The concept of an affordance was first coined by psychologist James J. Gibson in his 1977 book, “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.” Essentially, an affordance is a quality or feature of an object, or of an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action. For example, the handles on a teacup allow it to be lifted without getting burned.
All learning technologies have a set of affordances that makes some actions possible while limiting others.
If we look at three different learning technologies – a physical classroom, self-paced eLearning, and mobile learning, we can immediately see that the actions of both teachers and learners are enabled, shaped, and also limited, by the features of each of these technologies.
The following table shows some of the differences (and similarities) among these three learning technologies:
|Physical/Virtual Classroom||Self-Paced eLearning||Mobile Learning|
|Teacher control||Software control||Learner control|
|Learner is immobile||Learner is immobile||Learner is mobile|
|Learner is NOT in context||Learner is NOT in context||Learner is usually in context|
|Information is presented||Information is interactive||Information is pulled as needed|
|Books are the main external source of information||Television, computers, monitors are the main external sources of information||Social networking and databases in the cloud are the main external sources of information|
|Assessment uses exams, homework, observation||Assessment uses short quizzes, games, tracking of interactions with learning materials||Assessment uses quizzes, games, behavior tracking, gestures, geolocation, sensors, portfolios|
If we broaden the concept of capabilities to include features of mobile environments, and look for additional features of mobile devices, we can see that there are more than 20 possible affordances of mobile devices, as shown in the list below:
- Cloud storage
- Computing Functions/Apps
- Document production and viewing
- External and internal sensors
- Individual Addressability
- Input/Output Peripherals
- Internet Connectivity
- Media viewer / playback
- Microphone and audio recording
- Notifications and Alerts
- Short-range communication
- Voice / phone communications
My colleague Chad Udell has already written about a number of these of affordances in a series of articles on this blog.
And, I’m sure there are other affordances of mobile devices and environments that can be identified and discussed in terms of their usefulness in learning and development. The future will also bring new functionality that we haven’t even thought about to the mobile world.
As instructional designers, it is important that we understand these various possibilities before embarking on the design and development of mobile learning experiences. Learning is complex, and the design of effective learning materials requires an understanding of objectives, the capabilities of the technologies and environments we are in, and the kinds of learning activities that both motivate and teach in a way that is engaging and memorable.
If you need assistance in designing mobile learning activities please give us a call at Float. We’re here to help.