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DEFINING MOBILE LEARNING - by John Traxler - IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2005

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  • 1. IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2005 DEFINING MOBILE LEARNING John Traxler University of Wolverhampton Wolverhampton, WV1 1SB, UK John.traxler@wlv.ac.ukABSTRACTMobile learning is new. It is currently difficult to define, conceptualise and discuss. It could perhaps be a wholly new anddistinct educational format, needing to set its own standards and expectations, or it could be a variety of e-learning,inheriting the discourse and limitations of this slightly more mature discipline. This paper is a preliminary attempt toaddress this issue of definition and conceptualisation, and draws on recent research examining case studies from the UKand elsewhere.KEYWORDSMobile learning;1. THE STATE OF MOBILE LEARNINGThere is considerable evidence to suggest that mobile learning is growing in visibility and significance. First,there is the growing size and frequency of dedicated conferences, seminars and workshops, both in theUnited Kingdom and internationally. MLEARN 2002 (Birmingham) and MLEARN 2003 (London, whichattracted more than 200 delegates from 13 countries) were followed by MLEARN 2004 (Rome) in July 2004.Another dedicated event, the International Workshop on Mobile and Wireless Technologies in Education(WMTE 2002), sponsored by IEEE, took place in Sweden in August 2002 (http://lttf.ieee.org/wmte2002/).The second WMTE (http://lttf.ieee.org/wmte2003/) was held at National Central University in Taiwan inMarch 2004. Another notable event was the ICML International Conference on Mobile Learning: NewFrontiers and Challenges, 5-7, March 2003, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia(http://www.umcced.edu.my/conference/mlearn/). There are also a growing number of national and international workshops such as the June 2002 nationalworkshop in Telford on mobile learning in the computing discipline with 60 delegates from UK highereducation (http://www.ics.ltsn.ac.uk/events) and the National Workshop and Tutorial on HandheldComputers in Universities and Colleges series held at Wolverhampton (http://www.e-innovationcentre.co.uk/eic_event.htm) on 11 June 2004 and Telford on 12 January 2005, each with 95delegates. Other European events have included ‘The Social Science of Mobile Learning’, in Budapest, on 29November 2002 (http://21st.century.phil-inst.hu/m-learning_conference/), and the Workshop on Ubiquitousand Mobile Computing for Educational Communities: Enriching and Enlarging Community Spaces,Amsterdam, 19 September 2003 (http://www.idi.ntnu.no/~divitini/umocec2003/), part of the InternationalConference on Communities and Technologies. Second, there have also been a rising number of references to mobile learning at generalist academicconferences. Online Educa Berlin, the worlds largest e-learning conference, annually attracts 1200participants from over 60 countries. It includes mobile learning in its theme on Future Technologies forLearning; the latest one was held in December 2003 (http://www.online-educa.com/en/). Issues of usabilityand interaction with mobile devices are the focus of events such as the annual International Symposium onHuman-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, held in Italy in September 2003http://hcilab.uniud.it/mobilehci/index.html; in Glasgow in September 2004http://www.cis.strath.ac.uk/~mdd/mobilehci04/). 261
  • 2. ISBN: 972-8939-02-7 © 2005 IADIS2. MOBILE LEARNING EXAMPLESThe practice of mobile learning currently exploits both handheld computers and mobile ‘phones.2.1 Mobile Learning Using Handheld ComputersMobile learning using handheld computers is obviously relatively immature in terms of both its technologiesand its pedagogies but is nevertheless developing rapidly. It sometimes draws on the theory and practice ofpedagogies used in technology supported learning and others used in the classroom and the community, andtakes place as mobile devices are transforming notions of space, community and discourse (Katz & Aakhus,2002), (Brown, 2001) and the investigative ethics and tools (Hewson et al, 2003). The term mobile learningcovers the personalised, connected and interactive use of handheld computers in classrooms (Perry, 2003),(O’Malley & Stanton, 2002), in collaborative learning (Pinkwart et al, 2003), in fieldwork (Chen, 2003) andin counselling and guidance (Vuorinen & Sampson, 2003). Mobile devices are supporting corporate trainingfor mobile workers (Gayeski, 2002), (Pasanen, 2003), (Lundin & Magnusson, 