Education: Is Mobile Learning Actually Effective?


Anyone who has ever taught a class of any sort or size knows that interactive learning is better; the more senses you engage in your students while teaching, the higher the likelihood they will enjoy the learning experience and remember what you teach.  Now, recent trends in technology have made learning more tactile, more mobile, and perhaps more enjoyable, but do they actually make a difference in the learning experience? Does anyone know whether or not those apps on your iPhone that your kids are playing or the distance learning course that you or your husband is taking online will really make a difference in the long run? Is mobile learning that effective?

With the explosion in the number of educational apps, online courses, and smart phones in the hands of Americans young and old, you would think the answer to that question would be a resounding "yes." Indeed, "mobile devices have become the fastest growing technology in human history," according to Bruck, Motiwalla, and Foerster, who cite numbers of the International Telecommunication Union. Their "statistics show more than 6 billion mobile phone connections existed at the end of 2011 worldwide and will grow to 12 billion by 2020 (ITU, 2012). Very soon mobiles will outnumber humans living on earth, presumably by 2013."

However, there is little research that measures their effectiveness overall, and the results of what has been done may be considered dubious for several reasons. First, there is obvious difficulty in "evaluating the outcomes of mobile learning experiences due to the presence of too many variables and difficulty in separating the effect of mobile and other experiences (Blake, Adams, Scanlon). Second, the rapid changes taking place in both the technology and material available present significant logistical difficulties as well. And lastly, surprisingly, applications designed specifically for learning, at least on smart phones, are not very popular.

But that's not to say that their benefits aren't tremendous. They are, in fact, numerous and amazing. Many would say they're changing the face of education as we know it. It makes the educational process “spontaneous, personal, informal, contextual, portable, ubiquitous (available everywhere), and pervasive (so integrated with daily activities that it is hardly noticed),” says Agnes Kukulska-Hulme. “Mobile devices, whether embedded in the environment or carried around by their users, are redefining the nature of public and private spaces. Learning is becoming more personal while becoming more connected to the surroundings and with more potential for connected, collaborative activity."

Indeed, it is obviously not just educators who are aware of these experiential benefits. Producers of entertainment material for kids and adults realize that the more forms of media in which they can offer their products, the more engaged and responsive their audiences will be. As the popularity of transmedia, fan fiction, video games, and social media increase, so does the involvement, and even influence, of the audience. Disney is one company that is aware of that, as was the popular  television show Lost. Viewers who watched Lost—a dedicated bunch—were able to enjoy parallel story lines delivered online and offline as websites, games, novels, and more.

So, there is tremendous potential for not only the continued exponential growth of mobile learning but also for the measurement of the quality of such learning. What is needed is longitudinal studies that assess whether kids or adults who regularly engage in that kind of learning actually get better grades in school or college. Then again, we all seem to be having so much fun doing it, maybe its effectiveness is irrelevant.

Do you feel like you learn from educational apps and games?

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.


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