Mobile is just the beginning

Mobile Learning Reading List Part 2

After a far too long hiatus i’m back (from Bangkok!—more on that very soon.) So for starters, a bunch of new mobile learning material :-)

Mobile Learning on the Cheap

Lots of good ideas here that range from how to use PDAs in the classroom to SMS based activities.

Mobile and Media Literacy

Equitycampaign—out of the UK is an initiative that hopes to decrease the digital divide in the EU. Not specifically mobile focused but some of their rationale can easily be applied to justify mobile learning and i’m sure there will be some mobile components in all of this.

In essence, the digital divide is the difference in access to learning resources that modern technology offers young people, usually a working computer and an Internet connection. While our schools are better equipped than ever before, the variation in the quality of learning that takes place at home is huge. And as children only spend 15% of their lives at school, the learning that takes place at home is extremely important to their future success.

Technology offers us a unique opportunity to extend learning support beyond the classroom, something that has proved impossible to do until now. But the digital divide means that millions of children are currently denied this help.

On a somewhat related note, the European Centre for Media Literacy (ECML) was a 24 month program from 2004-2006 with the following objectives:

With media technology becoming so prevalent in homes, and with multi-media education more possible now with student access to computers and the Internet, “media literacy” expands the basic concept of literacy (i.e. “reading” and “writing”) to all forms of communication – from television to T-shirts, from billboards to multi-media environments. ECML project would like to help stakeholders to understand why teaching media literacy is so important and give students new education tools.

And finally, an ambitious Mobile Content Education campaign from the Australian Interactive Media Association:

…with increased sophistication, comes an increased burden on the consumer to understand, interact with, and consume mobile content. Recent reports such as the Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index, international research and much consumer feedback shows that only a relatively small group of early adopters are engaging with mobile content. Early experiences with mobile content—good or bad, will spread quickly via word of mouth. We need to ensure that consumers overwhelmingly have positive experiences with mobile content—and tell their friends!

…The AIMIA Mobile Content Industry Development Group is inviting mobile content companies to join with operators, content providers, trade associations and handset manufacturers in developing a cross-industry national education campaign focusing on:

  • What is mobile content?
  • Why engage with mobile content?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How do I get it?
  • What do I do if I have a problem?

The campaign is envisaged to include television advertising, in-store brochures, web site and a mobile site and will be ‘owned’ by the industry as a whole.

Lowest Common Denominator

Leonard Low with another great post pondering what it will take to make the mobile web truly useful—not only in education—but to the masses.

In my research into best practices for designing mobile learning, I’ve recently come across a number of sources that advocate, strongly, that a LCD (Least/Lowest Common Denominator) approach to designing mobile experiences is a bad thing….An LCD approach to interface/activity design is one that caters for the widest range of platforms by creating a single, non-adaptive document designed to be viewable on the most basic and least functional of those platforms. The currently prevailing philosophy regarding resource generation for the mobile web is that documents should be designed to exploit the functionality of any platform on which they render, to maximise the user’s viewing experience. This view is strongly advocated by leading mobile web commentators, researchers and academics, and indeed, the W3C itself through its Mobile Web Best Practice standard and MobileOK project:….My feeling is that web content design guidelines used to be centred around avoiding problems; current mobile content design guidelines are centred around maximising user experiences. Both perspectives have pros and cons – what do you think?

This on the heels of a recent announcement by the W3C of a workshop on the Mobile Web in Developing Countries. Mobile learning is such an obvious fit for many emerging nations as larger numbers of the population have mobiles compared to PCs. That said—content creation for mobile is still relatively difficult and for this reason, many mobile learning initiatives still focus on PDAs rather than handsets. With inexpensive or free applications like mobile Word, Excel and Power Point, a good PDA with memory card and wi-fi can easily be incorporated into both lesson planning and student generated mobile activities. As for mobile web on PDA, it seems to be limited to surfing and i’ve yet to hear of any projects willing to take the leap into actual content creation via XHTML and CSS for the browser environment—possibly because it’s still too difficult and/or unpredictable in its results.

Wildlife in the Field

A lovely example of fun, simple practical mobile learning from the UK. WildKey is an interactive identification program that enables pupils to take ICT beyond the normal limits of the classroom and identify and record species in the field.

Using simple prompts and images, pupils of all ages (KS 2-4) can quickly learn to identify species and record their sightings. When collated in a systematic manner, yearly data provide a picture of how climate change may be affecting British wildlife. This enables pupils to understand why classification is important and allows schools to combine data with remote partners. WildKey thus has applications in both the Science and ICT subjects of the Curriculum.


Lots of eLearning and educational technology groups are starting to discuss mobile learning as part of their offering. This recording from an American conference (I can’t figure out what this is from as I only bookmarked the mp3 file) discusses examples of pilot programs from nursing colleges and the military. Also “Learning for a New Information Society” by David Metcalfe from the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning provides examples of recent projects as well as some great commentary on the benefits of mobile learning.


I always enjoy finding practical material for teachers and developers. First, an article outlining guidelines for development of Flash applications for the Pocket PC. The article provides a nice mix of information including a primer on Flash vs Java, vector vs bitmap (always a popular subject for beginners :-) as well as a fairly in depth tutorial.

On a related note, I ran into these Pocket PC User Interface guidelines from Microsoft and of course the recent announcement of new Flash Lite 2.1 support for Windows Mobile 5.

Paper Prototyping in a Design Framework for Professional Mobile Learning” (PDF) describes the advantages of paper prototyping in the development process and offers some basic guidelines useful in the development of learning materials.

“Prototyping mobile device screens with sticky notes is an extension of paper and pencil prototyping methods, so the same core activities apply to design workshops using this technique, namely: (1) identifying needs and establishing requirements, (2) developing alternative designs that meet those requirements, (3) building a conceptual design, (4) path determination, (5) accommodating for user error, and (6) prototype….”

We’ve recently taken to using pads of yellow 3M stickies when prototyping for the small screen. The small size of the paper forces you to think small and the ability to move the papers around yet have them stay put for later is really handy.

And finally, “Developing Courseware for Mobile Devices“—part of a larger series of presentations from the Asian Development Bank Institute—provides usability and content related guidelines useful in the development of mobile learning objects.

Non Literacy and Mobile Communication

Understanding Non-Literacy as a Barrier to Mobile Phone Communication is an excellent article by Jan Chipchase outlining the challenges and techniques devised by illiterate consumers who own or use mobile devices.

Two basic tasks were easy for almost all our participants to complete: turning on the phone and answering an incoming call. Beyond this, there were various degrees of success. Dialing a local phone number is relatively easy, but problems can occur when there are variations such as dialing a national or international number, or using IP telephone prefixes. Dialing an incorrect number may require starting from the beginning of the task since the cancel button is not always understood.

Our hypothesis is that once the non-literate user has learned how to make and receive phone calls to their close circle of contacts, their primary reason for owning a mobile phone has largely been met. There is, therefore, less motivation to spend additional time rote learning other features on the phone, unless someone can proactively demonstrate the worth of the features, and spends the time to teach them the steps required to complete the task.

Phone features that require text editing such as creating a contact, saving a text message, and creating a text message present too great a barrier to use.


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