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Introduction to MOBILE LEARNING

The mobile revolution is finally here in the form of m-learning, which is a natural extension of e-learning. In a span of five years, Mobile learning or m-learning has made an exponential leap from theory explored by academicians to a real contribution to learning. Globally speaking, the kind of penetration that mobile phones have reached is astounding and no other device can come any closer, not even computers. No demography is immune from the mobile phone and it has slowly become associated with the youth in a bigger way. This kind of digital communication was unthinkable almost a decade back. M-learning has the potential of taking learning and knowledge across geographical boundaries and generations due to the fact that it can be accessed with ease. This brings us to the question what is m-learning and how effective it really is. In the basic sense of the term, it means learning through the use of mobile devices and is targeted at people who are always on the move. This kind of training can be given through mobile phones, PDA’s and digital audio players and even digital cameras.

 

Now let’s take a step back into the past and ponder over its origin. M-learning actually took roots during a Pan-European research and development program aimed at a target audience of 16-24 age groups. This was the group that was at a risk of social exclusion in Europe. There are five basic parameters for production and development of m-learning and they are:

  • Portable: If you are using a mobile phone or a PDA, then it’s easier to carry it along with you everywhere including the restroom. This makes information access through this platform easy and fast.
  • Social Interaction: This kind of data can be sent to your friends, colleagues and others via short messages. You can exchange data with other people and gain considerable knowledge.
  • Sensitive to the Context: This has a capability of gathering data unique to the current location, environment, and time. This includes both types of data - real and simulated.
  • Connectivity: Connectivity plays an extremely important role and is the backbone of the m-learning project. With the help of a strong connectivity network, one can connect to data collection devices, other mobile phones, and to a common network.
  • Customized: The most unique capability is to be able to offer customized learning information.

These were the advantages to start with and the first m-learning project was started amidst much apprehension and anticipation in October 2001. The m-learning project used subjects of interest for this particular target audience or age group and ranged from football to driving lessons. This project was estimated at a staggering €4.5m and was supported by the European Commission's Information Society Technologies (IST) program within the 5th framework. It was well coordinated and orchestrated program by The Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) and participating organizations included universities and corporate from the three EU countries - Britain, Italy and Sweden. This was the first giant step towards that made m-learning possible.

If you are wondering what kind of an infrastructure does m-learning involve, then it’s not totally cost driven. A basic M-learning infrastructure includes a Learning Management System, which when put together with a micro-portal interface layer will facilitate access to m-learning services through a variety of mobile devices and also enhance it’s reach through web and TV access. Also in case of interfacing with devices having minimum multimedia functionalities, and for the benefit of learners facing sensory difficulties, m-learning has developed speech-to –text and vice-versa and SMS facilities. In its more advanced phase, m-learning development includes support for collaborative learning and peer-to-peer interaction.

Let’s look at why anyone should gear up for m-learning or why m-learning? First thing first, most mobile devices have been proven useful in education by being a facilitator of administration, and teaching aids for practitioners, and also for being able to utilize it as a learning support tool for learners. Let us take walk through some of the benefits offered by m-learning.

  • Its offers and interactive learning experience where learners can interact with each other.
  • It's easier to accommodate several mobile devices in a classroom than several desktop computers.
  • It is not always easy to work on a computer sitting in a far off village or town in wilderness, but mobile can be accessed anywhere.
  • Mobile phones, PDAs or tablets holding notes and e-books are lighter and can facilitate the entire m-learning process with ease unlike bags full of files, paper and textbooks, or even laptops.
  • Writing with the stylus pen is more effective than using keyboard and mouse.
  • A range of possibilities arise out of this like sharing assignments and working as a group; learners and practitioners can e-mail, copy and paste text, or even `beam´ the work to each other using the infrared function of a PDA or a wireless network such as Bluetooth.
  • Mobile devices can be used anywhere, and anytime, including at offices, home, or when in transit.
  • These devices engage learners - through mobile phones, gadgets and games devices such as GameBoys. This makes the device invaluable.
  • This technology may contribute to combating the digital divide, as mobile devices are generally cheaper than desktop computers.
  • The size, shape, weight and portability of mobile devices have made them extremely effective for users with permanent or temporary disabilities.

 

On the flip side of it, every technology has its curse or disadvantages and m-learning through mobile devices is no different. Some of the disadvantages of m-learning through mobile devices are:

  • The small screens of a mobile or PDA limits the amount and type of information that can be displayed at a given time.
  • The memory or the storage capacity is limited vis-à-vis a computer or laptop.
  • It is important to have fully functional devices and batteries have to be charged regularly. At times, a discharged battery can result in loss of important data.
  • It's difficult to work on moving graphics, especially on mobile phones, although 3G and 4G will eventually facilitate this.
  • Bandwidth may degrade with increasing users when using wireless networks.

But then every new technology or technology driven platform or development will find obstacles on the way. Mobile learning is currently the most useful as a supplement to ICT, online learning and other traditional learning methods, and is playing a central role in enriching the learning experience. It is now widely believed and has been proven in various countries that mobile learning could and has been a huge factor in getting disaffected young adults to engage in learning, where traditional methods have failed. This is the new world and everything is changing – the market, the need, the people. M-learning is the future.

E-Learning India
E-Learning India
E-Learning India
E-Learning India