Sharples et al discussed mobile learning centering on three major themes: (1) what is mobile learning; (2) the designing of mobile learning and (3) the evaluation of mobile learning. They also described three projects that implemented the use of mobile technologies in education.
While early definitions of mobile learning focus on using mobile technologies as a tool for learning, Sharples et al claims that it should be regarded a part of a mobile lifestyle. Their discussion of mobile learning is quite enlightening since it challenges the older mindset that tend to regard learning as formal learning occurring in static institutional settings. They stated that it is the “combined experience” (p235) that constitutes mobile learning. And I’d like to extend this concept further and regard the “combined experience” as the essentials of the act of learning itself. Learning is essentially mobile because we constantly learn from our daily experience and environment outside classrooms, and people on the move need not have mobile devices in order to “cram learning into the gaps of daily life or to use those gaps to reflect on what life has taught them.”(p235) The authors’ statement about the “combined experience” being “mobile learning” is perhaps due to the fact that the mobility of the learning process is now augmented by the ubiquitous personal and public technologies nowadays.
Their proposal of considering technology as a companion or a participant in our activities instead of just a tool that we use to our own advantages struck me as unconventional but at the same time hard to agree to. In retrospect, I may use it to guide my daily lives such as using the alarm clock to wake me up, using apps that monitor my amount of physical exercise, using a daily ESL podcast application that reminds me every day to listen to a new program. However, I’ve never gone beyond regarding it as a very useful tool, which by definition has its own affordances and constraints. It only makes some sense to me if the author’s intention is to raise educators’ awareness of the prominent role technology plays in our learning nowadays.
Regarding the designing of mobile learning, it is important for educators to have a clear understanding of their objectives and how to make the most efficient use of mobile technologies to serve the learning objectives. The authors made a good point that “the use of mobile technologies may only be suitable for part of the activity, with other parts being better supported by other technologies, or by no technology at all.” And this also raises an important question for educators. Since mobile learning has blurred the distinction between formal and informal learning, it is difficult for teachers to know when the users are learning and when they are not. And in situations where it is best to learn in a formal setting and when the learning requires continuous focused attention from the learners and teachers, it may be difficult for teachers to direct learners’ attention and also accommodate different learning styles at the same time. Besides, going mobile is quite distracting and requires short periods of focused attention. It also raises a question whether getting used to learning through mobile devices would result in shorter concentration of attention.
Generally, despite the difficulty, I believe that it is the trend and it is also necessary and beneficial to integrate mobile learning into the curriculum. The traditional separation of learning from informal learning and the traditional evaluation methods may restraint students’ development. Integrating mobile learning can prevent students from considering learning as a tedious experience, considering playing with mobile devices as against school learning and as an escape from formal learning. Teachers should be aware of the great potential of mobile learning in promoting students’ initiatives, improve the overall learning and teaching experience and foster collaborative learning as well as lifelong learning.