mLearning: Trends in Mobile-based learning (and how it’s different)

eLearn Magazine has an interesting event overview of the mLearnCon 2014, eLearning Guild’s annual conference on mobile learning.

The main takeaway of the author is that mobile learning is here to stay, and it is different, so educators and technologists need to start thinking about it seriously.

First the bad news – regarding the products being demonstrated there:

despite continual efforts for improvement, much of what’s available as tools and shown as demos are still mobile eLearning (or courses on a mobile device) not real mLearning.

That’s not surprising. Lots of people are under the impression that mLearning is simply making eLearning courses available on the mobile in a format more suited for the small screen.

But, here is the good news:

[In the first keynote, Larry Irving,] began by pointing out the growth of mobile, particularly in the developing world where it serves as the major internet channel as opposed to the desktop. He then moved on to how initiatives were underway to bring unprecedented learning opportunities to disadvantaged groups around the world using mobile devices.


The second keynote of the conference was clearly the highlight for many. Karen McGrane presented a witty and compelling case for moving beyond blobs of content, and start talking about chunks of content. The distinction is important. Moving from content written for delivery to content written that is assembled differently depending on device, need, and more, is a much needed discussion. The separation of form from content has been well demonstrated, but hasn’t really been seen yet, particularly in eLearning. The argument here for structuring content, tagging with meta-data (a lovely quote from Twitter user @studip101 was “metadata is the new art direction”), and scaffolding the author experience was delivered with style and humor. Karen presented a message whose time has come.

Learning in small chunks, via mobile, is a fascinating idea that merits attention, as can be seen by the popularity of even simplistic tools like flashcard apps on mobile phones.

The products being demonstrated had more:

Some of the top examples included performance apps that not only augmented face-to-face learning with refreshers, but provided performance support as well. Another technically sophisticated system had physical cards for a learning game linked to a mobile app that leveraged them by extending the information via a scannable QR code on the back of the card.

But the broader themes emerging from the talks are of more interest:

Two themes that appeared several times, often linked together, were gamification and social learning. Apparently the casual gaming phenomena seen with mobile entertainment has opportunities for mLearning as well, though one would hope that intrinsic motivation opportunities would be exhausted before extrinsic motivation mechanisms are tried. Gamification of course is inherently social when competition is leveraged with leaderboards, or voting on good submissions. Social obviously holds more opportunities as well, connecting people for cooperation and collaboration, to the benefit of the organization.

And there is a third, futuristic theme that is also worth pondering:

One theme that recurred in several ways, including sessions and demos, was that of augmented reality. Layering information on the environment (typically visually) is an opportunity that now can be capitalized on. Sessions not only discussed the possibilities, but provided hands on experience using tools to make real solutions. While the processes are still somewhat effort intensive, real value is being seen.

With the rise of Google glass, smart watches, and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, augmented reality and virtual reality as the ultimate disruptions in education cannot be far behind.

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Nobel Prize Winner Robert Shiller talks about MOOCs

The MySlideRule Blog has an interesting interview with last year’s Economics Nobel Prize Winner Robert Shiller, where part of the time, they talked about MOOCs and the future of education

Considering that he loves to teach, and teaches a 300-person freshman class at Yale, and his Financial Markets online course had over 165,000 students registered, he should have a good understanding of the potential of MOOCs.

Here are a couple of excerpts from that interview:

How does teaching on Coursera compare with teaching on campus at Yale? Are online courses the future?

Technology changes society, but not always in the way people expect. The need for community and social connection is stronger than most technologists believe. In 1876, when the telephone was invented, people thought cities would disappear, but it didn’t happen.

The human mind requires a sense of relationship, and social connection. MOOCs do these things better than textbooks, but still have a long way to go. My Yale classes are big (the latest had over 300 students), so I don’t get to know most of the students. Yet, there is a sense of community. And that’s important.

Are you saying that the online course was less effective?

I’m saying that it’s not as easy to build deep connections in an online course. On Coursera, I held office hours and responded to questions. Yet, I found myself spending more time thinking about my 300 Yale students than my 165,000 Coursera students, because I saw my Yale students every week.

I felt guilty for paying less attention to the larger number of students, but I couldn’t help the deeper feelings I felt for my on-campus students.

So, does this mean that Schiller does not think that the “massively” part of “massively online open courses” is really going to work?

So what does this mean for the future of education?

Online classes are here to stay, but perhaps the right answer is ordinary-sized classes rather than the “massive” classes currently in prevalence. I suspect the future will involve smaller online class sizes, more interaction with faculty.

There is a large opportunity in making online classes resemble traditional education more closely. For instance, tools to create better relationships even at a distance, record of professors’ communication with each student so they can refresh their memories.

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Stanford President predicts Great Experimentation in the area of Online Learning

The Tomorrow’s Professor newsletter out of Stanford has an interesting article about comments made by Stanford President, John Hennessy, about the future of online learning

The main point he made was that this is a time of great experimentation in the area of online learning, and education departments around the world need to scientifically study online learning models and teach the rest of the faculty how to tame this beast. Specifically:

Hennessy said that colleges and universities will be taking a more scientific approach to online learning than in the past, relying on their schools of education to measure student learning and to provide feedback.

“I’m actually pretty confident that we’re going to come out with pedagogical approaches that are truly a step forward in terms of helping our students be better learners – and that will really be refreshing,” Hennessy said.

For example, this is an example of some interesting ways in which online courses are used by people around the world:

“Imagine that ‘Book of the Month Club’ becomes ‘Course of the Month Club’,” Hennessy said. “With a little bit of technology, a community of learners self-assembles around a course and forms a group. They do peer grading. They interchange. They exchange conversations and they learn the material together. I think we’ll see this happening. It would be a wonderful thing and great for the world.”

Another interesting aspect is that the difficulty level of exams probably needs to be adjusted:

At UC Berkeley and Stanford, he said, faculty members design exams to challenge students.”Now, take that exam to a school where perhaps the students are not quite as capable and give them that exam and you’re going to crush them,” he said.

In fact, the one of the most important areas in which online courses are being offered is education itself:

Hennessy said one thing that MOOCs do very well is “educate the educators” in other parts of the world, allowing them to use the material to prepare courses for their students.

And finally, this:

In response to a question from the audience, Hennessy said some faculty have reported that more students are attending classes when they have “flipped” the classroom – delivering lectures online and meeting in the classroom for one-on-one interaction and hands-on projects. While those early indicators are positive, he said, controlled experiments would be the key to understanding how well students are mastering the material in those settings.

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