The main barriers to the adoption of mobile learning in UK Further and Higher Education institutions are not technical but social (Sharples, 2010, p.4). There exists a fundamental tension between economic ‘best practice’ and pedagogic ‘best practice’ making strategy in this area difficult. However, as John Traxler (2007, p.21) explains, the road to widespread adoption it is ‘messier’ than simply solving this tension:
“Mobile education, however innovative, technically feasible, and pedagogically sound, may have no chance of sustained, wide-scale institutional deployment in higher education in the foreseeable future, at a distance or on site. This is because of the strategic factors at work within educational institutions and providers. These strategic factors are different from those of technology and pedagogy. They are the context and the environment for the technical and the pedagogic aspects. They include resource (that is, finance and money, but also human resources, physical estates, institutional reputation, intellectual property, and expertise) and culture (that is, institutions as social organizations, their practices, values and procedures, but also the expectations and standards of their staff, students, and their wider communities, including employers and professional bodies).
There are glimmers of hope, however. Woodill (2011, p.214) sees mobile learning (m-learning) as easier to implement than e-learning and, indeed, outlines four key lessons (2011, p.233) for mobile learning initiatives:
- Learning content is medium-dependent (cannot just re-purpose)
- Centralized content governance is necessary for an optimal experience (security, management of IP, testing, consistency, efficiency)
- One LMS is more effective than multiple content hosting platforms (costs, scalability)
- Highly structured approach to learning vendor management is critical (cost efficiencies, protecting IP, achieving scalable, flexible function)
Pragmatic, context-sensitive initiatives work best allied with an ‘emergent strategy’ (2011, p.186). This may be small-scale within a wider digital strategy, or institution-wide, in the case of iTunesU or OpenCourseWare.
To a great extent, the problem with mobile learning initiatives is that we, to quote Marshall McLuhan, “look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967). Mobile learning may mean different things to different people, but it is the dialogue that an institution begins with itself its staff, its learners, its community that matters. It is certainly not time for ‘business as usual’. It is time to define and start driving innovation.