Smartphones and Mobile Technology: Learning anytime, anywhere?

As I continue on in my 6 month course in Technology Enhanced Learning with the Open University, I’ve come across a week devoted to mobile technology (handheld technology in particular, such as smartphones and tablets) and its potential uses for teaching and learning. It’s an interesting topic and one I thought I’d explore a bit here.

As an introduction to the week’s topic, we’ve basically been asked to consider three things: 1) What types of mobile technology do we each use? 2) In what ways do we use mobile technology? and 3) Which of these ways contribute to what we might call learning?

There are also other factors under consideration, such as how frequently we undertake each activity, whether we perform each action for fun or for work, and how we have used mobile technology in our teaching (or plan to in the future). The recent rise of modern tablets (Apple’s iPad debuted in 2010), smartphones becoming increasingly common and more affordable, and free WiFi on campuses and/or affordable data plans are allowing more students and teachers to work on the road, check their email and messages, and stay connected to the classroom community throughout the week.

Suggestions for the types of mobile technology we might have access to included a basic cellphone, a smartphone, an iPod or mp3 or mp4 player, and/or a tablet. I hadn’t thought of my old iPod Touch, something I’ve rarely used in the past two years since I got a smartphone, so I was happy to have had the list of suggestions. We then completed surveys on how often we used each item and for what (such as for fun, for work, or for social uses). These then led to a discussion about mobile technology and learning that was supplemented by a reading about mature students’ use of mobile technologies before the iPad came on the scene.

You might be thinking, ‘I have a smartphone and I don’t use it for “learning”. I’m not a student’, which is basically how I started out the week, too. But then I began reading about some examples of ways in which people do use mobile technology for learning and realised that I do use my smartphone in ways that contribute to my learning. For example:

  • I check the weather using dedicated apps (applications) or on the web
  • I send and receive emails to and from other practitioners to discuss work and ask and answer questions
  • I scan through the Pinterest app to get new ideas and find how to guides on a range of topics, including developing infographics for history topics
  • I pop on Twitter to see if there are any new calls for papers for upcoming conferences and edited collections
  • I’ll Google any questions that come up while watching a television show.

I’ll also note that a number of my classmates and I agreed that we consider our laptops to be mobile technology, although in my (somewhat old) Macbook‘s case, not handheld mobile technology — it’s far too heavy! If we agree that laptops are mobile technology, then the list of uses for learning expands dramatically. So the next time you pick up your phone to check a message or Google something, think about how you might just be learning something new!

Suggested readings:

Anderson, M. (2015) Technology Device Ownership: 2015 [online], Pew Research Center.

Dahlstrom, E., Brooks, D.C., Grajek, S. and Reeves, J. (2015) ECAR Study of Students and Information Technology, 2015, Louisville, CO, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research.

Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2012) ‘Language learning defined by time and place: a framework for next generation designs’ in Díaz-Vera, J.E. (ed.) Left to My Own Devices: Learner Autonomy and Mobile Assisted Language Learning, Bingley, UK, Emerald.

Kukulska-Hulme, A., Pettit, J., Bradley, L., Carvalho, A.A., Herrington, A., Kennedy, D. and Walker, A. (2011) ‘Mature students using mobile devices in life and learning’, International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, vol.3, no.1, pp.18–52.

The Economist (2015) ‘Planet of the phones’, The Economist, 28 February.

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