I struggled with definitions of mobile learning, as they all seem to wish to constrain the definition in a manner that best aligns with the authors desired research direction. I don’t think this is wrong, I just didn’t like the inconsistency in the definitions and really wanted an inclusive definition of mobile learning.
To that end, I have created a definition of mobile learning that includes the range of mobile learning definitions, and provides a way to categorize mobile learning to suite the needs of the researcher or practitioner. It is based on the following diagram:
The first aspect of mobile learning, represented by the left circle, is the mobility of the learner. A mobile learner is a learner that is not in a classroom or in front of a desktop computer (home office, lab, etc). The learner need not physically be moving, but they are learning in a situation that is not considered a traditional learning environment. I call this type of mobile learning, learner-centric mobile learning.
I was first introduced to this aspect of mobile learning in the book “Mobile Learning Communities: Creating New Educational Futures” (Danaher, Moriarty, and Danaher, 2009). The book focuses on “a group of people who are mobile for sustained periods of the year or of their lives and who recognize in themselves and others a common experience of mobility and a shared commitment to learning for themselves and other group members” (Danaher et al., 2009, p. 3). One of the examples they give is the children in a travelling circus and the programs develop to meet their educational requirements.
Another example of a learner-centric definition of mobile learning is the study of the mobile context. Gil-Rodriquez and Rebaque-Rivas (2010) completed a research study where they watched learners who studied while commuting. There was no requirement for mobile devices, rather, the study focused on learners in a commuting context.
The second aspect of mobile learning, represented on by the circle on the right, is learning that takes place using mobile devices. This includes learning that takes place in the classroom or other traditional learning locations. It is the use of the mobile device that makes it mobile learning. I call this type of learning “device-centric” mobile learning.
There is a spectrum of mobile devices, ranging from portable computers such as laptop to mobile phones. Each researcher determines their own definition of what constitutes a mobile device. Inclusive definitions include any device, such as laptops, that can be used outside of a standard desk environment. A more common definition, such as the one provided by the eLearning Guide, specifies the size of the device: “any activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating information, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on a regular basis, has reliable connectivity, and fits in a pocket or purse” (E-Learning Guild, 2007).
The introduction of the iPad caused a problem with the definition of mobile learning, as it does not fit within a pocket or purse, but is often considered a mobile learning device. To get around this quandary, Quinn suggests that mobile learning devices are “optimized to run applications for mobile use” (2011, p.31) which deems eReaders and tablets to be mobile devices but laptops and netbooks are not. Needless to say, the advent of new technology will constantly challenge us to define what constitutes a mobile device.
At the intersection of the learner-centric and device-centric definitions is mobile learning where BOTH the learner is mobile and a mobile device is used. I’m struggling with what to call this type of mobile learning. Originally, I thought that compound mobile learning might describe it well, but it really doesn’t have the flare that I’d like. Based on a comment I received on a different post, I thought purist mobile-learning, but that makes a judgment about the other forms of mobile learning, which I believe are just as valuable.
So, I’ll open it up to you. What do you think the combination of learning-centric and device-centric should be called?
Danaher, P., Moriarty, B., & Danaher, G. (2009). Mobile learning communities: Creating new educational futures. New York, NY, USA: Routledge.
E-Learning Guild. (2007). Mobile learning. Retrieved 29 May, 2011 from http://www.elearningguild.com/research/archives/index.cfm?id=117&action=viewonly
Gil-Rodriquez, E., & Rebaque-Rivas, P. (2010). Mobile learning and communting: Contextual interview and design of mobile scenarios. In Lecture notes in computer science (pp. 266-277).
Quinn, C. N. (2011). Designing mLearning: Tapping into the mobile revolution for organizational performance. San Francisco, CA, USA: Pfeiffer.