Sunday, December 2, 2012

6 considerations for addressing the “what” and “how” of mobile learning

Learning is increasingly online and mobile, anytime and anywhere. It happens by watching a video or reading an article, then sharing it, then discussing it with peers; it happens by searching, and sorting through the results to discern truth from fiction and then form your own beliefs; it happens when you pull out your mobile device to read the news while you’re waiting for your lunch. That’s the way it happens for us, and that’s the way it increasingly happens for our students.

What and how?
For those who are ready to move past the “should we” conversation behind mobile learning, we need to determine the how. 

  • How do cash-strapped schools afford it? 
  • How do we make it effective? How are we going to manage it? 
  • How will technology be used to support learning goals?

1. Safety first
People worry: They are concerned that it’s not safe having students collaborate online. That is true if it’s unmonitored and uncontrolled, but social learning management systems allow students to connect with other students and educators in a safe environment. Mobile filtering helps to make sure the same policies applied on desktop computers are pushed to mobile devices.

2. Learning Goals
Let’s be clear: a mobile learning program isn’t about handing a device to a student. Technology is just a tool, albeit a very powerful one. So it’s essential when planning a mobile learning program that we consider not the technology first, but how the technology will be used to support learning goals.

3. Collaboration
Collaboration is a key part of that. We have to support pupils in connecting to a network of learners they can share ideas with and get new perspectives from. (Studies show that digital natives want feedback on the type of pizza to order and which shoes to buy; imagine if they could get the same feedback on their physics hypothesis or their report outline.)

4. Content
Content is important too. When the world is at your fingertips via a mobile device students need to know how to effectively access vetted, appropriate content.

5. Budgets
School budgets are tight, and yet more and more are finding money to purchase mobile devices. Some are allocating textbook or curriculum funds toward purchasing devices. Some turn to grants to bring in resources to purchase them. Parents and others in the school community often support fundraisers or bonds that allow for the purchase of technology. And more and more districts are turning to bring your own device (BYOD) programs to allow students to use the devices they own.

6. Management
Some complain: I have too much to do, I can’t manage this. That’s a legitimate concern, as adding thousands more devices is enough to push any technical team over the edge. But mobile device management solution, specifically those made with features just for schools, can simplify management and balance the workload between IT and educators (as both have a role in the use of mobile devices by students).

A New World, A Necessary Solution
Keeping students safe and protecting the network is still a fundamental responsibility (with social networking and cyberbullying and phishing scams and the staggering number of new adult web sites launched each day). But there are solutions for addressing safety, security, and management in new ways that allow schools to take advantage of mobile devices, dynamic content, and collaboration.

Clearly, classrooms full of students on mobile devices or taking classes online or watching a lecture from the park instead of school is a big change—and one that deserves planning and consideration. But time spent denying mobility as an imperative or being held back by fear or stress will only leave our education system farther behind and our pupils further disengaged.

For ideas about using mobile devices in the classroom read Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning. 


  1. I am saddened a bit by this post. When I first encountered your ideas I was excited and ready to join in the march to freedom. What is the point of "Breaking the Ban" if all we do is institute new bans in the name of "Keeping students safe and protecting the network ". You are surrendering.

    1. Sorry Mr. C. Perhaps you've misunderstood my beliefs. I do want to support educators who are working to break the ban where they work, and I believe we can do this in parameters where students are kept safe and the network is protected.

  2. Speaking of mobile learning, I have just read about a new app helping children to learn math with a fun game.
    Will the school test be successful?

  3. Hehe. I like your reference to "those who are ready to move past the “should we” conversation behind mobile learning".

    Something to consider: Start a class with iTouches rather than BYOD. Perhaps there is a helpless feeling among teachers considering mobile learning - student may have superior technology that they don't understand.

    As far as cash-strapped schools, we got the biggest teacher buy-in from a pre-year roll-out. The year before 1:1, there was once classroom set of MacBooks (but you could use any device) that ONE teacher had access to for ONE month. We started the computers with the tech-savvy teachers and, when they handed the carts to another teacher, they also shared their learning. When the carts moved on to other teachers, the grief was apparent.

    Management is a big concern. Here are some suggestions:

    Janet |

    1. ==Start a class with iTouches rather than BYOD.==

      To me, one of the important reasons for BYOD is that students should have the freedom to use the devices they own. If a school believes iTouches will support learning goals, that is fine. They should buy them, but ultimately, students should be empowered to use what they own and choose what will work best.

      My concern with the one month cart idea is that you are giving students a great resource, then taking it away. I'd prefer a more natural way to incorporate technology that is driven by students and teachers rather than administrators and aligned to learning goals and unit of study duration.