning in isolation.
Finally, before proceeding, this review is but a lens through which one can view mobile learning. There is such a plethora of writing on the subject from all kinds of angles, a “bubbling of research activity” as John Traxler puts it, that this will only ever be a partial snapshot of the current state of play.