Is Mobile Learning a Thing?

I find myself using the phrase “mobile learning” a lot lately. I use it in conversations about how tablets and smartphones can serve as platforms to get more digital content into the classroom and foster greater collaboration between students and teachers.

Here’s the problem: I’m not sure if “mobile learning” is really a thing all its own. I know what learning is. I know what mobile devices are. I’m not really sure that you get something discrete, specific and concrete when you put the two things together.

And that’s the trouble with language. When we try new things, we need to find language to describe what we are doing and define the goals we are working toward. And so we find ad hoc, pastiche terminology that evokes the sense of thing we want to help make happen.

And yet, when pushed, we must admit the poverty of this language. Mobile learning isn’t strictly about the mobility of the student, though mobile technology certainly facilities easier, more flexible opportunities for learning on-the-go. Mobile learning isn’t really about the devices, though the devices certainly enable opportunities for hands-on, context-based, personalized learning.

Personalized learning is a good term, but radical personalization isn’t really the goal. There is a core lesson to be learned and a constructed path designed to help groups of learners through.

Collaborative learning is another good term, but it fails to capture what’s novel about digital technologies in the classroom. Deep learning is almost always collaborative in some way. It requires that the student and the teacher meet in agreement in some shared mental space. The collaborative aspects of active learning-based projects are also not new, though the scope and scale of student ability to create, curate and share their own work seems unprecedented.

I like the term ubiquitous learning a lot. I would, of course, given my fondness for the word. I like ubiquitous learning because it gets to the idea that deep learning connects what happens during the few hours spent inside the classroom with everything that happens to students in the many more hours spent outside the classroom. Learning only happens when it is everywhere and connected to everything. But the term, I’m afraid, is a loser. Ubiquitous is a jawbreaker. Oh, and pretentious. Did I mention the word “ubiquitous” is also pretentious?

So, I’m on the search for a useful term for what happens when mobile technologies are brought with right intention to help foster deeper, more personal, creative, collaborative learning experiences.

Please send help. What do we call this thing?


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