The Advent of Mobile Learning Technology

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“May we live in interesting times” –Chinese Proverb

It’s amazing to see an accelerating rate of change leading up to what is now generally accepted as the true beginning of the ‘age of collaboration’. As more and more humans bring devices into their lives that connect them to the global network in its myriad forms. As a facilitator for social interaction and for mobile learning, these networks are unsurpassed in mankind’s history. The network and its nodes, the phones you and I carry around in our pockets, have reached critical mass. A veritable third of humanity now carries a mobile communication device with some amount of computing power and sophisticated input and output features – that’s 4 billion people! By 2012, it’s predicted that smart phones will outsell desktops, notebooks and net-books put together. This will radically change the way we live and learn, mobile learning is here now and real.

Organizations are rapidly waking up to the fact that human networks have the potential to and are already adding tremendous value to the products and services they offer. Of the varied ways that these can be leveraged, performance support and learning will be one area where huge benefits will be obtained. The tree of digital convergence has borne fruit, and it is only now that we are now picking the low-hanging, mobile learning being one of them.

As younger individuals start to enter the workforce they bring with them a perpetually connected, communicative, transparent and contributive culture. I believe the digital divide is real and involves several generations. It seems the younger members of the workforce prefer synchronous (real-time) collaboration tools over asynchronous tools. In the future of collaboration in the workplace, tools like IM along with other real-time applications will gradually replace email. For effective collaboration, workers would benefit from a toolbox that contained a variety of networking, communication and learning tools. What tools one would use will depend on lots of factors – the business process at hand, the number and location of individuals collaborating in the activity, the individual’s personal preferences, and organizational requirements.

As the quantity of information available to us increases exponentially, and the general pace of our digital lifestyles accelerates, the ability to navigate, access, validate and share information will be the KEY skill in an increasing complex and information dense environment. Already, we are huge consumers of information streams, it will only be a more demanding cognitive task to monitor and make sense of such large amounts of data.

Fueling the rapid increase in adoption of mobile/cell phones is the advent of more powerful telecommunication networks. From a time when networks that only did voice, to one where they now support a whole range of data and internet access services, has enabled the phone to go from a simple communication device to one with far more potential. One of the areas we see with the largest potential is learning. With pervasive data access enabled by networks, work can begin in earnest to provide applications that realize the potential of mobile technologies.

In the 2009 Horizon Report, mobiles have moved into the “Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less” from two to three years timeframe in 2008:

“The unprecedented evolution of mobiles continues to generate great interest. The idea of a single portable device that can make phone calls, take pictures, record audio and video, store data, music, and movies, and interact with the Internet — all of it — has become so interwoven into our lifestyles that it is now surprising to learn that someone does not carry one.

As new devices continue to enter the market, new features and new capabilities are appearing at an accelerated pace. One recent feature — the ability to run third-party applications — represents a fundamental change in the way we regard mobiles and opens the door to myriad uses for education, entertainment, productivity, and social interaction.”

With the bulk of individuals carrying a device in their pockets capable of acting as an agent and mediator for learning content and applications, the advent of mobile learning is upon us; let’s make the best of it. Perhaps 2010 will be the year when it really explodes on the scene and forces us to really think about what mobile technology can do for learning.

Over the next couple of weeks, I intend to post about some technology considerations and instructional & media design for mobile learning. I’m looking forward to hearing your views about the impacts of mobile learning. Do you think differently? Do you have great examples? Feel free to comment.

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