People increasingly expect to be connected to the Internet and the rich tapestry of knowledge it contains wherever they go. Mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, enable users to do just that via cellular networks and wireless power. The growing number of mobile subscribers, coupled with the unprecedented
evolution of these devices, has opened the door to myriad uses for education. Learning institutions all over the world are exploring ways to make their websites, educational materials, resources, and opportunities all available online and optimized for mobile devices. The most compelling facet of mobile learning right now is mobile apps. Smartphones and tablets have redefined what we mean by mobile computing, and in the past four to five years, apps have become a hotbed of development, resulting in a plethora of learning and productivity apps. These tools, ranging from annotation and mind-mapping apps to apps that allow users to explore outer space or get an in-depth look at complex chemicals, enable users to learn and experience new concepts wherever they are, often across multiple devices.
After years of anticipation, mobile learning is positioned for near-term and widespread adoption in schools. Tablets, smartphones, and mobile apps have become too capable, too ubiquitous, and too useful to ignore, and their distribution defies traditional patterns of adoption, both by consumers, where even economically disadvantaged families find ways to make use of mobile technology, and in schools, where the tide of opinion has dramatically shifted when it comes to mobiles in schools.
At the end of 2012, the mobile market consisted of over 6.5 billion accounts, and subscriptions are expected by ICT’s Facts and Figures report to equal close to the world’s population by the end of 2013. This equates to about 3.4 billion users, or nearly one of every two people on the planet. The portability of mobile devices, coupled with increasingly fast web and cellular connectivity, make mobiles extremely conducive to productivity and learning. This year, mobile traffic on the Internet is expected to surpass desktop traffic. The Internet itself is becoming a mobile network.
Furthermore, the incredible diversity of mobile apps has expanded the capabilities of mobile devices enormously — and people love them. ABI Research estimated mobile users will download 70 billion apps in 2013 across smartphones and tablets — or more than 10 apps per each human being on Earth. In April 2013, 148Apps reported that educational apps were the second most downloaded in iTunes of all of the categories — surpassing both entertainment and business apps in popularity. One of the fastest growing categories is apps for very young learners. A special report, iLearn II: An Analysis of the Education Category on Apple’s App Store, noted that over 80% of educational apps specifically target children.
Mobiles are also a significant distribution channel for magazines and e-books, which has made the platform appealing to major education publishers. Pearson, among many others, is designing textbooks and other resources with interactive elements optimized for mobile devices. Tablets, such as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Nexus, and Surface, are exceptionally effective at displaying e-books and other visual content. They serve as conveniently sized video players with instant access to an enormous library of content; real-time two-way video conferencing tools; increasingly highresolution still and video cameras; fast, easy email and web browsers; and rich, full-featured game platforms. A swipe, a tap, or a pinch allows the user to interact with the device in completely new ways that are so intuitive and simple they require no manuals or instructions.
Ultimately, one of the biggest appeals of mobiles is that they naturally encourage exploration — a notion that is easily demonstrated by placing a device in the
hands of a small child. Whether it’s connecting with new people via social media or discovering local resources recommended by an app, mobiles provide people with
constant opportunities to act upon their curiosities and expand their knowledge.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry
Because of their portability, flexibility, and natural, intuitive interfaces, mobiles are especially enticing to schools, and a growing number of them have turned to tablets as a cost-effective strategy for one-to-one learning — a systemic solution in which every student is provided a device that can be used to support learning
in and outside of the classroom. In many regions of the world, students come to class already familiar and comfortable with the technology. At the end of 2012, the Daily Mail reported that 75% of ten-year-olds in the UK, for example, own a mobile device, and the global average is approaching 50%.
In a one-to-one pilot at Justin-Siena High School in California, every student will be receiving an iPad during fall orientation (go.nmc.org/Justin). Students have
expressed excitement about having fewer textbooks to carry and teachers are looking forward to the improved Internet access; they will no longer have to make
reservations and confine learners to the computer lab. One teacher plans to have students use the iPads to record themselves during presentations to become better public speakers.
Consumer Reports recently cited that 60% of U.S. parents of children ages eight to 12 have provided their children with mobile phones. In many educational settings, the primary challenge for making use of these devices is the schools’ mobile use policies, but this is changing quickly. A key driver of that change is the move to BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”), which many schools are already piloting. BYOD addresses many interesting pedagogical goals, but also a key financial issue — the lack of funds to support one-to-one learning. BYOD makes one-to-one easier by simply leveraging the devices that students already have.
In just one of many possible examples, the School Board of Fayette County Schools in Kentucky has approved BYOD in all secondary schools after successful junior high and high school pilots in 2011 and 2012. The devices were found to bring out each student’s unique abilities, and foster more collaboration and better communication. Students were more engaged with each other and in the material being taught. (go.nmc.org/fay)
According to current ASTD research, the top uses of mobiles in learning are easily accessing reference materials, supporting student performance, and watching videos. Furthermore, when they are equipped with an array of apps, cameras, sensors, and other built-in tools, students are able to explore specific locations and record their experiences via photographs, videos, and audio recordings. For example, Greenridge Primary School piloted the Singapore Zoo’s River Safari app, which uses location-based and image recognition technology to better acquaint students with surrounding wildlife (go.nmc.org/lgork). Similarly, at Ryan Elementary in Colorado, students use iPads to go on digital scavenger hunts using Google Earth, to create digital stories using cartoon apps. A teacher there reports she likes the way the iPads encourage students to troubleshoot learning obstacles and collaborate with each other. (go.nmc.org/Rya)
While one-to-one and BYOD programs are still relatively new, there are a number of organizations and institutions dedicated to exploring their outcomes and
dreaming up new uses for mobile devices. UNESCO’s Mobile Education Lab is a creative organization that promotes the discovery and invention of digital content for exploring the potential of mobile technology in education (go.nmc.org/mel). Abilene Christian University (ACU) has led an ongoing mobile learning research initiative and revealed compelling results, including increased student engagement, teacher and student innovation, and teamwork (go.nmc.org/acumlr). Northdale Middle School in Minnesota reported that tablets and apps have helped students with severe cognitive and development disabilities better grasp vocabulary words and gain more confidence. (go.nmc.org/corap)
(To be continued)
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.