2003) and are enhancingmedical education (Smordal, 2003), teacher training (Seppala & Alamaki, 2003), music composition(Polishook, 2005), nurse training (Kneebone, 2005) and numerous other disciplines. Mobile devices arebecoming a viable and imaginative component of institutional support and provision (Griswold et al, 2002),(Sariola, 2003), (Hackemer & Peterson, 2005). In many of these cases, they give uniquely ‘situated’ and‘context-aware’ learning experiences but in other cases they may be reaching remote or inaccessible learnersand supporting conventional learning or conventional e-learning. There is developmental work that looks at the issues of extending standards to mobile learning (Shih,2004), of delivering usable content in mobile devices (Kukulska-Hulme, 2002) and of supporting onlinemobile learner communities (Salmon, 2000). There is as yet little research that looks at how the dominantpedagogies of e-learning might translate into the mobile domain (Rudman et al, 2002), (Sharples, 2001),(Luckin et al, 2003) and not a great deal of work that moves beyond using technologies provided by themarket-place to looking at ones underpinned by sound pedagogic theory (Rudman et al, 2003), (Lyons,2003). The specifics of evaluation and ethical aspects of mobile learning are only starting to be considered(Traxler, 2004), (Taylor, 2003).2.2 Mobile Learning Using Mobile PhonesMobile learning also covers the delivery and support of learning using mobile ‘phones and in the last fiveyears, mobile ‘phones have steadily assumed a place in further and higher education in the USA, the FarEast/Pacific Rim and the UK (Garner et al, 2002), (Briggs & Stone, 2002), (Alsop et al, 2002), supportingdistance learners and part-time students. There has also been a growing understanding of mobile ‘phones’potential for supporting learning (Attewell & Savill-Smith, 2003) and of the evolution of cultural life andsocial behaviour with the take up of mobile ‘phones in many parts of the world (Plant, 2001). There is experience of using mobile phones’ to deliver educational content. One study looks at SMS inlearning Italian (Levy & Kennedy, 2005), another at learning literature (Hoppe, 2004). There is alsoexperience in using mobile ‘phones to provide study support (Traxler & Riordan, 2003). This work showsthat SMS can be used to provide support, motivation and continuity; alerts and reminders; bite-size content,introductions, tips and revision; study guide structure. Experts in online learning are mapping out how totransfer their support strategies (Salmon, 2000) to SMS and anticipate the gradual transition of any SMSservice from operational issues, through tutorial and pastoral support, to fully moderated asynchronousconferences.3. DEFINING MOBILE LEARNINGMobile learning can perhaps be defined as ‘any educational provision where the sole or dominanttechnologies are handheld or palmtop devices’. This definition may mean that mobile learning could includemobile ‘phones, smartphones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and their peripherals, perhaps tablet PCs and262
  • 3. IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2005perhaps laptop PCs, but not desktops in carts and other similar solutions. Perhaps the definition shouldaddress also the growing number of experiments with dedicated mobile devices such as games consoles andiPODs, and it should encompass both mainstream industrial technologies and one-off experimentaltechnologies. m-learning vs. e-learning ubiquitous static mobile wearable luggable pervasive PDA laptop phone PC tablet Figure 1. Figure 1 However any such definitions and description of mobile learning are perhaps rather technocentric, notvery stable and based around a set of hardware devices. Such definitions merely put mobile learningsomewhere on e-learning’s spectrum of portability and also perhaps draw attention to its technical limitationsrather than promoting its unique pedagogic advantages and characteristics (Figure 1). The uncertainty aboutwhether laptops and Tablets deliver mobile learning (Figure 2) illustrates the difficulty with this definition. m-learning vs. e-learning e-learning PC m-learning MMS Tablet PC SMS laptop PDA smartphone Figure 2 Figure 2. When we look at learning from the learners’ and users’ perspective, a definition of mobile learningbecomes clearer. People use a variety of words to describe the nature of learning when it is mobile. Many ofthese characteristics are the core of what separates mobile learning (m-learning) from (‘tethered’) e-learning(Figure 3) and we are beginning, just beginning, to see the emergence of a distinct mobile learningcommunity. 263
