Mobile Learning: Past, Present and Future (Part 1)

Excerpts from the NetDimensions White Paper by Gary Woodill Ed.D

In order for learning to take place, several components must be in place. First, we need a learner with the motivation to learn something. This learner is always in a specific context, located in a particular culture, point in history, and place, which must be taken into account. As well, we need a source of knowledge or the opportunity for experience and discovery in order for learning to happen. As we shall see, all these components are important in understanding how learning and development has the potential to radically shift with the advent of mobile learning.

From “nomadic learning” to the “immobilization of learning”
Since the development of the human species, people have learned throughout their daily lives. In prehistoric times, before the invention of writing, learning took place in the course of everyday life through observation and imitation of the actions of other people. Formal schooling came with the invention of writing, allowing knowledge to be recorded and passed along from one generation to another. However, school was unknown to the vast majority of people who learned from members of their family or as apprentices to masters of various trades. The first “mobile learning” would have to be examples of learning while wandering from one place to another – what we might call “nomadic learning”. Of course, in those days there is no electronic technology to assist a learner on the move.

The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1430s changed everything. The ability to produce books in large quantities meant that curriculum could be standardized, allowing the state to impose “norms” of behavior and knowledge throughout its jurisdiction. In fact, the first institutions for training teachers were called “normal schools.” Along with a standardized curriculum came new learning technologies in the form of the modern classroom.

The modern classroom was invented in the 1770s in Prussia by a religious group called the Pietists. The modern classroom is a learning technology that includes sitting in rows, raising hands, recess, periods, and detentions.

But, while classrooms were, and are, a ubiquitous feature of modern schools, the same cannot be said for corporate training. By the beginning of the 20th century, American companies such as Westinghouse and General Electric provided schooling to many of their workers, and in 1913 the National Association of Corporation Schools was founded. But, schools attached to workplaces were rare. Instead, training was usually “on the job” or, in some cases, took place in the hallways adjacent to the shop floor where people worked. This practice was known as “vestibule training,” and was common before World War II.

The American Society for Training and Development was founded in 1944 and marked the beginning of the professionalization of corporate training. The “corporate university” movement was boosted by the founding of McDonald’s Hamburger University in 1961. The 1970s and 1980s saw a strong growth in the number of corporate universities with their own training facilities in many large companies throughout the world.

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