Mobile Learning: Past, Present and Future (Part 2)

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

Mobile learning, in the sense that we use the term today, had to wait for the development of miniaturized electronic devices before it became a real possibility. Early examples of the development of mobile communications include radiophones for the military in World War I, police cars equipped with two-way radios in the 1920s, ham radios in cars that could be patched into the telephone system in the 1950s and 1960s, and the first clunky cell phones developed by Motorola as early as 1973. But, it was only with the development of smaller “flip phones” in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the hardware became small enough to be used as a portable learning technology.

Professor Mike Sharples of the University of Nottingham was one of the first people to develop the concept of mobile learning with an active research program that started in the late 1990s. In 2000, computer learning consultant Clark Quinn provided one of the first definitions of “mobile learning” which he described as “…the intersection of mobile computing and eLearning: accessible resources wherever you are, strong search capabilities, rich interaction, powerful support for effective learning, and performance-based assessment… e-learning independent of location, time and space.”

Over the past decade, the focus on what is important in mobile learning has shifted. Ten years ago mobile learning was about displaying e-learning on a small screen. Then, mobile learning shifted to any learning that happened while using a mobile device. This was followed by a view that mobile learning is what happens outside a classroom. Finally, we have come to an understanding that the important fact in mobile learning is that the learner is mobile.

The sources of information can be in any form, from signage to mobile phones, to interactive billboards, or to computers embedded in our clothing. It is the fact that the learner is mobilized while connected to information that is critical. This is in contrast to the classroom model of learning, where the learner, for the most part, is immobilized.

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