What do we know about using mobile phones in education? (part 2)

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image courtesy kiwanja.netRecent posts to this blog about the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries have generated a *lot* of page views.  News earlier this year that firms in the United States are beginning to make a pitch for greater use of mobile phones in the education sector highlights the increased attention that this topic is now receiving in OECD member countries as well.

Examples of this increased attention are popping up all over the place.  ISTE recently published Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education (author web site).  Announcements about conferences and events devoted specifically to issues related to 'mobile learning' (m-learning) are becoming more frequent.  Scholars are paying increased attention to the topic (a quick search for 'phones' in the ERIC database yields over 275 articles), building upon over a decade of piloting and research into how various handheld devices (especially PDAs) have and can be used by educators and learners. Even mainstream publications like BusinessWeek are paying attention, as a result of high-profile pilot projects like what Qualcomm has funded in North Carolina (USA) with Project K-nect

Not all of this attention is new, of course: MOBIlearn was a worldwide European-led research and development project earlier this decade exploring informal, problem-based and workplace learning through mobiles. A half-decade ago the UK's Learning and Skills Development Agency published a report on the EU-funded m-learning project (pdf). Starting in 2002, the IEEE convened a series of workshops on wireless, mobile and ubiquitous technology in education.  Given all of this activity, it is perhaps not surprising that there is an International Association for Mobile Learning (IAMLearn)!  In Korea, they are even thinking beyond the moble phone, with a great deal of rhetoric around the concept of 'ubiquitous learning'.  All of this builds on a long history of experimentation and research into the use of a variety of handheld devices like PDAs.  

So: Experimentation has been going on in this area for quite awhile, but might we be reaching a tipping point in some places that could lead to quick, widescale utlization?

While mobile devices will no doubt play an integral role in education practices in some places in the near future, we remain a few steps removed from mass adoption, even in affluent, education-obsessed, technology-saturated societies like Korea and Japan.  At the most recent British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT), billed as the world’s largest trade show of its kind (earlier blog post on BETT), I was surprised at how *little* application development I saw for the mobile phone.  The three great limitations of mobile phone use in education (small screen, battery life and difficulties with input, to which I would add the 'distraction issue')  apparently remain major impediments -- at least in the case of how we currently conceive of traditional educational delivery.

(image at top courtesy of kiwanja.net)

You may wish to check out the online EduTech debate that recently kicked off, sponsored by infoDev and UNESCO, inspired by the Oxford-style exchange between Sir John Daniel and Bob Kozma sponsored by The Economist a few years ago.


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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