  • 4. ISBN: 972-8939-02-7 © 2005 IADIS m-learning vs. e-learning e-learning intelligent personalised interactive media-rich m-learning structured institutional spontaneous usable multimedia situated portable ? massive context-aware hyper-linked lightweight accessible informal personal connected Figure 3 Figure 3. If we look back at the examples described earlier, we can see these characteristics emerging. So there arecore characteristics that define mobile learning and these characterize mobile learning as • Spontaneous • Private • Portable • Situated • Informal • Bite-sized • Light-weight • Context aware And perhaps soon • Connected • Personalised • Interactive Examples of these attributes can be found across many or most of the recent trials, pilots andimplementations of mobile learning but not in such a conclusive enough fashion to support a case that mobilelearning is wholly distinct from (‘tethered’) e-learning. Perhaps this will emerge as educationalists becomemore confident in exploiting and integrating the diversity of ways that mobile devices can interact with theoutside world, including cameras and speech technologies. If it is to emerge, it will need to refer back totheories and accounts of for example informal learning, situated learning and bite-sized learning that havelittle connection with e-learning or other forms of technology supported learning. Incidentally this line ofargument, namely that mobile learning is potentially a distinct phenomenon when defined in terms oflearners’ experiences, also begs the question of whether some more traditional forms of learning are also‘mobile’ – learning. But finally, once we look more closely we see some characteristics that separate and define differenttypes of mobile learning experience (Figure 4). Latency is the waiting associated with a particular service(anyone booting up a Windows PC knows latency can be quite an overhead, anyone looking at their wrist-watch knows it needn’t be); mobile learning usability varies from reading and writing SMS text on amatchbox-sized device to something comparable to a desktop PC and mobile learning connectivity can varyfrom ‘always-on’ to ‘haven’t got any’.264
  • 5. IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2005 m-learning vs. e-learning usability PC laptop PDA latency connectivity SMS Figure 4 Figure 4. Again, these apparently technical characteristics will probably have direct consequences for the nature ofmobile learning (and teaching). Put simplistically, problems or limitations with usability or latency mayinhibit models of teaching that concentrate on the delivery of content whereas problems or limitations withconnectivity may hamper models of teaching and learning based on discourse and conversation. In morepractical terms, the ability to exploit educationally the popularity of standalone downloadable games mayfavour a model of learning based around behaviourist practice-and-drill whilst the ability to exploiteducationally any fashion for beaming or peer-to-peer connectivity may underpin a more conversationalmodel of learning. These issues are discussed at greater length elsewhere (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler,2005).4. CONCLUSIONThis paper attempts to summarise the factors that will influence our understanding of mobile learning in thecoming years. This understanding will itself influence the progress and direction of mobile learning and itsperception and acceptance by the wider educational community. The definition and depiction of mobilelearning as ‘merely’ portable e-learning is a gradualist position which will ease its diffusion but weaken itscontribution whereas the definition and depiction of mobile learning as something wholly new and distinct isa radical position that will make diffusion and acceptance more problematic but maintain its identity andcoherence. What we have not considered here is the extent to which mobile learning could draw ondiscourses outside e-learning.REFERENCESAlsop, G., Briggs, J., Stone, A., & Tompsett, C. (2002). M-learning as a Means of Supporting Learners: Tomorrows Technologies Are Already Here, How Can We Most Effectively Use Them in The E-learning Age?. Sheffield:Attewell, J., & Savill-Smith, C. (2003). Young People, Mobile Phones and Learning. London: Learning and Skills Development Agency.Briggs, J. & Stone, A. (2002). ITZ GD 2 TXT - How To Use SMS Effectively in M-Learning. Birmingham:Brown (2001) Wireless World: Social and Interactional Aspects of the Mobile Age; Springer: 2001Garner, I., Francis,J., & Wales, K. (2002). An Evaluation of an Implementation of a Short Message System (SMS) to Support Undergraduate Student Learning. Birmingham:Gayeski, D. (2002). Learning Unplugged - Using Mobile Technologies for Organisational and Performance Improvement. New York, NY: AMACON - American Management Association. 265
