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Mobile learning: The good and the bad

Everywhere we go, here and there, people always seem to have a mobile device in their hands, be it a smartphone or a tablet. It’s almost a sin not to own a mobile device. Our mobile devices are online 24/7. People in a café now usually ask the staff for the Wi-Fi password, and if there’s no Wi-Fi one can always tap the power of cellular data and stay connected to friends. Now owning a smartphone is like losing half our lives. We panic when our devices reach 10% battery power. Put that in the context of learning and what do you get? Mobile learning of course.

Mobile learning is now a movement and it’s not just about picking up a tablet and off you go. Mobile learning is about transforming how everyone can access shared knowledge and resources. It’s about mobilizing the learning experience, from being merely seated in a classroom discussing matters with your teacher or stuck with a laptop at home answering online assessments, to taking an assessment while in a cab.

The pros for mobile learning

The most obvious reason is that almost everyone owns a mobile device. Laptops, tablets and smartphones prices have all decreased since their first inception, making them available to anyone. The affordability of such devices, according to, enables students in resource-challenged communities to technologically leapfrog and the opportunity to skip past outdated formal and rigid school systems. Mobile technology can also start replacing bulky resources such as books and visual aids, because these resources are stored in tabs and smartphones. Students can access classroom activities and other resources anywhere and anytime which gives them a continuum of learning beyond their classrooms. Mobile learning also enables quick learning because all students have to do is go online and take the course on their device of preference.

But that’s just the start. Presently, most LMSs now have downloadable apps available on the app stores. Access to these LMSs is as simple as logging and gaining access to learning resources as if students were on their laptop, and let's not forget that there are over 6 billion mobile phones in the world so just imagine the possibilities. Apart from LMS apps, there are various other educational apps (both free and paid) downloadable for consumption and can be used in situations where, for example, I can watch tutorials on the Khan Academy app.

School districts are already taking advantage of the ever-expanding mobile landscape to boost engagement and interaction. Of course, there was initial resistance to mobile devices being used in schools because they are distractive, but times have changed. Learners are more motivated and engaged when they learn using their mobile devices, and encourages social learning. Although it might sound ironic as students are staring on the screens of their devices, they’re using social media as a tool for learning.

The cons for mobile learning

Despite the drastic change in the learning experience, there are still some skeptics who question mobile learning. For one, there are still many schools which ban the use of mobile devices in classrooms to minimize distraction. Teachers wouldn’t want to hear the sound of a ringing phone in class, right? Students might also use their devices less for learning and more for texting with friends or play games.

Also, among the physical challenges of mobile learning is the fact that most mobile devices are limited by their software design. Sure, the latest iPhone has the latest hardware (next-gen processor, improved response times) but they are not really designed for the pure multitasking that laptops can otherwise do. Screen size also matters, and students who own small-screened devices might have trouble reading learning content versus those who own large-screened devices.

Schools might also become too restrictive and controlling when it comes to app usage and mobility. According to Stephen Skidmore, Director of Product Marketing at Apperian, schools should be wary of tools designed to manage devices because the school doesn’t own students’ devices. Schools might also enforce certain policies which limit or control device use and access, discouraging mobile learning.

The future

That said, mobile learning has a lot of possibilities. Schools are slowly implementing BYOD, starting with laptops and tablets, and soon smartphones will become the norm as well. We all live in a world where we can instantly connect to our friends. It won’t be soon before schools will also become digitally social and mobile.

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