Psychologist James J. Gibson first coined the concept of affordance in his 1977 book, “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.” Essentially, an affordance is a quality or feature of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to act. For example, the handles on a teacup enable it to be lifted without getting burned.
All learning technologies have a set of affordances that make 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 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|
|The learner is NOT in the context||The learner is NOT in the context||The learner is usually in the 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|
|The assessment uses exams, homework, observation||The assessment uses short quizzes, games, tracking of interactions with learning materials||The 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 over 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 several 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 we haven’t even thought about to the mobile world.
As instructional designers, it is crucial that we understand these various possibilities before embarking on the design and development of mobile learning experiences. Learning is complex, and the design of useful 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 help in designing mobile learning activities, please call us at Float. We’re here to help.
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