The Handbook of Mobile Learning (Routledge, 2013) has just landed on my desk with a thud.
That’s because it is more than 600 pages of well-researched material on most aspects of mobile learning.
The handbook, edited by Zane L. Berge and Lin Y. Muilenburg, and written by almost 100 authors, is clearly an academic offering that will be of interest to those researching and studying mobile learning. It will not be widely purchased by practitioners in corporate training, but should be considered by mobile learning strategists and consultants of all stripes.
The 53 chapters in the handbook are divided into five parts: history and theory; learning and learner support; teaching and instructional design; policies, administration and management; and cases and perspectives.
Part 1 – History and Theory
Part 1 is the history and theory of mobile learning, with the emphasis on learning rather than on mobility.
The first chapter by Helen Crompton is a gloss of the history of mobile learning without much detail. There is a discussion of the history of definitions followed by the elucidation of five learning theories that support learner-centered pedagogy, followed by a brief history of the development of handheld devices and the development of eLearning.
There’s actually only about a page in this chapter on the actual history of mobile learning. A comprehensive history of mobile learning still needs to be written.
In the next chapter, William Diehl contends that mobile learning is a subfield of open and distance education. Because of this perspective, much of the chapter is a history of adult distance learning, including educational uses of radio and television. This view puts mobile learning squarely in the camp of those who see it as an extension of institutional teaching.
While mLearning can certainly be used in postsecondary adult education, what is missing here is the fact that mobile learning is also about mobility and learning in context, not only about the delivery of curricular materials at a distance from a teaching institution.
In Chapter 3, Thomas Cochrane offers “a summary and critique of m-learning research and practice,” which is very well done. It clearly shows that the U.K. is the leading country in terms of research on mobile learning, but that much of the research is not learner-centred, but based on variations of eLearning technologies.
Cochrane quotes Chen et al. (2008), who concluded that, “In essence m-learning researchers are reinventing the VLE [LMS in North America] on the mobile device, rather than looking at how we could use them to support more subtle aspects of informal learning and thus the increasingly important PLE [personal learning environment] area.”
The recent mLearnCon conference confirmed this for me, where 13 out of 38 vendors offered some kind of LMS-like platform on a mobile phone or tablet.
This chapter is short but powerful.
Norbert Pachler, Ben Bachmair and John Cook reprise the themes in their own book in outlining a sociocultural ecological frame for mobile learning in Chapter 4. While not an easy read, this is deep conceptualization at its best, as the authors grapple with trying to think differently about mobile learning.
Helen Crompton in Chapter 5 argues for a new theory for mobile learning, which I heartily agree with, but I don’t agree with the statement that “M-learning has always tacitly meant mobile e-learning, therefore…m-learning is fully nested within e-learning.”
What “conventional tethered e-learning” shares in common with classroom learning is that both tie you to a desk or other stationary location.
The new affordances of mobile learning, those not shared with eLearning, as well as the fact that you are mobile rather than immobilized, make a huge difference in how people learn with mobile devices, as the author acknowledges in her criteria for a theory of mLearning. To her list of “proposed theories” I would add Enactivism, as it is about learning in context through the body and senses.
Most of the other chapters in Part 1 deal with specific theories and frameworks that may apply to mobile learning. Most have nice symmetrical diagrams of how the world of mobile learning works [I suspect it’s way messier] and discuss concepts that are difficult for most people.
But, if you are in the business of developing a new theory of mobile learning, they are a must-read. As well, I recommend Clark Quinn’s chapter on the future of mobile learning, as it is rooted in much experience with the world outside of academia.
The final chapter in Part 1, by John Traxler, is quite different than the rest of the book. It is about the history and challenges of bringing mobile learning to the developing world, and is well worth reading by everyone.
Part 2 – Learning and Learner Support
Agnes Kukulska-Hulme starts off Part 2 with a description of target learners in mobile learning research. She lists the following groups:
- schoolchildren and their carers
- higher education students
- young adults not in education or work
- the underserved in development contexts
- world of work: employees, professionals, apprentices
- communities, friends and families
- learners with special needs and disabilities
What this list corresponds to are the major markets for mobile learning software, so it is good to know that all segments are being researched.
