A few days ago, RJ Jacquez asked the question “Is eLearning on tablets really Mobile Learning?” and invited the blogosphere to chime in on his post. Unfortunately, after reading his post, I was left feeling that he had a very narrow view of what mobile learning is, narrowed by the constraint of associating mobile learning only with the feature sets of the latest and greatest SmartPhones. To get a better sense of the depth and potential of learning with mobile devices (and not just the latest and greatest SmartPhones, but the older feature phones too) flip through Mobile Learning: Transforming the delivery of education and training (Ally, 2009).
Personally, I struggle with whether learning on a tablet is in-deed Mobile Learning. I have come to the conclusion that although tablet learning shares features with mobile learning, and eLearning, that it is a unique form of learning, and deserves its own classification, that is, tLearning.
First, let me start by sharing my definitions of the different terms in the field today:
- eLearning. I consider eLearning to be any self-paced learning that takes place using electronic media. Early forms of eLearning were known as CBT (Computer-Based Training). CBT modules ran as stand-alone modules on PCs, but have now evolved into self-paced courses offered from a variety of websites. They are very popular in workplace learning, especially for things like Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training which is mandatory in many industrial workplace settings. eLearning typically does not involve any learner-learner or learner-instructor interactions. When delivered over the Internet, the Internet is only used as a way to delivery content to the learner, it is not used to provide any communication.
- Online Learning. I consider online learning to be learning that takes place over the Internet. The learning involves either learner-instructor interactions (in the case of live webinars where learners can submit questions) or learner-learner interactions (in the case of social constructivist online courses and connectivist MOOCs).
- Mobile Learning (mLearning). Mobile Learning is learning that enabled by using a mobile device. See An inclusive definition of mobile learning.
One of the issues with the definition of mobile learning is defining exactly what is and what is not a mobile device. One definition focuses on the size of the device, requiring that you fit it in your purse. Another characteristic is that it is a device that you take with you wherever you go. Yet another focuses on the instant-on feature–that is, a small device that is ready to use anytime, anywhere.
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 instant-on and runs the same operating system and applications as the iPhone. 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.
The challenge that I have with including tablet learning with mobile learning is the size of the device and the fact that I make a conscious decision every time I bring my tablet with me. When I leave the house, I don’t think about whether or not I bring my phone with me – it lives in my purse (or hooked up the charger) and I automatically grab it before I leave the house. On the other hand, I ask myself if I need iPad before I leave the house, and only bring it with me when I think I will need it. It requires that I use either a different purse or a bag, so it is always a conscious decision.
In addition to the conscious decision to bring the device with me, the device plays a unique role within the classroom. Teachers find the device less distracting than phones because it doesn’t ring and learners can’t text (2012 NMC Horizon Report). In addition, unlike laptops which were designed for privacy (some even have privacy screens that make it so the person beside you can’t read your screen), tablets were designed to make it easy to share your display. This makes them ideal tools for small group work in the classroom.
What I am left with is a device that serves a unique purpose that doesn’t fit within any of the existing categories. As much as Bill Gates likes to deny that tablets are new, the iPad and other tablets with slim form factors running mobile operating systems with long battery life are a new phenomenon. When introducing tablet computers, the 2012 NMC Horizon Report Higher Education Edition states that: “tablets (a form that is distinct from tabletPCs) have come to be viewed as not just a new category of mobile devices, but indeed a new technology in its own right” (p.14). As a category in its own right, the tablet provides unique opportunities to change the way we teach and learn. There is a new pedagogy associated with tablets. And as such, I believe we have a new form of learning, that is, tablet learning or tLearning.
So, my answer to the question “Is eLearning on tablets really Mobile Learning?”, is no. Teaching and learning with tablets forms its own category, that is, tLearning.