  • 6. ISBN: 972-8939-02-7 © 2005 IADISGriswold, W., Boyer, R., Brown, S., Truong, T., Bhasker, E., Jay, G., & Shapiro, B. (2002). Using Mobile Technology to Create Opportunistic Interactions on a University Campus. San Diego, CA: Computer Science and Engineering, University of California, San DiegoHackemer, K & Peterson, D. (2005) Campus-wide Handhelds In A. Kukulska-Hulme & J. Traxler (Eds.), Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers. London: RoutledgeHewson, C., Yule, P., Laurent, D., & Vogel, C. (2003). Internet Research Methods (N. G. Fielding & R. M. Lee, Eds.). London: SAGE Publications.Hoppe, H. U. (2004). SMS-based Discussions - Technology Enhanced Collaboration for A Literature Course. National Central University, Taiwan:Katz, J. E., & Aakhus, M. (Eds.). (2002). Perpetual Contact - Mobile Communications, Private Talk, Public Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2002). Cognitive, Ergonomic and Affective Aspects of PDA Use for Learning. Birmingham:Kukulska-Hulme, A.; Traxler, J. Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers; Routledge: London, 2005Kneebone, R. (2005) PDAs for PSPs In A. Kukulska-Hulme & J. Traxler (Eds.), Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers. London: RoutledgeLevy, M., & Kennedy, C. (2005). Learning Italian via Mobile SMS. In A. Kukulska-Hulme & J. Traxler (Eds.), Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers. London: Routledge.Luckin, R., Brewster, D., Pearce, D., Siddons-Corby, R., & du Boulay, B. (2003). SMILE: the Creation of Space for Interaction Through Blended Digital Technology. London:Lundin, J., & Magnusson, M. (2003). Collaborative learning in mobile work. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(3), 273-283.Lyons, K. (2003). Everyday Wearable Computer Use: A Case Study of an Expert User. Udine, Italy: Springer.OMalley, C. & Stanton, D. (2002). Tangible Technologies for Collaborative Storytelling. Birmingham:Pasanen, J. (2003). Corporate Mobile Learning. In H. Kynaslahti & P. Seppala (Eds.), Mobile Learning (pp. 115-123). Helsinki, Finland: IT Press.Perry, D. (2003). Handheld Computers (PDAs) in Schools. Coventry: BECTa.Pinkwart, N., Hoppe, H. U., Milrad, M., & Perez, J. (2003). Educational scenarios for cooperative use of Personal Digital Assistants. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(3), 383-391.Polishook, M. (2005) Music on PDAs in A. Kukulska-Hulme & J. Traxler (Eds.), Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers. London: RoutledgePlant, S. (2001). On the Mobile - the effects of mobile telephones on individual and social life. Motorola.Rudman, P. D., Sharples, M., & Baber, C. (2002). Supporting Learning in Conversations using Personal Technologies. Birmingham:Rudman, P. D., Sharples, M., Chan, T., & Bull, S. (2003). Evaluation of a Mobile Learning Organiser and Concept Mapping Tools. London:Salmon, G. (2000). e-moderating - the key to teaching and learning online (F. Lockwood, Ed.). London: Kogan Page.Sariola, J. (2003). The Boundaries of University Teaching: Mobile Learning as a Strategic Choice for the Virtual University. In H. Kynaslahti & P. Seppala (Eds.), Mobile Learning (pp. 71-78). Helsinki: IT Press.Seppala, P., & Alamaki, H. (2003). Mobile learning in teacher training. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(3), 330-335.Sharples, M. (2001). Disruptive Devices: Mobile Technology for Conversational Learning. International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Lifelong Learning, 12(5/6), 504-520.Smordal, O., & Gregory, J. (2003). Personal Digital Assistants in medical education and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(3), 320-329.Shih, T (2004). Aspects of Distance Education Technologies – The Sharable Content Object Reference Model, International Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 2003Taylor, J. (2003). A Task-centred Approach to Evaluating a Mobile Learning Environment for Pedagogical Soundness. London:Traxler, J. (2004). Mobile Learning - The Ethical and Legal Challenges. Rome: LSDA.Traxler, J. & Riordan, B. (2003). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Retention Strategies Using SMS, WAP and WWW Student Support. Galway, Ireland: ICS-LTSN.Vuorinen, R., & Sampson, J. (2003). Using mobile Information Technology to Enhance Counselling and Guidance. In H. Kynaslahti & P. Seppala (Eds.), Mobile Learning (pp. 63-70). Helsinki: IT Press.266