Five Components for Successful Mobile Learning

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Over the past couple of years, we've done a vast amount of research to publish our latest book, Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators, and LearnersThe primary takeaway? [SPOILER ALERT!] Mobile learning initiatives are complex, confusing, convoluted... You get the idea. There is no silver bullet, and with so many variables in play, every scenario is different. Nonetheless, after conducting numerous interviews, pouring through the latest research literature, and analyzing best-practices for mobile learning, we discovered 5 general themes with respect to achieving a successful mobile learning initiative.

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1. Prioritizing pedagogy over technology

Dropping iPads in students laps is not mobile learning. Neither is taking the SAT outside on a laptop. Although our world was rocked in 2010 when Steve Jobs announced the iPad, high-quality teaching remained the same: defining learning objectives based on the needs of the student and planning instruction accordingly. However, with ever-growing pressure to integrate technology and shiny new apps emerging in the App Store, it is tempting to design lessons around the technology rather than the student. We must remember: "The technology is a tool. The technology gives us exponential potential to do things we haven't been able to do before. But the focus is on curriculum and instruction," said edtech expert, Scott Smith.

2. Favoring tools over content-based apps

We believe the promise of mobile learning lies in the tool-based apps--apps that allow students to create, collaborate, and solve meaningful problems. As opposed to content-based apps, those aimed at presenting students with specific content, tool-based apps often charge students to transact with the material and engage in complex cognitive processes. Also, these apps become a tool in their educational toolbox, one they can rely on in future situations. Think about your favorite apps, the apps you use on a daily basis to aid in productivity: Email, text, and phone (communication/collaboration), note taking, social media (communication/collaboration), maps (problem solving), publishing apps (communication/collaboration/creativity/problem solving), health apps (problem solving). Becoming proficient with these tools serves students beyond learning specific content as it can teach them not what but rather how to think. It is through these on-the-go, tool-based apps that we feel mobile devices have truly revolutionized education.

3. Collaborative efforts in development and implementations

As mentioned earlier, the complexity of mobile learning implies a great deal of collaboration. Most of the time, this conversation centers on integrating mobile devices at the school level. With so many moving parts, administrators, teachers, students, IT staff members, curriculum specialists, and parents must all do their part to be successful. Tech support must ensure reliable internet, administrators need to provide adequate training, parents and students often take on responsibility for the device, and teachers remain responsible for creating engaging lessons that capitalize on the technology at hand. As many educators know, it takes one minute of bad wi-fi to completely derail a lesson, leaving many teachers wondering, why spend so much time creating two lessons (one with tech, one backup)? It takes a village.

Rarely, however, do we hear from the other side of mobile learning: app development. It takes a village here too! When we, staff members at Curriculum Pathways, embark on creating a new app, we call in all of the troops from developers to design--curriculum and user-interface experts. While our curriculum specialists dig through the research and collaborate with in-service teachers to develop functionality specifications, our designers are hard at work analyzing the target population to optimize things like color, button size and placement, and flow. Then, it is all tossed over to the developers and the cycle continues. Finally, our new app is tested both in house and in the classroom before shipping it off to the App Store.

4. A strong feedback loop

Once an app has been released, the development process still continues. Even if the app is functioning as specified or "cool" from a development standpoint, "If kids don't like it, then it doesn't work. It's as simple as that." We believe that quote applies to anyone at the school level, not just students. Educators should not simply accept or retrofit what is out there to fit their instructional needs; there is a great need for two-way communication. Here at Curriculum Pathways, feedback is our number-one source for update ideas, so please, send us your comments and requests!

It's a Mobile World - Color5. An openness to using mobile technology rather than a fear of the unknown

Finally, the biggest hurdle of mobile learning: overcoming fear. If you've ever been in a classroom before, there is a tenuous relationship between productive collaboration and mass chaos. Just imagine adding cell phones, iPads, and unlimited access to the internet to that mix; it is easy to imagine things getting out of hand in a hurry. However, there are far too many examples of exceptional learning happening with mobile devices; thus, it is time to move past the fear and instead leverage the potential of mobile devices. Digital Media Specialist, Mimi Ito, argues, “We tend to see [mobile devices]as a distraction from learning because adults aren’t participating in [formalizing the process]…It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg problem. They’re not partici­pating in shaping the kind of influence these devices [could have]. By embracing mobile devices in our classrooms, we empower students in the learning process.” Using the SAMR model as a guide, we say, "if it ain't broke...redefine it!"

Successful mobile learning initiatives cannot happen overnight. Obtaining the funds to purchase mobile devices is only a small part of the battle. While it might seem extremely daunting, aligning to these themes and the work of several successful #mlearning pioneers--like Forsyth County Schools, Oak Hills School District, Franklin Academy, just to name a few--harnessing the power of mobile is an achievable goal. And well worth the fight! To read more about these mobile learning themes and more, get your copy of Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators, and Learners today!

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About Author

Lucy Kosturko

Lucy Kosturko is a curriculum development specialist and research scientist with Curriculum Pathways. She primarily develops and evaluates content for the team's suite of mobile applications. She joined the team in 2013 after earning a PhD in educational psychology from North Carolina State University. During her graduate work, she specialized in self-regulated learning, reading comprehension, and educational technology. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their dogs, Pig and Job.

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