Tuesday, July 11, 2006

...and then there were Four (or the Four R's of mobile learning)

Following on my previous post, I pick up on Leonard's idea of the three R's for mobile learning:

Leonard has reconsidered the three R's he posited earlier in a blog post and has included a fourth, and that is Reinterpret.

What I have conceived through a critique of Sharples' (Sharples 2005, para:3) well-considered conference paper (mLearn 2005) is his central elements for mobile learning include time, space and topical information and the simple fact that a theory of mobile learning takes as its central theme the learner's mobility.

When reframed this way, mobile devices are an aid to learning on the move, but not the focus of it; mobile learning is equally valid when accomplished with a pad of paper and a pen, as len pinted out, if that?s the appropriate resource for the learner 'in situ'. Thus, in accordance with Sharples thinking, we see the possibility of four avenues of learning activity. Defined from a learner-centric viewpoint, these are:

  • Record: The learner may use a portable device to record information. The information recorded may be in response to a prompt from the portable device itself; or in response to a stimulus from their situated learning environment or teacher. The information may be recorded to the portable device itself; or the portable device could serve as a conduit for storing the information remotely (e.g. weblog or database).

  • Recall: The learner may use a portable device to recall information, either stored on the portable device (e.g. iPod recording), or by using the device as a conduit to access information remotely (e.g. on the internet or a database).

  • Relate: The learner may use a portable device to communicate with other people ? for example, with another learner, or with a teacher (i.e. a learning relationship). The device may communicate directly and synchronously (e.g. mobile phone conversation), or may provide access to asynchronous communication services (e.g. web discussion board or collaborative weblog).

  • Reinterpret: The learner may use the portable device to process existing data so that it is transformed into new information, or restructured to include new learning.

In a reflection of the 'Three R's' of the essential pre-Net Generation skills (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic), these form the 'Four R's' of Net Generation learning (Prensky 2001a, 2001b) and reflect the sociocultural shifts in thinking and learning for the increasingly mobile twenty-first century.

So then, in terms of learning design, how might we use the four R's to develop engaging learning activities for our learners? Some practical examples can be seen through some Australian based projects like EngageMe, and New Practices 2004 project on using handheld devices in Horticulture, plus a range of mobile learning projects happening in Europe.

This extends teaching beyond the institution walls, into the everyday world around us and recognises the learner as the learning citizen (see the European commission funded projects for more).

So with this in mind, let's return to Sharples' summary of findings from a project called
. In this summary one can draw out ideas or strategies that can facilitate learning design. First, and most importantly, it is the learner who is mobile rather than the technology. This encourages a learner-centric focus from the outset when designing for learning. Interweaving learning into everyday practice extends our discussion on situated learning and also draws on networked learning which acknowledges a 'connectedness' supported by technology. It bodes well for engaging in workplace learning and draws fellow employees into the learning setting as both co-learners and supplementary guides or facilitators.

Distributed systems for managing the learning is preferenced in mobile learning approaches , so we need to consider carefully how institutions can support a distributed practice of administration and management wherever possible. This is a big challenge faced by institutions as they struggle with the fact that open systems and informal learning practices are increasingly valued in the workplace and our communities generally. This certainly challenges what it means to be a 'learning institution'. Sharples recognises that there is a conflict with formal education, as much as there is an opportunity to complement it (Sharples 2005, para:19).

Sharples also notes the increased importance of the context, not as a shell in which the learning occurs but as a contributor to the learning process or act itself (Sharples 2005, para:18). Context is dynamic and the space created becomes interactional, mediated by technology and the learning outcomes set. In this case, to think of the design is to engage the context as part of the learning, so that the learner and the teacher are both aware of the outcome(s) that can be generated from interacting in - and with - the context.

We should be acutely aware of the ethical issues that surround privacy and ownership (Sharples 2005, para:20). As learners are increasingly mobile, so too the learning settings themselves become mobile. The walls that once contained learning are melting into everyday settings. This means we need to be conscious of the ubiquitous nature of the technology and the invasive ways in which we can (mis)use the technology. Some teachers may voice concern over 'losing sight' of the learners and in a sense losing some level of power in the student-teacher relationship. If teachers are able to manage relinquishing of power to an extent where it is in itself freeing for them too, then there is more chance that modelling, or guiding learners in, safe and appropriate practices with technology can become the 'teaching' itself, thus developing the learning citizen, not simply the compliant student.

Learning is a social activity where learners engage with one another and with the context around them. It is a dynamic activity "framed by cultural constraints and historical practices" where the very process of learning is one of change, where our cultural and historical frames of reference grow and develop as we do (Sharples 2005, para:26).


EngageMe, NSW DET (n.d.) What is Moblogging? EngageMe Series 1.

European Commission (2002-2005) MOBIlearn: the wings of learning, MOBIlearn project consortium, Europe, Israel, Switzerland, USA and Australia. http://www.mobilearn.org/

Low, L (2006) The fourth R..., weblog post Mobile Learning

-- (2006) The three R's: building blocks for mlearning, weblog post Mobile Learning

Prensky, M (2001a) Digital Natives, Digitial Immigrants - Part 1, paper republished from On the Horizon, Vol 9, No 5, October 2001, NBC University Press. Retrieved 10 July 2006.

-- (2001b) Digital Natives, Digitial Immigrants - Part 2, paper republished from On the Horizon, Vol 9, No 6, December 2001, NBC University Press. Retrieved 10 July 2006.

Sharples, M. (2005) Towards a theory of mobile learning, paper presented at mLearn 2005, Capetown South Africa. Retrieved July 10 2006.

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1 comment:

Marg O'Connell said...

Check out the FutureLabs (UK) Report 11 (2004), a literature review on mobile technologies and learning. Sharples, along with Naismith, Lonsdale and Vavoula at the University of Birmingham have produced a decisive document reviewing current literature on mobile technologies and literature on learning theory such as situated learning, activity theory and more.