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Joan Ganz Cooney Center Study on Mobile Learning

Last week the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released a new report on how mobile technologies can be used in education titled, Pockets of Potential. You can access the full-length version on their site.

The Cooney Mobile Learning Study outlines some of the key opportunities for mobile learning:
  • Encourage "anywhere, anytime" learning
  • Reach Underserved children
  • Improve 21st Century Social Interactions
  • Fit with Learning Environments
  • Enable a personalize Learning Experience
The Cooney study cites the need to create a Digital Teachers Corps to provide educators with the training and skills to integrate mlearning activities into the classroom. While I agree, I would also say that school administrators, both at the school and district level, need to provide the leadership, support and physical infrastructure required to make mlearning (mobile learning) a reality.

When I was working at Yahoo! on the Yahoo! Teachers project, I had the opportunity to spend the summer teaching educators around the country how to use web technologies in their classroom.

Time and time again I heard from teachers that their efforts to integrate technology into their classroom are stifled by district policy, draconian filtering policies and a lack of technological resources. Many times teachers get labeled, especially when it comes to technology, as unwilling to learn how to use new technologies.

While that may have been true a decade ago, almost every educator I met expressed concern that schools were working on an outdated model and that they recognized that the way kids learn has drastically changed.

They also expressed that there is a severe lack of professional development opportunities and support from district, state and federal administrators to provide leadership and change in their schools.

Since they work on the frontline, we also need to include teachers in this discussion. There is often a disconnect between theory cooked up by policy wonks and the reality of the classroom.

One of the other areas of concern, not just for mobile learning, is the lack of good, quality educational content. It's great if we outfit kids with an Apple iPhone or Palm Pre, but then what? When we talk about mobile learning we often focus just on the hardware and technology.

Quality educational content is often left out of the equation. The OpenCourseWare movement is helping fill this void in the higher education space, but the K-12 space suffers from a real lack of appropriate, relevant and quality content. In addition to the technology, we need to develop a repository of open content materials for our K-12 students, teachers and parents.

Finally, in addition to educating teachers, administrators and other members of the education ecosystem, it's vital that we also educate parents on the benefits of mobile learning. Many teachers are still trying to convince parents that the Internet is a relevant learning tool, that blogging has educational merits and that Wikipedia is a credible source of information.

Mobile Phones, Learning & Gen Y

For the most part, colleges and K-12 are just beginning realize the potential of mobile technology to improve the quality of student learning. In order to meet their students changing expectations and digital learning styles, instructors need to be provided with professional development opportunities to experiment with current and emerging web-based technologies.

Clearly, the spread of mobile technology into both the cognitive and social spheres requires educators to reexamine and redefine our teaching and learning methods. The future of learning has already arrived in the European Union, Africa and Southeast Asia, and if the United States doesn't act now we will be even further behind the rest of the world.

At the 2006 International Consumer Electronic Show, Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel outlined the explosive growth of mobile technology. According to Semel, there are 900 million personal computers in the world. But this number pales in comparison to the 2 billion mobile phones currently being used in the world.

Even more astounding is how mobile devices are increasingly being used as the primary way in which people connect to the Internet. In fact, Semel notes that 50% of the Internet users outside the US will most likely never use a personal computer to connect to the Internet. Rather, they will access information, community, and create content on the Internet via a mobile device.

The use of mobile technologies is growing and represents the next great frontier for learning. Increasingly we will continue to see academic and corporate research invest, design and launch new mobile applications, many of which can be used in a learning context.

Learning 3.0 will be about harnessing the ubiquity of the mobile phone/handheld device and using it as an educational tool. A few quick facts on mobile technology, Gen Y and education:
  • A 2005 study conducted by the USA-based Kaiser Family Foundation found that, although 90% of teen online access occurs in the home, most students also have web access via mobile devices such as a mobile phone (39%), portable game (55%), or other web-enabled handheld device (13%). [link]
  • Palm estimates that mobile and handheld devices for public schools will be a 300 million dollar market. A few progressive school districts in the USA have already started using mobile devices in the classroom. [link]
  • Australia is emerging as a leader in mobile learning (mlearning). [link] [link]
  • The National College of Ireland, University of Scotland and other European universities have already started experimenting and integrating mobile technologies into their classes. [link] [link]
  • A study by the Irish National Teachers Organization (INTO) found that students are using their mobile phones for just about everything--except making phone calls.
  • Some developing countries, like Kenya, are bypassing the use of desktop computers all together and using handheld WI-FI devices and open source software to reduce the cost of education in rural areas. [link] [link]
  • Mobile School is a Belgian non-profit organization who is using mobile technology to provide educational opportunities for homeless children. [link]
  • Mobile phones are in the early phases of being used for student testing and assessment. [link]
  • YouTube, the popular online video community, has an educational channel that allows educational institutions to upload video clips via their mobile phones, PDAs, or other wireless handheld devices.
  • SparkNotes are now available for download on both the iPod (text and audio format) or via SparkMobile, a SMS version for mobile phones.
  • iTunesU & iPhone Apps have allowed an unprecedented amount of educational content, learning games, video & applications in the hands of students & educators.

Closing Thoughts

The Cooney research is a landmark study that I hope will move both the education technology and mobile learning discussion forward. Perhaps the release of this study, an education technology friendly president and education secretary is creating a "perfect storm" for real change to take place in our education system.

As a nation, we can no longer afford to sit back and watch schools in the U.K., Australia and Africa move forward while we continue to model our schools on an outdated agrarian, 18th Century education model.

Benefits of this learning space for the students are threefold: potential for maximum participation (all can be posting simultaneously), increased interest (authentic use of technology, so little technical advice or support is needed), and student motivation was noticeable and achieved possibly because of the increased peer feedback and collaboration.

The convergence of mobile and social technologies, on-demand content delivery, and early adoption of portable media devices by students provides academia with an opportunity to leverage these tools into learning environments that seem authentic to the digital natives filling the 21st Century classroom.

The future is here. It's time we act.

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