This post has been updated on March 4, 2020.
The use of technology in an educational environment is certainly nothing new - teachers have been relying on computers and similar devices for decades now. Even online classes have been a part of college campuses and K-12 organizations since the turn of the century. But over the last few years, in particular, a new trend has rapidly taken hold that stands poised to change the way we think about online education, for all-time and for the better. In a lot of ways, it already has.
That trend is called m-learning, otherwise known as Mobile Learning.
Defined as a way to facilitate education through the use of devices like smartphones and tablets, m-learning is also a lot more than that. According to one recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, nearly 77% of Americans now own a smartphone of some kind - up from just 35% a few years ago, in 2011. More than that, there were 2.1 billion smartphones worldwide as of 2016 - a number that is expected to climb to 2.5 billion by as soon as 2019.
Imagine if every single one of those devices could be transformed into a powerful educational tool, delivering personalized learning experiences on a phone that is literally millions of times more powerful than what NASA used to send astronauts to the moon in the 1960s.
Once you then realize that they already are that educational tool, you can begin to get a better understanding of the massive revolution that we're talking about.
A powerful new delivery mechanism
One of the major benefits that m-learning brings to the table actually has to do with a significant barrier that it breaks down: geography.
Even in the most advanced online education environment or any other e-learning environments, students were still limited to their geography. Yes, they could participate in blended learning by mixing in-class and out-of-class instruction, but the latter still came with a certain amount of restrictions. Students had to go where computers were. For many people, that meant being at home. If they didn't have a computer, they had to go to a library or a friend's house.
As a concept, m-learning changes that delivery mechanism and makes it one that can exist anywhere. Students don't just get the benefit of self-guided lessons as is true in most online education classes, but those classes can also happen from any location, at any time, creating a whole new level of immersion. If a teacher wants to instruct a student via m-learning about a particular local monument, that student can now participate in that lesson while standing right in front of it.
But more importantly, geography is no longer a restriction for students. If someone has to learn, they can learn - period. Where they're located, or whether a desktop or laptop computer is around, is now irrelevant. The supercomputer they're walking around within their pocket all day long will pick up all the slack.
To that end, the possibilities associated with turning the entire planet into a classroom are essentially endless.
The rise of social networking as a learning tool
Another one of the major ways that m-learning is transforming online education - particularly in K-12 environments - has to do with social networking. Remember that as of 2018, there are 3.196 billion people using various forms of social media on Earth. Not only are they familiar with it as a concept and know how to use it to their advantage, but in the minds of many people, this is actually what their phones are designed to do in the first place. The top function of a phone isn't sending or receiving calls anymore - it's Facebook and Twitter.
By association, m-learning and the instructors who use it are making use of this fact every single day. They're leveraging the connectivity of sites like Facebook and Twitter to make it easier for students to collaborate with one another outside the classroom. They're even using specialized software to set up their own classroom-specific social networks to help bring about these benefits and keep their kids safe as well.
Students no longer depend exclusively on an online educator to further their lessons. They can now effectively teach each other, turning everyone into the educator in an online environment.
Businesses and other organizations all over the world have been creating their own social networks to empower collaboration and communication for years. Why should the world of online education be any different?
Wrapping this up…
At this point, it's clear that m-learning isn't just transforming online teaching - it's disrupting it in the most positive sense of the term. Every day brings some new advancement that ultimately furthers the most important goal of all: making it easier than ever for adults and kids alike to learn what they need, how they need, where they need, no exceptions.
When you think about how far m-learning has come in just the last five years alone, it's truly exciting to think about what the next five (and beyond) may have in store for us all.