On Five Difficulties in Mobile Learning Implementation

Posted: June 11, 2010 in mlearning, mobilelearning, reflections

As we continue to reflect on the value of mobile learning, it is important to consider the issues surrounding the difficulties in implementation.  One cannot successfully implement the use of mobile devices for learning in schools without reflecting on the difficulties associated with this form of learning.  Here, I reflect on what I perceive as five major difficulties associated with mobile learning.  Please feel free to provide your ideas or solutions in the comment field of this blog post.

Difficulty #1: Cost

It’s no secret that supporting a mobile device is expensive.  If it’s an iPod Touch, then the cost is upfront.  If’s it’s a cell phone or smart phone, then the cost is perpetual.  Regardless of the device, mobile learning involves an added cost and while the school can support some of the burden, often this burden is left to parents. How do we deal with the cost factor?

Difficulty #2: Changing Attitudes

I’m all for the use of mobile electronic devices for learning.  However, I can honestly say that I am probably in the minority.  From my perspective, many prefer to keep education in a state that is similar to the one that they learned in.  Highly structured.  Books.  Paper.  Assignments for the teacher only.  Teacher as the keeper of knowledge.  Students seated in rows and listening to the teacher most of the time.  Where does mobile learning fit in this environment?

Difficulty #3: Dealing with Discipline Issues

This issue really hits home for me.  As a teacher and a curriculum consultant, I had the privilege of focusing on curriculum.  Now, as an administrator, I can appreciate how the presence of expensive devices can add stress and create problematic situations for staff.  Whether the issue is theft, loss or damage, the inevitability of incidents that result from the presence of these devices is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Then there is the issue of students using devices for activities other than learning.  If a child brings a device to school because the school wants to allow them to use the device for learning, but then the student uses it to bully another child, how do we deal with that?

Difficulty #4: Access at school

It’s no secret that schools do not have infrastructure to support mobile learning.  Even if students had devices at their disposal, how could they ever use them for productive ends if the school has no way to allow students to connect their devices to a network for access to the Internet?

Difficulty #5: School Board Policy

The school board I work for is open enough to allow students to use electronic devices for learning if the teacher allows for it.  It gives teachers the flexibility to decide whether or not they want to use these devices for learning.  From what I hear, this is the exception and not the rule. How can we use mobile devices for learning if policy prohibits their use in school?

While I have my opinions, I do not have the answers to these questions.  How would you deal with these  difficulties?

  1. I’m reflecting on adoption of an innovation these days (not mobile). I am mostly concerned with number 1 and 2. I think that after we have access to tech and mindset change, the rest will necessarily look different. There will always be discipline problems of different kinds. What matters me now is that we may be focusing on too many fronts instead of dealing with the real game changers.

    I am in the classroom. I know that from the admin point of view, my idea could be simplistic. However, I agree with the order/ranking in which you mention difficulties.

  2. Don Watkins says:

    Mobile devices can be expensive, however they are ubiquitous and we seem them more and more in our school. Some are merely the iPod Touch while others are cellular phones of one stripe or another. I teach a technology awareness/digital citizenship class and nearly 75% of my students have phones. Many of those students have access to iPods, PSPs and other wireless devices including netbooks.

    If schools decide they need to provide the devices that could be expensive, but if schools decide that wireless devices (which have declined in price) are more akin to footgear and that we don’t need to provide them but instead can leverage them we will achieve a tipping point and may be already at that point.

    Students with iPods, netbooks and Smartphones can easily interact with Moodle and other e-learning sites. Even students with only SMS capabilities can interact with those sites too depending on how the site is configured.

    Discipline issues related to the use of mobile devices can be addressed with insightful and open minded approaches. The educators who choose not to embrace these devices effectively write themselves off and make schools increasingly irrelevant.

    • Thanks for your comment Don. I am very interested in hearing more about those “…insightful and open minded approaches” to discipline issues. What approaches have you used that you have found successful?

  3. Nicky Hockly says:

    Thanks for this interesting post, Rob, which clearly identifies a number of the issues involved in the implementation of mobile learning. One of the best ways to address implementation issues is to look at case studies of those who have already been through the process. I recently attended an excellent webinar organised by EduWeek, in which three case studies were discussed (I blogged about it here: http://www.emoderationskills.com/?p=181, where you can read a summary)

    Several of your points above arose in the discussion. Here are some quick thoughts on each of your points:

    1 Cost: Mobile devices are coming down in price all the time, and it’s cheaper for a school to invest in class sets of iTouches (not phones) than wired computer labs. An Acceptance and Use Policy is important here though. (An aside: As a parent, I would be much happier investing in an iTouch for my daughter then spending the hundreds of Euros I have to every year on dreary textbooks! Unfortunately we are still a very long way from getting rid of print textbooks completely. Sigh.)

