“There are a variety of problem associated with evaluating mobile learning. Perhaps the most fundamental is the problem of defining the characteristics of a good or acceptable evaluation.” (Traxler, 2007, p.19)
Not only, as John Traxler points out, are mobile learning initiatives difficult to even begin to evaluate, but as work by Becta (http://becta.org.uk) demonstrated, ROI can be difficult to prove. However, ROI is never the whole picture as, even if they are calculated in a conscientious manner, “a comprehensive picture of true enterprise costs are seldom included or accurately estimated” (Woodill, 2011, p.215). This is due to project teams only thinking of project costs rather than wider impact and associated costs. Mobile learning initiatives have to stem from more than a desire to make money or even to claw back all costs.
Mobile learning initiatives are likely to stem from pressure coming from cultural elements, government, or stakeholders. The major decision, as Jocelyn Wishart points out, is whether or not to provide devices to learners:
“The current and extremely important consideration for an institutions senior managers and ICT support team was whether to go down an institutionally-owned path purchasing devices for student use or even requiring their purchase as has started happening in some colleges in the US. Or to go down a student-owned path supporting students in using their own mobile devices to access college systems.”
Whilst there has been a significant trend away from institutions providing devices and towards using student-owned mobile devices for learning, there are significant costs associated with both. Sam Adkins at Ambient Insight has identified what he terms the ‘perfect storm’ driving the adoption of mobile learning:
Source: Ambient Insight (2010) (used with permission)
Mobile learning initiatives cannot be considered in isolation to wider societal, cultural, sector and institutional changes. The move towards ‘cloud computing’ and flexible service delivery, for example, is a development that will transform the parameters of any debate about mobile learning within an institution. JISC infoNet is currently developing a resource in this area: www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/flexible-service-delivery. As David Sugden puts it:
“Mobile devices, especially mobile phones, are so powerful these days that it would be a crime not to use their facilities with all sorts of Internet enabled tools and techniques.
As an example, outsourcing email to Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Live@Edu has the knock-on effect of making not only email, but the associated tools such solutions offer more accessible to mobile devices. One of the main benefits of mobile learning is a combination of this accessibility and availability. As cited earlier, Glahn, et al. (2010, p.27) talk of the ability for people to connect their fragmented learning experiences to long-term goals. If a digital strategy links together developments around assessment, curriculum, IT provision and learner needs then the question becomes less one of ROI and more one of the status of educational institutions in the 21st century.