The Ever-increasing Significance of Mobile Learning

By Allen Taylor, Chief Technology Officer, Marshall University

Allen Taylor, Chief Technology Officer, Marshall University

Mobile Learning, using portable computing devices such as smartphones, tablets, or laptop computers in the teaching and learning process, has been expanding exponentially in the past two decades.  This expansion mirrors the maturity of the hardware, software, and cloud services that mobile devices rely on for their many functions and conveniences.

The keynote at the 1987 Educom Conference, presented by Apple Computer, showcased a fascinating set of videos depicting the mobile computing devices of the future. The Apple Knowledge Navigator was a concept device representing the future of computing and over 30 years later we are beginning to see allthese technologies come to the market. 

The videos, available on YouTube, show a faculty member in their office opening and using a dual screen folding touch display tablet speaking with his virtual digital assistant (an AI agent) personified as a picture in picture young associate in a bow tie representingall levels of artificial intelligence.  The AI agent goes over his calendar, retrieves documents based on general voice requests and responses, jogs his memory when he can’t think of a name, accesses cloud databases to retrieve and represent information, performs simulations, places calls and leaves messages on their behalf, opens up a two way video conference witha colleague to share ideas and content, answers calls while theyare busy and takes actions on their behalf without their intervention.

The Knowledge Navigator was also depicted in a segment by an adult learner that used the device to learn to read.  Sitting on a park benchduring a nice fall day the adult learner opened the device performing very realistic text to speech and speech to text recognition as part of a structured reading lesson.  When the learner reached a word that they did not know the learning agent assisted with the pronunciation of the word.  The adult learner then decides that they would like assistance reading the daily paper-basednewspaper.  The learner circles the article of interest and the portable device scans the paper document and assists in the same way assisting the learner with reading the articlepertinent to their current interest.  Many of us take these activities for granted in our everyday activities in 2020.

"It is only reasonable to believe Mobile Learning will become a major and essential part of Higher Education this decade."

Over the past two decades we have seen the evolution of the technologies required to make the full concept of the Knowledge Navigator a reality. The pace of change in these technologieshas been a challenge for many higher education institutions as we have accelerated procedural change within our campusesto move resources, workflows, and budgets to take advantage of these technologies.Mobile first and cloud first has become the strategy of many organizations. The rapid emergence from early services like mobile email and calendaring to the pervasive expansion of social media, Learning/Course Management Systems, text-based chatting, video conferencing/calling, and digital collaboration toolshave been a struggle to accommodate.Many institutions see the benefits, have met that challenge, and are prepared to enable to full benefits to the teaching and leaving process.

As we enter the new decade, I believe many of us can see adoption curves accelerating for mobile learning.  Faculty and administrators are seeing the value of student analytics when activities,learning assessments, and engagement can be collected on a continuous basis and analyzed without undue burden and cost.The promise of future AI Bots to handle routine activities around advising and alerting are emerging.

Students are seeing the advantages of mobile learning activities both in the physical and virtual classroom.  Mobile learning applications are beginning to assist students and their advisors with their study skills and educational objectives much the way mobile fitness applicationsare assisting owners with fitness goals.

All mobile device users are maturing in their use of these technologies and the services they provide.  The ability to decide to turn off notification while you are driving, sleeping, in class, and to only allow calls, texts, or notification from those people or items that are important for you to focus onis key to adoption.  This has been a major adoption barrier for faculty to encourage use in the classroom but can be easily solved with device settings and presence indicators.

Adoption curves of both faculty and students have been impacted by the concern that these technologies are “always on”and challenge a work/study/life balance. The information now provided to the mobile device user allows the user to inspect and consider the amount of time they have spent on any activity, share that with faculty or advisors, and make informed decision about their priorities.

Mobile technologies are changing every business as general consumer adoption has become pervasive.  It is only reasonable to believe Mobile Learning will become a major and essential part of Higher Education this decade.  We now need to prepare our networks for the onslaught of even higher bandwidth and lower latency demands from AR/VR learning applications, an expansion of IoT applications, and the concentration of even more mobile devices in new active learning classrooms.

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