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Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Brief History of M-Learning and Where We Are Today

Mobile learning has occupied a space within e-learning; at its inception it was largely a stopgap effort to provide digital distance education even when there was no connectivity, in places such as submarines and forward bases.

The mobile content consisted of downloadable text files, videos, and audio which could be played on a laptop or loaded onto various mobile devices, ranging from audio and video players, handheld computers (Dell Axim was an early favorite). The student would engage with the material, then complete the lessons to be emailed when there was connectivity. Discussion thread topics were provided as well, and the student could prepare a response to be posted when at a computer with connectivity. Smartphone mobile learning was possible via the early iPhones and iTouches, as well as smartphones with cameras. Students could participate in quizzes and could text each other.

Another early approach to mobile delivery of content was a bit more “canned” and it consisted of recorded classroom lectures. Embraced by administrators as showcasing their “star” lecturers but derided by instructional designers as passive and unengaging

Later as smartphones developed, it was possible to post to social media and thus interact with fellow students. It was also possible to record audio and post audio as well as video and still photos. The goal was to use the mobile content to read / listen / access when it was not feasible to access a computer. A secondary goal was to collect data “in the wild.” For example, students could post photos of pond scum (for a biology class), or a granite outcrop displaying exfoliation (for an earth science class).

The sense that one could be free of the four walls of a classroom, and away from the tether of a computer, was a the heart of what many students felt as sheer exhilaration and many college administrators felt as a magic bullet solution to the old correspondence courses and a responsible and forward-looking response to important constituencies, including the military and business enterprises.

The fact that the new mobile approach never quite managed to transcend the old correspondence course limitations of poor completion rate and persistent outdatedness perplexed many course designers and administrators.

What was wrong? At best, mobile learning made course content available any time, any where, and it encouraged students to collect and post data “in the wild,” which added to a sense of engagement and authenticity.

The courses as a whole remained problematic, though.

They tended to be too complicated and cumbersome. No matter how wonderfully seamless and easy the m-learning components were, the clunky, rigid learning management systems (LMSs) added layers of complexity and frustration.

Even the very simple open source LMSs – even Moodle – failed to maintain the excitement of the mobile elements.

Instead, the mobile elements were pieces of the solution, but not the solution itself.

All of this is about to change.

The New Mobility: Lite and Workable Content, Engagement, Assessment

New technologies, combined with “why so complicated?” questioning of the typical LMS-framed and driven courses are causing a re-examination of mobile learning, as well as the old concepts of independent study.

The changes can be attributed to a few new developments:
** more robust smartphones and tablets
** better connectivity
** boom in games and game-based-learning
** willingness to go for “lite” – favoring access and connectivity over rich experience (immersive games, virtual worlds, etc.)

In essence, the new developments allow individuals to combine games with assessment, in an “any time / any place” approach.

Examples: A mobile module with a quiz.
A student can log into a module that contains a chunk of content, which could be presented as a video presentation (with audio) or a link to an article.  There is a link to a quiz. The quiz is self-grading and even includes a printable certificate.

The approach is simple, self-contained, and the learner can complete each stand-alone module within 30 minute to an hour.

After completing 10 or 15 of the mini-chunks of learning, and successful performance in the quiz (done via mobile device), the learner is able to obtain a bigger certificate or can satisfy course requirements.

Here are a few examples for a professional or technical writing course:

Technical Writing: Design Concepts for Routine Office Documents

Technical Writing: Effective Workplace Writing Quiz 

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