Gwo-Jen Hwang writes about tools for supporting mobile learners in Chapter 14, while Ozlen Ozan and Mehmet Kesim explain Vygotsky’s theory of scaffolding for learners in Chapter 15. Chapter 16 adds more theory to mLearning.
At Float, we talk about the importance of both mobility, and the unique built-in affordances of most tablets and smartphones. This is the topic of Chapter 17, which I strongly recommend. In mobile learning we have an opportunity to do things differently, not follow the 250-year-old traditions of the classroom.
In the other chapters in Part 2, we see themes common in the education literature – the idea of individual and group flow, the importance of reflection in learning, and research on settings for using mobile learning outside institutional settings, such as museums and the workplace.
Part 3 – Teaching and Instructional Design
There is little doubt that mobile learning is having an impact on teaching methods.
As well, what worked for eLearning often doesn’t work for someone using a mobile device for learning.
In this section, a range of ideas is offered from Laurillard’s idea of teaching as a “design science” to the “flipped classroom.” Team and community building are included, as are human interface guidelines, designing for 3-D, and mobile assessments.
Part 3 ends with Inge de Waard’s examination of mobile massive open online courses (mMOOCs).
Personally I am somewhat skeptical about MOOCs in general, as they seem to have become a way for universities and colleges to maintain their position in the world as somewhat exclusive purveyors of knowledge.
But, de Waard assures us in Chapter 31 that “A MOOC does not result in a classical course dynamic of provided content, teacher-driven information, group discussion, and personal or group assignments. A MOOC allows adult learners with or without experience in a particular field to exchange knowledge, build upon each other’s ideas, and shape the course itself.”
She goes on to provide an example of how this would work. This is one of the most detailed and useful chapters in the book.
Part 4 – Policies, Administration, and Management
The title of the first chapter in Part 4 sounds like an oxymoron – “Becoming a Mobile Institution.” It is the story of Long Island University, which purchased 12,000 iPads for its students in order to increase profits. Finding out how this was sold to university executives in terms of return on investment makes for interesting reading.
The next chapter on implementing mobile technology at the University of Central Florida shows a different tack – a BYOD approach, or “bring your own device.” The UCF had a strategic plan, described here, which can be used as a template for other institutions.
Similar ideas are found in the next chapter, on the implementation of mobile learning using a “bring your own technology” approach at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis.
Ethical mobile learning is not a topic that is often discussed but is the subject of Chapter 35. Ethical issues about introducing mobile learning into the classroom include:
- potential for public dissemination of information originally intended for limited audience
- the ease and speed with which digital materials can be shared, compared with older, non-digital artifacts
- the risk of unethical use of archived materials, and
- levels of parental and student consent to recording classroom activity.
Of course, these are not the only ethical issues in mobile learning. Workers in prisons, hospitals, and public places all need to adhere to ethical guidelines when using mobile devices in their settings.
In Chapter 36, Patricia Aufderheide raises a related issue – copyright and fair use in mobile learning.
Other issues discussed in Part 4 include ensuring equal access for people with disabilities and lack of means to purchase equipment, and the role of academic libraries in the development and support of mobile learning environments.
Part 5 – Cases and Perspectives
When a field is new, those charged with implementation of new technologies want to see case studies of where and how a proposed solution was successful.
Part 5 of the handbook does that, with practical examples for a number of situations, including cases from the U.S., as well as other countries. These include mobile learning for K–12, professional development, secondary mathematics, telemedicine, military education, emergencies and disasters, and language learning.
Other chapters in Part 5 include thoughts on student engagement, becoming a digital nomad, mobile collaborative games, and helping the poor with mLearning.
It is not surprising that a book with almost 100 authors has some unevenness in terms of relevance and content. As well, given that most of the authors work in academic institutions, the handbook is decidedly slanted toward educational settings rather than corporate training. Nevertheless, it contains a wealth of information and thought-provoking writing.
If you are a faculty member, a consultant, a researcher, or a developer of mobile learning, this book should be on your shelf and should be read. Just give yourself lots of time!
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