Five Myths of Mobile Learning

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I’ve been occupied with writing a paper to promote the adoption of mobile learning amongst corporates and enterprises. While trawling through multiple web-links, a pattern of myths about mobile learning emerges. Quite a bit of back and forth about these myths – I’m taking the liberty of listing and describing the five that struck me as odd, and am attempting to debunk them to an extent. I’ll be the first to admit there is always an element of truth behind myths; but with the rate of technological change, quite a few of those ‘truths’ would seem like falsehoods today.

1. Devices lack in screen and key size and processing power – It’s said quite often that as compared to personal computers, mobile devices lack the large physical interface devices (keyboard, monitor, mouse, printer…) that personal computers provide. While mobile devices’ still don’t match personal computers interface capabilities, they’ve come a long way in a very short time. Today’s devices have large usable screens, and full QWERTY keyboards. Additionally, they also include features to aid in pointing/clicking on screen, with the latest devices including multi-touch haptic support.

The processor speed race has shifted from personal computers to mobile devices; the latest mobile computing devices today are as capable as personal computers were just five years ago. With device convergence coming soon; issues of screen and key size, processing power and memory will become immaterial. We’ll soon be using a device that’s compact enough to be truly mobile and also function as a personal computer, communication device, digital assistant, and much more.

2. Mobile devices are a distraction – Mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous and pervade the younger generation of learners’ communication. Additionally, corporates across the world have taken to mobile technologies in a big way. It does seem like these devices have potential for distraction given their multiple features. However, if learners are distracted I’d rather blame the learning activities and content and not the technology or device itself.

When we use personal computers to learn the potential for distraction is equal. One could ignore the learning content and use the computer for other ‘distracted’ things. However, I’ll admit that while a personal computer is typically deskbound or too bulky to be truly portable, mobile computing devices maybe used in a variety of environments and those themselves may be cause for distraction. You wouldn’t want to try some just-in-time learning at your team’s football game or the annual office cocktail party, there is enough cause for distraction in such situations.

The challenge lies in developing engagement that truly utilizes device’s capabilities. Simply converting and packaging existing course-ware for mobile consumption does not qualify as ‘mobile learning’; for it to be effective learning, the learning content and activities have to be designed keeping mobile device usage and the like in mind. What worked on a personal computer won’t necessarily work on a personal mobile computing device. Given boring content, who wouldn’t be distracted?

3. Accessibility and cost barriers – This was perhaps one of the stranger myths I encountered, that personal mobile computing devices are inaccessible because of the inherent cost barriers. Looking around me here in India at the amazing rate of adoption of mobile devices (see Mobile Learning in India) and the availability of mobile networks capable of data that now range contiguously across India (see Networks in Rural India), its obvious cost is hardly a factor in the mobile learning equation. Phones today cost far less than they ever did, do far more and are cheaper to use because network usage charges are dropping consistently. These factors contribute to increased technology availability and subsequent adoption.

4. Lack of a standardized content delivery platform – This is touted as the major reason for corporates to hesitate in their adoption of mobile learning. What they’ve been conveniently ignoring is that the biggest content delivery platform – the World Wide Web and its varied components are now accessible from most mobile devices of this generation. If we aren’t adopting the content delivery technology that’s there for the taking, it’s not fair to crib about standardized platforms or lack thereof, we only have ourselves to blame.

5. Mobile content is expensive! – This is the standard myth that accompanies the advent of a game-changing technology. They said it about computers, and a brief look at history will show the same pattern for books, radio and television. As I mentioned earlier (point 3) phones are now broadly accessible and affordable to the masses. Developing content for mobile devices is no longer an expensive, platform dependent exercise. I’d go out on a limb and claim it’s possible to develop mobile learning content that’s mobile browser savvy for less than or equal to the cost of conventional eLearning that runs on personal computer based browsers.

I’d really like to hear from readers what they think about these myths. When discussing mobile learning, do these myths come up? How do you respond?

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