Mobile devices provide users with the ability to communicate, check and send email messages, browse the Internet, share files, from any location at any time. The EDUCAUSE Report of 2014 revealed that “86% of undergraduates owned a smartphone and nearly 47% owned a tablet.“ [ ]
For more facts on students’ technology experiences, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research conducts annual research. “In 2016, ECAR collaborated with 183 institutions to collect responses from 71,641 undergraduate students about their technology experiences. The ﬁndings in this snapshot were developed using a representative sample of 10,000 students from 153 U.S. colleges and universities.” []
Most of higher education students possess smartphones. Several learning management systems provides students with the option to download the LMS App to students’ personal phones or tablets.
What is mobile learning?
It is not easy to define mobile learning. Some will say that mobile learning is the learning process that occurs through the use of mobile devices. Mobile devices include portable wireless technologies such as: laptops, notebooks, tablets, smartphones, and wearables.
Others say that this type of definition is too limiting to describe the complexity of mobile learning. The Advanced Distributed Learning [] presents a broader definition of mobile learning which encompasses a broader spectrum of learning contexts: Leveraging ubiquitous mobile technology for the adoption or augmentation of knowledge, behaviors, or skills through education, training, or performance support.
Advantages of Mobile Learning
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using mobile devices in higher education online courses?
As the mobile implies, the main characteristic of mobile devices is mobility. Including the larger types (i.e. laptops), these devices were all made to be portable.
When we talk about interaction in online courses, we are referring to student-content, student-instructor, and student-student interactions. Because mobile devices are personal devices that people carry with them most of the time, the activity, interaction in online courses, is supposed to be increased if compared to distance education students using a desktop only.
There are several free applications for mobile technology that facilitate conferencing and sharing files, such as WhatsApp, Skype, among others.
The availability of social media encourages students to be engaged even outside the learning management system.
Students are often motivated to use mobile devices for learning for convenience – as those are their personal devices they are familiar with and carry them constantly.
Most higher education students already possess a cell phone, so they do not need to make an extra purchase. Accessibility Among several other features, mobile devices offer speech-to-text technology, which is an advantage for certain disable students.
Among several other features, mobile devices offer speech-to-text technology, which is an advantage for certain disable students.
Size of screens
Some types of mobile devices, including smartphones and wearables may have a very small screen for reading articles and writing papers.
Among so many activities students can do on mobile devices, some will demand a lot of power from the device; one example is video streaming. Such activities may shorten the duration of the device battery life.
A lot of students have limited data transfer plans. Downloading, uploading files, sending emails with attachments, and streaming videos can exceed users’ data limits.
The storage capabilities of certain mobile devices may also be limited, especially, when working with large files, such as videos and other learning interactions. Learners will need download and install several apps to view and create content, which also requires storage capabilities.
Besides the need to download a variety of apps, students have different types of mobile devices, which means that they operate on different platforms.
Mobile devices have a shorter life span then computer desktops. These devices not only may expire early, but also may become incompatible with new operation systems.
Limitations for content creation
While mobile devices are very good for communication and collaboration, they might not be the best option for content creation (such as writing a long research paper).
Despite all challenges, the use of mobile devices keeps growing, and digital citizens become savvier everyday are learning new ways to overcome these obstacles.
Designing with mobile learning in mind
The first step is to follow multimedia learning principles that apply for any environment (i.e. face-to-face, blended, and complete online courses).
Splitting information in small chunks is not only better for students in general, but also for students learning using mobile devices, since mobile learners may access the content several times a day for short periods of time.
Scaffolding is to offer instruction in multiple steps along with instructional support throughout the learning process. The structure of our online courses is also favorable to scaffolding, by breaking and sequencing instruction into modules and lessons or learning objects, preferably, according to degree of difficulty, helping students check their progress and receive either instant feedback or from the instructor.
Sometimes, to make our courses ADA compliant, we have to offer additional formats to the user. For example, we may have to offer a script for a video that has no captions. This variety of formats will also be favorable for learner using mobile devices.
Universal Instructional Design
It is important to focus our attention to UID (Universal Instructional Design). UID principles help us enhance the flexibility of the materials we create for our online courses in order to reach all students (using any devices). Elias (2010) extracted eight UID principles that are particularly useful in distance education (DE):
- equitable use;
- flexible use;
- simple and intuitive;
- perceptible information;
- tolerance for error;
- low physical and technical effort;
- support to the community of learners;
- instructional climate.
Instructors and/or instructional designers should run usability tests of their online content using mobile devices. Instructors should also encourage online students to view the course content using the LMS app, as this tool will adjust size, resolution, and other features for mobile devices.
Use Html 5. Html5 was created to be platform friendly. It works well on computer desktops, tablets, iPads, smartphones, and with most of all browsers. And it is gradually replacing the existence of Flash. Most of the popular authoring tools generate content in html5 format, such as:
- Office Mix
- Storyline 2
- Camtasia 8
Waard et al (2011) explain how social media have opened spaces for learning: “… learning content can be accessed via mobile devices and social media. These tools expand knowledge acquisition beyond traditional classrooms and libraries, redefining those spaces and adding to knowledge spaces overall.” Waard et all (2011) also state that social media “allows connectivity, communication, and interaction.” Adding social media to your online courses also fosters collaborative learning. There are several social media tools available for both desktop and mobile platforms.
Mobile Learning and Active Learning
Mobile learning empowers students to pursue their inquiries, ask questions, and get instant feedback.
Mobile learners can easily search for information and collaborate in order to solve real-life problems.
Due to the ease of collaboration, students can coordinate their team projects using a social media tool or the LMS app.
With mobile learning, students can easily collaborate by allowing users to connect, conference, and share messages and files.
Instructional Strategies and Tools for Mobile Learning
The LMS app
Students enrolled in an online class in a learning management system should download the LMS app (related to their online course) to read announcements, read instructions, check the class calendar (due dates), check grades, and a lot more.
Reminders and announcements
Besides the announcements feature of most learning management systems, instructors should send reminders and concise announcements via a social media tool such as Twitter, in case the learning management system goes down.
Besides written posts, online instructors should allow students to submit their posts and responses with videos or voice messages (podcasts) to participate in discussions.
Video conferencing tool
Especially, in case of 100% online classes, a video conferencing tool (such as Skype or Google Hangouts) will help students connect and interact.
If the online course content contains YouTube videos or TEDTalks, instructors should write directions in the course for students to download and install YouTube app and/or TEDTalk app in their mobile devices.
VoiceThread App enables users to create a presentation using PowerPoint slides, images, or videos, and have other users comment or discuss the present with a written comment, an audio recording, or video.
Subject-matter specific apps
Instructors and students should consider exploring apps for the subject matter of study. Check these subject specific apps recommended by Colorado Department of Education.
- Educause – Students mobile learning practices in higher education a multiyear study. (2015). 2015 Educause annual report. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/6/students-mobile-learning-practices-in-higher-education-a-multiyear-study
- The EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (2016). Student Study 2016. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2016/10/eig1605.pdf
- Mobile Learning (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.adlnet.gov/mobile-learning
- Waard, I., Abajian, S., Gallagher M., Hogue R., Keskin N., Koutropoulos A., Rodriguez O. (2011, November). Using mLearning and MOOCs to understand chaos, emergence, and complexity in education, International Review of Research on Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), 12(7). [article]. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1046/2026