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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Does m-learning exist?

I've been involved in mobile and pervasive learning research for around six years, but this year was the first time that I've attended two of the leading events in the field: IADIS m-learning (held back in April), and m-learn (which I attended last week).

I enjoyed both events - not least because of the interesting locations (especially the Cold War museum in Shropshire with its ominous collection of the best nuclear weapons 20th century money could buy) - however this year there has been a dramatic improvement in mobile technology (driven in no small part by the iPhone and Android) that has left me wondering if there is such a thing as m-learning anymore.

In fact some of the most enjoyable presentations at m-learn reinforced this thought. For example, Thomas Cochrane from the UniTec, New Zealand presented a fabulous experiment with multimedia reflective journals, students on a design course were given video phones and told to use them to add content to a variety of Web 2.0 style sites, and bring together them together in a Vox powered online blog.

The interesting thing is that most of the innovation in this case is in the use of multimedia and the online sharing, the mobile phones are almost incidental - a convenient way of creating content - their mobility is useful because you can film outside of the classroom and upload from anywhere (for example, design students road-testing their products in the wild) but its not enabling a new kind of activity (such as merging virtual with physical spaces, location-based services, or synchronously connecting students outside of the classroom). And even if it was, isn't that just what we do with desktop or laptop systems, only on a mobile device?

That may seem like an odd argument - after all, if it's on a mobile device doesn't that make it m-learning?

However, I think that as devices increase in power the fact that learning involves a mobile device becomes less and less interesting. If I upload a photo to flickr from my laptop is that m-learning? What about if I use my iphone? What about if all I was doing was accessing Blackboard through Mobile Safari?

It seems to me that the term m-learning will become less and less relevant - even if (perhaps especially if) we start to see it used more and more.

Because if all our e-learning is m-learning, why do we need the term at all?

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