Are Mobile Phones and mLearning Failing in Education?
Recently, Tim Unwin was featured in the lengthy article, "Are mobiles failing the world of education?" The reporter noted that specialists are having second thoughts about the efficacy mobiles have in the world of education, despite the initial hype.
I have few thoughts on this piece, which has interesting points and says so much about the state of mobile learning right now:
Trough of Disillusionment
Tim Unwin could be in what Gartner calls the "Trough of Disillusionment," the third phase out of Gartner's five-phase technology hype cycle:
Technologies enter the "trough of disillusionment" because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.
Mobile phones are still too new
Is mobile the god that failed educationists? Only years after seeing a lot of potential in using the tiny hand-held devices to promote learning, specialists are having second thoughts about their efficacy in teaching the millions
To be fair, mobile learning hasn't really had enough exposure within the education system to draw any conclusions. Of course there have been many pilots, and some mainstream projects that are way beyond pilot phase, but if we compare mobiles to PCs, then we need at least another 10 years of implementation within schools - and informal learning contexts - before we an know whether mobiles have failed educationists.
Lastly, on this point, I recently surveyed 76 teachers from schools in Cape Town about whether mobiles phones were allowed at their schools or not. 30% said that phones were totally banned at school. It is fair to say that not one of those educationists has ever tried mobile learning.
Don’t be fooled by simplicity
Many, many poor people have a (simple) phone. And what can you do with a phone like this?" [Tim Unwin] asked, pointing to the inexpensive phone he was carrying.
This is a question that could be asked to someone who found their job via SMS, or an election that was monitored with the help of Frontline:SMS, or people who are learning English through BBC's Janala service using only voice and SMS.
Simple phones can be very powerful when used in conjunction with other media. Of course one day when most people have a smartphone and mobile broadband connectivity is widespread, then the capability of phones to deliver rich media content will be fully realised.
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