    2 Attitude: Yes, it is definitely still the early adopters, or forward thinking school projects, that are implementing these forms of learning. I imagine it will take up to a decade for mobile learning to become totally mainstream in education, certainly here in Spain where I live.It might happen faster in other parts of Europe though.

    3 Discipline: As a classroom teacher I would argue that you will have fewer discipline problems if your students are motivated and engaged. Having to shlep through dreary irrelevant textbooks are going to lead to more discipline problems than students using tools and materials that they find engaging and motivating. Well worth taking a look at the Project K-nect video in the blog post I mentioned above.Teenage students were highly motivated in this project – and we are talking about scintillating subjects like algebra and maths :-).

    4 Access: Yup – the solution to this is a fully WiFi enabled environment with no blocks! Radical stuff, but it works the best if you look at the evidence from past projects.

    5 School boards: I have no experience of your last point (lucky me!) Although it sounds to me like you work in a pretty good environment!

  4. Kevin Bals says:

    Good thoughts. I think the cost of an iPod Touch is much more cost effective than any other mobile solution out there. The price of Apps are so low and free in many cases that the overall cost of an iPod Touch is significantly lower than say a netbook. Are there things that a netbook can do that an iPod Touch can’t – yes? But an equally important question is are there some things you can do on an iPod Touch quicker and easier than a netbook – yes (i.e. record an audio file and share it via email)?

    I am an assistant principal at a high school. We changed our cell phone policy this year and allowed students to use cell phones in between classes and in their lunch periods. The net result was our cell phone violations decreased this year. You can read all about it here (http://www.livinginthe4thscreen.com/classroom-cell-phone-disruption-by-the-number ). This result confirms Nicky’s point above i.e. engagement reduces disruptions. Today’s cell phone is yesterdays passing of notes.

    Whether we like it or not cell phones will increase in functionality, ubiquity, and scalability, while at the same time decreasing in cost. These facts are creating a digital Tsunami that will eventually crash upon our shores. Schools can put their heads in the sand but the problem is not going away. We must embrace student-owned cell phones and figure out how to use them to improve instruction and learning.

  5. kinj28 says:

    Please consider this invitation for participating in the research.

    Who: All those who are in learning and development department and are looking for innovative solutions can participate in “Mobility Solutions for Organizations”.

    Why: This work should contribute to better knowledge about mobility needs, solutions, adoption, objections.
    It should also determine what value add is perceived and how these can be better achieved.

    What: The survey takes most people approximately 5-10 minutes. It has just 15 questions. You can stop at any time.

    Where: If you are willing to participate, please click here to go to the survey. http://tinyurl.com/2f6lxma

    How: The results will be made publicly available on website and the anonymity of individuals, organizations, solution providers will be strictly maintained.

    Thank you for participating!

  6. Loving the conversation going on here! I realize I’m joining in a bit late, but I wanted to let you know that a journalism student at Carleton has begun a conversation on this topic with parents in our online community. http://schools-at-the-centre.ning.com/forum/topics/cell-phones-in-the-classroom

    And the difficulties Rob identified above are surfacing. I agree that it’s only a minority of teachers and parents who are keen on exploring the use of mobile devices in the classroom. (As you’ll see in our discussion from the parent side). I’m part of that minority. I agree with you that engaging students in their own learning is vital. Personally, I’m in favour of experimenting with reaching out to them where they are. Technology is such a huge part of their lives by the time they are teenagers.

    Parents identified one more difficulty which relates to Don’s post above – how will the students feel that don’t own iphones, smart phones, or ipod touches? Will this further stigmatize students whose families cannot afford them?

    Perhaps the best approach to solving these difficulties is what we’re are all doing here – talking about them! (Kudos to you Rob) And in as many ways and venues as possible! Sharing examples of successful use in school, so that we can begin passing these stories around. It’s going to take time for people to become comfortable with these ideas. Or to even be ready to consider them. I also think we need to try to understand the concerns people against mobile tech have raised and acknowledge that most are valid. People will need reassurance that their concerns will be addressed… Just wanted to let you know we’re going to be talking more about 21st century problems and solutions at our conference on Nov. 13 at York U in Toronto. One session is devoted to Facebook and whether or not teachers should friend students. Join us if you can of follow it on TVO livestream or twitter hashtag #p4e

  7. […] https://themobilelearner.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/on-five-difficulties-in-mobile-learning-implementat… This is an interesting article that talks about the difficulties surrounding the implementation  of mobile learning in our current education system. I think it is important that we not overlook just how difficult it is to move to a mobile learning solution when we still haven’t “mastered” online distance learning in it’s current capacity, and as the article points out there several hurdles that have to be overcome in order for mobile learning to become a reality: 1. Cost 2. Changing attitudes 3. Dealing with the discipline issues 4. Access at school 5. School board policy […]

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