Challenges to Implementing Mobile Learning

In many respects issues or challenges related to the implementation or incorporation of mobile learning in any organization are similar to those for eLearning.  To what degree you can implement any significant change like this I believe depends on the following three items:  organizational culture, professional development and support and the availability of the resource…in this case mobile devices in general.

I work for a large urban K-12 school division and in many respects the division has put in place the fundamental pieces that pave the way for mobile and eLearning.  The infrastructure has been updated to provide more than adequate bandwidth, all teachers have been provided with a laptop to support professional learning and technology integration and all schools have complete and robust wireless access.  Schools are provided laptops for student use based on a formula that addresses the number of students and programs in the school and no direct policies in the division prevent the use of web-based software or services.  The only guideline with respect to the provision of hardware or the provision of software states that schools can not purchase computers or printers of any type but does allow for the purchase of mobile devices like iPads and iPods.  So…it would seem on the surface that the adoption and implementation of mLearning would be a next logical step.

eLearning and mLearning require a new way of thinking on the part of teachers.  Pedagogy has to change, assessment has to change, roles have to change.  Education has and still does resist the changes that would be required to make mLearning real for students. It is the very culture of schools and of teaching that resists change.  Cultural change, those things that impact on how we view students, their potential to learn, how they might learn and how teachers create learning opportunities is a much more difficult change to make and is what ultimately leads to significant school improvement (Leithwood, et al, 2006). mLearning could speak to how teachers create learning opportunities and help make learning relevant for students.

The digital age has created a new relationship between teachers and learners. Research conducted by the London School of Economics found that children are typically the Internet experts in the family, and described this situation as a “lasting reversal of the generation gap” (Smithers 2003, p. 1). This reflects the challenges facing education and training providers who are steeped in traditional delivery styles when confronted with digitally literate students, where, rather than simply receiving and memorizing the wisdom of their elders, which has been the tradition for millennia, students are now demanding training that meets their specific information needs.  (Ally, 2011)

Professional Development and Support
Over the past few years, and as part of school reform movements generally, there has been a narrowing of focus to key areas of learning…usually described as Literacy and Numeracy.  Available professional development time, money for key resources and the hiring of additional personnel has been focused on these areas. This has left a void in the other areas.  For those teachers that have not fully embraced technology mLearning would require a high level of professional development and specific technological and pedagogical support to make it real.  A fundamental shift to personal learning networks and personal learning environments would help but this requires cultural shifts as well. Teachers need to see the value, need to see the technology, in this case mobile devices in particular, in use in a real way before they will commit to the changes they must make to incorporate mLearning.

Availability of Resource
Mobile learning requires a learning appliance.  School divisions still look generally to providing a set number of devices [usually desktops or laptops] for student access at school.  While this serves the IT purpose of simplifying allocations, management and renewal it does little to serve the need for ubiquity and the ubiquitous availability of any resource is key (Boss, Krauss 2007). mLearnign will require the “provision” of an assortment of devices that students have access to at all times and that allows them to pick the most appropriate device for the task. Allowing for personal device use in schools, looking differently at how additional devices can be made available and providing for 24/7 access to learning content and services is required…particularly to address issues of equity.  In many cases direct policies that prevent personal devices and close off learning resources [networks, subscription content, etc.] place constraints on mLearning from the start.

None of these issues is insurmountable.  But just like the cultural change that teachers are expected to make,  policy makers, legislatures and administrators need to “think differently” as well in order to finally realize the potential of technology in learning.

Ally, M.  Dr. (2009). Mobile Learning. Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, AU Press, Issues in Distance Education Series.

Boss, S., Krauss, J. (2007). Reinventing Project Based Leearning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects int he Digital World, Washington, D.C., ISTE

Leithwood, K., McAdie, P., Bascia, N., & Rodrigue, R. (2006). Teaching for deep understanding: What every educator should know. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


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