Is eLearning on Tablets Really mLearning – My Stance

Posted: August 26, 2012 in Cell Phones in Education, digital culture, edushifts, mlearning, mobilelearning, reflections
Tags: , ,

In the blog post, titled, “Is eLearning on Tablets really Mobile Learning (Chime In)“, RJ Jazquez discusses his opinion on on the question of whether eLearning is really mobile learning after having the question posed to him in a comment on another blog post.  In the above linked blog post, Jazquez argues that eLearning on a tablet is not mobile learning as he feels that in order for learning to be considered mobile learning, a uniquely mobile experience must take place.  This uniquely mobile experience is one that cannot be replicated on a desktop computer or in any other way.  As RJ states:

Here we are fully immersed in the most amazing computing shift in history, armed with mobile devices that set Learning free and all we can do is convert traditional desktop eLearning for consumption on the iPad, but with nothing to show for in the way of being uniquely mobile?

Unacceptable! It’s time to set the bar higher!…Ask yourself this question, is the learning experience UNIQUELY MOBILE?

While I agree with RJ that this is an excellent question, I disagree with his conclusion.  I don’t believe that using a mobile device to replicate learning that can be done on a desktop computer and calling it mobile learning necessarily sets the bar too low.  In fact, defining mobile learning as a learning experience that is ‘uniquely mobile’ creates too narrow a parameter which ultimately limits the true power of mobile learning.

In my humble opinion, I believe that the true power of mobile learning lies in the ability of one to replicate learning on a mobile device and then use the uniquely powerful features of a mobile device (i.e. learning at a distance) to enhance it. RJ lists 7 criteria that he believes one should use to judge whether a learning experiences can be defined as a mobile learning experience. True, in the title, RJ focuses on tablets but I believe that mobile devices are also smart phones and media players (i.e. iPod Touch). Below, I list his criteria and my responses to each of them (which are coloured in red). Keep in mind that my responses assume that smart phones and media players can also be used as mobile learning devices :

  • Is the experience re-imagined for touch or is it just a conversion from something that was intended for the precision of the tip of the arrow of a cursor? Not all mobile devices are touch screen and defining it as such creates too narrow a definition of mobile learning.  Traditional iPods can be used to help students listen to audiobooks or read text.  Blackberries are mobile devices too that can be used for mlearning but many models are not touchscreens.
  • Does something magical happen when I rotate my device from landscape to portrait and vice versa? In other words, when in landscape view, do I get additional resources when I turn my device into portrait mode? A great example of this is the YouTube app, it provides a unique experience in both portrait and landscape mode. Being able to get a different view when you rotate the devices doesn’t make the experience ‘uniquely mobile’.  The landscape view is a way manufacturers try to incorporate more resources on a smaller screen to try an mimic the desktop.  This is not a ‘uniquely mobile’ function – is an attempt to be more like the screen of a desktop computer.
  • Is the content itself the navigation? In other words, can I swipe left and right to advance forward and backward, or do I have to use those next and previous buttons I used back in the 20th century? This has nothing to do with mobile learning – this is simply a hardware/software feature set.  By the way, I can swipe left and right on the touchpad of my Macbook.
  • Does this learning experience take advantage of at least one of the sensor superpowers built into these amazing mobile devices, for example the GPS or the accelerometer? I’ll agree with this one.  This is one of the reasons mobile learning is so powerful.
  • Does the location of the navigation change accordingly between devices to make the experience seamless for learners as they shift from device to device? This is more of an ease-of-use argument, not an argument for mobile learning.  Location of navigation buttons are not an important element in defining mobile learning nor is it an important element when trying to make the case for the importance and effectiveness of mobile learning.
  • Does it look great not just on the iPad, but also on all other devices? Agreed.  However, the list of those ‘other devices’ also needs to include laptops which, in my opinion, are also mobile devices and strictly speaking, a laptop is also a computer.
  • Is this learning experience uniquely mobile? If so, in what way? My opinion: being ‘uniquely mobile’ is too narrow a definition for mobile learning.

In essence, this is a question of definition.  In defining mobile learning, I believe that we need to focus more on the activity of learning at a distance using a mobile device and not on the devices themselves.  Devices change but the activity remains the same.  Mobile learning is about:

  • Learning on the go by connecting to the Internet to access/create content from both inside and outside the school day and the school building – this can include, but is not limited to, listening to audiobooks or reading preliminary information on a topic on Wikipedia;
  • Engaging in on the spot, just-in-time learning using a mobile device that can access the Internet, the largest database of information humans have ever created;
  • Engaging in conversations with other students/colleagues on the content of learning from wherever one finds themselves using the Internet, the largest chat forum humans have ever created

Therefore, is eLearning on Tablets really mLearning? Yes.  mLearning is eLearning and a whole lot more.

  1. Great comments. I find it interesting that “uniquely mobile” largely seems to tie to – does it use the hardware/software “features” of that given device. While there are many very cool features in various mobile devices, using any or all of these features isn’t something that is required or even appropriate in various training courses. Yet you might still want to deliver them on a mobile device since your workforce now brings these with them when they travel and leave the laptops at home. As tablets continue to evolve and “desktop/laptop” devices start to add “features” formerly found in mobile devices only this distinction becomes a bit moot.

  2. Great post, thanks for sharing both perspectives. You’ve really outlined the inconsistencies of thought on what mobile learning really is.

    Now I’m eager to hop over to RJ’s post as well. If he’s laid those 7 criteria out as mutually inclusive, I agree that he’s set a very high bar indeed and that some may not be applicable to all mobile devices. If these are examples to be identified and considered individually though, I actually agree that optimizing content to the device, beyond just delivering content on the device, is a part of the power and innovation of mobile learning. I think that the learner’s choice of particular device could indicate an affinity toward that device and an expectation of being able to use that devices features in the way to which they’ve become accustomed. For me mobile learning is about more than the device – it’s about a tool or application designed for use on mobile devices that provides the learner that particular learning perspective in an interactive and engaging manner.

    – Danny

    • Thanks for your comment Danny. I agree that mobile learning is about more than the device. Devices come and go but the strategies need to focus on learning outcomes regardless of which handheld device is being used. When I first began writing this blog, I focused a lot on using iPods specifically for learning. As devices have become so varied and multi-featured, I have found that focusing on iPods in isolation of other devices would restrict our thoughts on how to use mlearning to enhance student learning. I’ve always said, and will continue to say, that mlearning is about leveraging handheld devices to augment learning and not about structuring learning around a particular device or feature set.

  3. Oh yes. Agree about not losing focus on the learning outcomes and that we can’t be myopic about a single device. Thanks for the reply Rob!

  4. […] for the Classroom. For different opinions on whether eLearning on tablets is mLearning read: ‘Is eLearning on Tablets Really mLearning’ and ‘Is eLearning on Tablets Really mLearning [Chime In]’ by RJ […]

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