Monday, 14 October 2013

Handbook of Mobile Learning

Zane L. Berg & Lin Y. Muilenburg (Eds.)
Handbook of Mobile Learning (Routledge, 2013)

The blurb on the back cover refers to the book as a "comprehensive compendium" on research into the field of mobile learning. It's a lot more that that. I would call a magnum opus of mobile learning. Coming in at over 600 pages and with 53 chapters covering a huge range of issues about m-learning this book should make it's way onto the bookshelves (or e-reader) of everybody who is interested and involved in mobile learning.

The issue of course is that will, in the very near future, be just about everybody involved in learning. Although reliable figures are hard to come by and even then should be taken with a certain amount of scepticism, there are about 300 million people with a tablet (either Android or IPad) and about one billion people with smartphones. There is obviously a great deal of overlap between these two figures but that is still a very large number of people with access to a mobile device that is used on a daily and habitual basis. 

The first part of the book explores the history and theory of m-learning. You would think that a history of m-learning would be a very short chapter indeed. However, as m-learning is placed within the context of distance, open and electronic learning then it has a longer ancestry. This is only the first two chapters of this section. The rest is a collection of writings of how the pedagogy of m-learning is developing.These chapters were fascinating in that it shows how educational theory is increasingly lagging behind a fast-changing technology. Various learning theories revolving around constructivist and connectivist approaches, activity theory, the ARCS model and the ideas of Jurgen Habermas are discussed. There is some agreement that the pedagogy that best fits m-learning is different from that revolves around e-learning which is itself still in it's infancy. The section concludes with some brave attempts to peer into the crystal ball and predict the future of m-learning. I say 'brave' because predicting the future of something as fast-moving and fluid as mobile learning is not that easy. It'll certainly grow from a qualitative point of view but from every other perspective - who knows?

Part two focuses on the needs of different groups of learners and how m-learning can support them. For those of you involved in open learning then this is one of the most useful sections of the book. Mobile learning allows for much greater independence and choices on the part of the learner; more engagement and interaction with the content and many more opportunities for communicating with tutors and with fellow learners.

The one thing that distinguishes mobile-learning from other kinds of leaning activity is the fact that it is mobile. This allows for learning that can take place anytime and anywhere. How this works in practice is the main part of this section. Chapters explore how mobiles have been used with medical education, cookery classes, universities, work-based learning and, most interestingly for me, a chapter on the use of mobiles in museums. 

The next part of the book shifts the focus from the learner to the teacher using mobile devices and explores the whole area of instructional design. Teachers using mobile devices will have to re-think many of the ways in which teachers teach their subjects and how they relate to their learners. There is an intriguing chapter on the concept of the 'flipped classroom' and how mobile technologies can transform the way in which our children learn in school. There is a return to an exploration of pedagogies in m-learning, especially how it fits in with instructional design. The last chapter is on how a MOOC was designed for use on mobile devices. I found this very interesting because the MOOCs that I have been involved can clearly be done on a mobile device but have not been designed for optimum mobile use. Futurelearn, the UK's new MOOC provider, has stated that the MOOCs that they will be offering will be mobile-friendly. At the time of writing, the first MOOCs through Futurelearn  have yet to be launched so how their design takes into account mobile-learning is currently not known.

Moving on from the learner and the teacher, the fourth part of the book explores the challenges of creating and implementing mobile learning. In a sense, the chapters in this section are simply stating the obvious. Don't even think about instituting mobile learning in schools, universities, libraries, museums or wherever without making sure that the proper administrative and management scaffolding is firmly in place. Yet the obvious does need to be stated in order to prevent a badly-planned rush to mobile learning. For instance, there is an excellent chapter on a university that distributed IPads to all of their students. This mass deployment created all sorts of challenges for the university and changed the relationship between the students and staff in ways that were not predicted. The most important chapter in this section is the one that introduces the Mobile Implementation Framework, which offers a way for implementing new technologies into institutions. It would be easy to skip over this section and to leave the administration and management of m-learning to others but you would do so at our peril.

And so to the last part of the book. This was the part of the book that I found the most fascinating. Over fifteen chapters the canvas is spread wide as case studies of mobile learning from around the world are explored. Again these case studies come from schools, community organizations, universities and many other kinds of learning bodies. The most inspiring chapters are on how mobile devices are helping people in the developing world access learning in a way that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. Malaysia is heavily investing in technology infrastructures and there are a couple of chapters on how educationalists in Malaysia are taking advantage of this through mobile-learning. Mobile devices are being used in India and sub-Saharan Africa to help children to access materials that were until recently out of reach.

Apologies for the big review but it's a big book on a big subject. It is difficult to imagine anybody involved in learning, including those in open learning, will not have to embrace (either whole-heartedly or reluctantly) mobile-learning. In the same way that printed books, radio, television and computers have revolutionised learning so mobile devices will do the same again. This book will help everybody to get ready.

If you want to buy either the hard copy or the ebook then here is the link.

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