I’ve just finished reading Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future (Harper Perennial, 2011), a collection of 150 essays by major world thinkers in the sciences and the arts, edited by John Brockman. It is a rich book, full of generative thoughts, and opposing points of view on whether the Internet has changed the way or just what we think about. In reading it, I couldn’t help think of how mobile technologies may also change the way we think.
Mobile communication is not the same thing as the Internet, just as mobile learning is not the same as eLearning. However, there’s a great deal of overlap in that our mobile devices, particularly tablets and smartphones, can access the Internet. One way to view this situation is that the field of mobile communications is a subset of the Internet, sharing many of its characteristics. So maybe the best comparison is between non-mobile uses of the Internet and the use of mobile devices to connect with information. Does the fact of mobility make a difference?
I think it does. Before the widespread use of mobile phones, and the recent rise of tablet computing, connecting to the Internet meant accessing a server via a desktop or a laptop computer. To use either type of computer was to be sitting in one location connected via a telephone line or Ethernet cable to a modem device that enabled access to the Internet. eLearning, defined as teaching and learning via the Internet or using CD-ROMs, assumed an immobilized learner being presented with instructor-designed “learning materials” that guided their study and learning was tested using online assessments (what I call the “Tell-Test” model).
All that changed with the provision of wireless communications and mobile phones, especially smartphones, and their use in learning. Instead of being stuck in one location, learners could use their mobile devices wherever there was a “hotspot” wireless telephone access to find the information they needed. The “affordances” of mobile learning are just the opposite of learning in a classroom or using presentation-style eLearning. They include:
5. Context sensitivity
The impact of mobility in learning is profound. This is because thinking is not just triggered by electrical impulses in our brains, but is also stimulated by the world (also known as “situated learning”). As we move through the world, we are encountering real situations in a physical environment. This is quite different than reading about something in a textbook or seeing a picture on a wall.
The increasing ubiquity of information sources means we learn whenever we want to and from almost any location. Increasingly, we are not just relying on mobile phones to deliver mobile learning, but a rich mix of phones, tablets, laptops, GPS receivers, Internet radios, digital signage, kiosks, and other specialized mobile devices. Because information has moved into the “cloud” it is accessible from almost any location that has basic connectivity. Wherever we are, it is easy these days to find WiFi or cell phone connections.
The mobile devices we carry can usually pinpoint their location using GPS, and technology within mobile phones will show what direction the camera is pointing. This is made possible the burgeoning field of augmented reality where additional information is provided as an overlay to the scene that is shown in the viewfinder of most smartphones. Location-based information is also individualized so it’s meaningful based on a learner’s previous behaviors, desires, and preferences, or recommendations from friends.
All of this has allowed us to be more creative using mobile devices compared to being tied to a desk with a laptop or desktop computer. Learning games are being invented for mobile devices that require you to move through a physical environment to play. QR codes on the sides of buildings are being used to engage people as they pass by. We’re only understanding the creative possibilities of mobile devices. While this doesn’t sound like the standard fare of corporate training, it, too, is mobile learning. Mobile devices are just changing the way we think.
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