Mobile gives the edge

Smart mobile phones continue to disrupt our society. They are increasingly pervasive and accessible. For everyone of us who own them, mobile phones are changing our lives, influencing our decisions about how we interact with each other, how we access and consume information, how we work, entertain ourselves and purchase our goods. Most significantly for those who are immersed in schools, colleges and universities -  mobile technology is disrupting education. There are many accounts of the effects of mobiles on education (see for example this blog post on 5 views on the future of mobile learning). Just why is such a small object such as the smart mobile phone so disruptive?

Firstly mobile technology is disruptive because when students are no longer tethered to specific locations such as classrooms or computer suites, different types of learning become possible, and in many cases, inevitable. Students who are on the move can interact with their environments in more meaningful ways when they have mobile phones. They can engage with learning content with more freedom. They are no longer location dependent but they are still connected, and can maximise their available time to learn whenever they want, and wherever they find themselves. Potentially, there is no more 'down time' when students have a mobile device in their hands. It's a jaded expression now, but 'anytime, anyplace' learning is not only within the reach of most of us, for many it is in fact common place. Furthermore, the available infrastructure is becoming less of an issue. Arguably, students are no longer completely reliant on internet connectivity with the advent of the mobile app, and the capability to download vast amounts of data during the times when they do have wi-fi connection.

Secondly, mobile technology is disruptive because it encourages creativity. Students now have the capability to capture images, audio and video recordings of their experiences. The creation, repurposing and sharing of content has never been easier. Potentially, with new AR and wearable technologies emerging, we will be able to make a record our every minute of our lives. One student said in a recent lesson that their whole life was in a small device. The caveat here of course, is the calamitous potential of losing your mobile phone, or having it stolen.

Thirdly, mobile technology is powerfully social. Access to powerful social media sites enables students to maintain perpetual contact with their peers, family and tutors, providing constant new opportunities to learn informally, on the move, and in many modes and formats. Howard Rheingold argued as early as 2002 that mobile phones harness the 'power of the many', which has manifested itself in recent years in social phenomena such as citizen journalism, flash mobs and crowd sourced funding projects to name just a few. We need to be aware though, that clashes between authority and individual usage of disruptive technology is problematic, and as Agar (2004) pointed out, their are fierce tensions between centralised power and the democracy afforded by mobile technology. Other warnings about the social and cultural challenges of mobile technology disruption can be found in Distraction by Mark Curtis (2004).

Finally, mobile technology is disruptive, because it enables personalised learning within rich social contexts. Every student is uniquely individual, and each can create their own 'desire lines' and personalised pathways to learning through the flexibility of smart devices and tools. Smart mobiles are crammed full of useful technologies that can support creative learning. We are only witnessing the beginnings of the disruption that is possible with mobile technology. What will happen when the convergence of GPS, cameras, augmented reality, voice control and mobility becomes mainstream, and everyone has access to information about everything, everywhere? What happens when all objects you encounter become context aware, and your mobile phone helps you to interact with them and learn from them? Whatever happens will be totally different from anything we currently do in education. Mobile will certainly give learning the edge.

Agar, J. (2004) Constant Touch: A Global History of the Mobile Phone. Cambridge: Icon Books.
Curtis, M. (2004) Distraction: Being Human in the Digital Age. London: Futuretext Ltd.
Rheingold, H. (2002) Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

Photography by Steve Wheeler

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Mobile gives the edge by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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