The MOBIlearn project (www.mobilearn.org), which ran from July 2002 to March 2005, was the first European large-scale mobile learning project. The 33-month project included organisations from nine European countries as well as the USA and Australia and focused upon education outside the traditional classroom. Thirteen work packages were identified with the focus being upon basic skills and workplace learning (Kukulska-Hulme, et al., 2010).
With partners including Nokia, Compaq, Deutsche Telecom and Telecom Italia, the focus was inevitably upon the device, with explicit aims including the development of:
- “Theoretically-supported and empirically-validated models”
- “A reference mobile learning architecture”
- “A business model”
This, as some projects before and after, was funded by the vocational learning-focused Leonardo Da Vinci programme of the European Union. Further details about the projects that aimed to move from “distance learning (d-Learning) and electronic learning (e-Learning) to mobile learning (m-Learning)” can be found at: http://learning.ericsson.net/mlearning2/project_one/index.html
One of the consequences of the MOBIlearn project was a “shift in focus from learning with handheld devices, towards support for the mobility of learning”. The recognition was that the challenge in mobile learning is to “connect the learning across contexts and life transitions” (Kukulska, Hulme, et al., 2009, p.6)
At the same time, but stemming from a project through the University of Birmingham, the UK hosted the first international conference on mobile and contextual learning (www.eee.bham.ac.uk/mlearn). This led to the international mLearn conference which is now held in a different country each year. The first IEEE International Workshop on Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education (http://lttf.ieee.org/wmte2002) was held at Växjö University in Sweden in the same year.
An ‘M-Learning’ project, funded by the European Fifth Framework programme and co-ordinated by the UK Learning and Skills Development Agency ran from 2001 to 2004. This 3-year project focused on “young adults aged 16 to 24, who were considered most at risk of social exclusion in Europe” (www.m-learning.org). This project proved the case for mobile learning, encouraging practice-led experimentation with mobile devices.
Kukulska-Hulme, et al. (2009:7) note that “there is little to connect delivery of location-based content on mobile phones with group learning through handheld computers in the classroom” which meant that “early definitions of mobile learning were anchored on the use of mobile technology”. Research attention started to be directed at “those simple things that technology does extremely and uniquely well” (Roschelle, 2003, p.268).
The ‘mobile’ element of mobile learning began to be viewed as “an emergent property of the interactions between people and technologies” (Kukulska-Hulme, et al., 2009, p.8). The work of Kakihara and Sørensen (2002) was taken up by researchers as a framework for further research into mobile learning. This framework, looking at the physical, conceptual, social and time-related elements of has informed further projects.
Whilst there have been many mobile learning projects inspired and funded as a result of major European projects (such as Learning2Go, MoLeNET, and work by Learning Teaching Scotland) many of these have involved schools and Further Education institutions. As Kukulska-Hulme, et al. (2009, p.11) comment:
“[T]ertiary education projects do not seem to be overly concerned with connecting the lecture theatre with the outside world and bringing students out into it. The approach is more focused on supporting students’ learning wherever they are rather than displacing them somewhere to learn.”
The terms of discourse for European mobile learning projects seem to be bounded by work within the basic skills and vocational learning arena. Many successful projects have involved extending the formal learning environment (e.g. Knowmobile, MeduMobile, Flex-Learn) or impart basic skills by repetition via an always-available device. As such, there remains somewhat of a disconnect between academic research and practice.
In ‘The Role of Mobile Learning in European Education’, a European Socrates programme-funded project (www.ericsson.com/ericsson/corpinfo/programs/the_role_of_mobile_learning_in_european_education/products.shtml) the UK is ranked top of a league table of countries in terms of mobile learning. It cites, amongst other things, the Open University’s continued innovation, exemplified by it’s Mobile Learning Support blog (www.open.ac.uk/blogs/mLearn) making the important point that,
“It is not technologies with inherent pedagogical characteristics which succeed in distance education, but technologies that are generally available to its citizens.” (p.5)
This publication also makes reference to a rarely-cited methodology named Internet-based Performance Support System with Educational Elements (IPSS_EE). Workpackage 4: The Role of Mobile Learning in European Education, for example, explains that IPSS_EE is a “performance-based action learning environment” in which “students learn small amounts of discrete information at one time and slowly build a network of these information chunks” (p.58). Students tie together these discrete pieces to understand larger ideas. This is a deeply constructivist learning methodology that seems perfectly suited to mobile learning as it “minimises the lag between the content presentation (or learning the content) and execution of the learned information” (p.51).
One of the key messages from the ‘The Role of Mobile Learning in European Education’ is the importance of mass-adoption of a device. Citing 12-inch laserdiscs in the 1990s the authors explain that although fantastic pedagogical content and possibilities were created, not enough people owned laserdisc players. Mobile phones, on the other hand, with 3G connections, are hitting critical mass. The authors (p.7-13) believe there to be four levels or ‘stages’ of mobile adoption:
- Administration (preventing student drop-out, checking assessment deadlines, getting feedback from tutors)
- Study help (communication from and with institution, browsing course material, multiple-choice tests)
- Course modules (accreditation of mobile learning modules, part of formal assessment)
- Location/context-sensitive information (rich and collaborative activities, use of established technologies like GPS, RFID and SCORM)
Quoting with approval Futurelab’s report ‘Towards New Learning Networks’, the authors explain that most discussions around learner choice focus upon providing a plethora of routes through predefined subjects and curriculum content. A “truly personalised system,” however, “requires that learners… are also supported to become active partners in developing their own educational pathways and experiences” (p.55)
Another European project worth mentioning is MOTILL (Mobile Technologies in Lifelong Learning). This one-year project (http://motill.eu) began in early 2009 with the results of the project being:
- “An up-to-date survey on the use of mobile technologies in learning and training projects” in the partners’ countries; this survey takes into account also the policies set up in the various countries by the relevant institutions;
- “A methodological framework to analyse and highlight best practices”
- “An open space for public discussions, involving public and private institutions, research centres, educators, and trainers”
The collection of ‘best practices’ for Mobile Lifelong Learning is available from the MOTILL website (http://motill.eu/images/stories/motillbooklet_en.pdf) and features an evaluation grid was applied to the projects featured in the publication:
(click to enlarge)
The European Consortium for the Learning Organisation (www.eclo.org) is actively involved in many European-funded projects. Although focused primarily on lifelong learning initiatives these often include mobile technologies. The “well-established infrastructure” of ECLO means that their publications provide a useful method of dissemination.
Finally, IAMLearn (http://mlearning.noe-kaleidoscope.org), the International Association for Mobile Learning, aims to “promote excellence in research, development and application of mobile and contextual learning”. It organises the annual mLearn conference with its website forming a community hub for news, research papers, links and vacancies related to mobile learning.