Monday, 1 June 2009

Learning on the move

Many learning and development professionals argue that mobile phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs) are not useful devices for learning. Their rationale boils down to complaining that the screens are too small.

You don’t have to adopt superfluous jargon about “mobile learning” to take the opposite view. I’ve always thought that learning is more about communication than about information, and there’s no doubt that phones and PDAs are powerful communication devices. But even the small screen argument is looking increasingly irrelevant.

I’ve only had a handheld device with a good-sized colour screen for five years: before that, I had one of those tiny green-tinged monochrome screens on my phone, and carried a separate PDA. But the real revolution has only started for me in recent weeks, as I have acquired an iPhone. The screen may be just 3 inches by 2 inches, but that is ample for all sorts of activities, including sending and receiving email, playing games and even watching movie trailers.

I don’t want to get into Apple/Microsoft wars: I’m sure there are equally impressive MS-based alternatives to the iPhone. But I’m amazed by what my new handheld can do, and it reinforces my belief that much more learning in the near future is going to be conducted via devices we have hitherto regarded primarily as just phones.

If I can read email, I can read learning materials; if I can send email, I can complete multiple-choice tests; if I can play games, I can undertake interactive exercises; if I can watch movie trailers, I can watch educational video clips. I can browse the web. I can make best use of my handheld via tailored apps designed specifically to be used on it. And I can communicate with a tutor or mentor by phone, text and email. This is not just me getting carried away with my new piece of kit – the age of learning via handhelds has definitely arrived.

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