Mobile devices as open educational technologies


This post suggests mobile devices as a technology for open education.

In a developing world context, take up and availability of mobile phones far exceeds that of fixed broadband. For many communities in the developing world, a mobile phone is the only digital computing device available. Mobile phones, especially smartphones, have potential to enable access from a position of none at all. If open at its most basic level is about access, then mobile devices in the developing world are a key educational technology for the developing world.

Access means participation in digital scholarship and digital learning. As mobile infrastructure improves, opportunities for communications and learning increase. In South Africa more people access the internet from their smartphones than fixed broadband connections. The growth of internet banking and commerce via smartphones is also an opportunity for learning too as people get used to doing things on a mobile device. Many pilot projects in South Africa are using mobile devices for language and maths learning, serving content to disadvantaged communities via mobile devices and for teacher development.

Moving on from access, the mobile device has some specific affordances to do with personal ownership, mobility (the ability to be in a particular location) and personalisation – all of which contribute to openness, if understood as learner centred. At a simple level, I use my smartphone for formal and informal learning. I access the OU Moodle platform using my smartphone, and I keep up to date on what happens on discussion forums via email alerts I subscribe to. I make notes on my smartphone and read documents from dropbox. This enables the use of dead time or when I choose not to sit at a desk and study. Informally, I may Google to learn something, send a WhatsApp or BBM to a colleague. I once developed learning examples with a colleague for a writing course we were developing using BBM and was able to save the chat for later use. Following Twitter feeds at conferences adds to learning opportunities.

The device itself becomes less important than its role as being able to access easily other open technologies such as the cloud and social media. However, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement suggests that personal ownership is significant both for practical purposes (institutions don’t need to provide hardware) and for flexibility in learners (openly) choosing which devices, which apps and which services.

Future approaches using mobile learning may involve augmented reality applications that can serve up data or information that is location triggered. At some point it will be less about the device (smartphone,  tablet, Google Glasses) than the relationship the learner/user has with the device and the way they personalise it for their own learning and context.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /