I am concerned that mLearning is headed down a similar path to eLearning. The saying, “There’s an app for that,” seems to reflect this sentiment that all mlearning is equal. No matter what you’re trying to teach or how you’re trying to teach there seems to “an app for that,” and mlearning is what we’re going to call it. And this is where I think we start to mash-up the meaning (pun intended).
Mobile learning, or mlearning, has become an umbrella, or catch-all, term for just about anything related to teaching and learning with mobile technologies. However, using the term so liberally, dilutes the meaning, and it fails to recognize the inherent pedagogical stances that individuals are implementing. There are in fact a number of definitions of mlearning, including the following:
- Quinn (2000)
- Mobile Learning Network
- Traxler (2005)
- Wikipedia, which funnily doesn’t reference any of the others.
Some of these focus on the technology; some focus on the learner. Interestingly, though, I couldn’t find any Google hits for “define: mobile instruction” or “define: minstruction,” and an open search for “mobile instruction” didn’t really get anywhere either.
A Dead Horse?
This argument isn’t new. For example, eLearning has had the same problem. While many individuals will argue that eLearning encompasses corporate training, online and distance education, and even the dated CD-ROM based instruction, the reality is that many corporate eLearning developers have admitted to me that approximately 80% of their instructional development is dedicated to creating linear instruction, or “page turners.” The purpose of many of these modules of instruction is focused on compliance, that is documentation for regulatory agencies. So, while the purview of learning is controlled by the learner, it seems counter-intuitive that this type of instruction be called eLearning.
Admittedly, though, many universities and K-12 virtual schools are offering courses that are asynchronous and learner-centered and are focused on the needs of the learner. So, facilitated courses can approach the concept of eLearning.
A Concern for Precision
It is important to mention that I am not belittling or condescending any of flavors of instruction. Instead, I want to emphasize the need to be specific in identifying the pedagogy we are choosing to use. My overall concern is that we are aggregating widely different instructional strategies, classroom or technology management strategies, and even instructional content into a single idea.
For example, we seem to be equating the following:
- Project K-NECT math students explaining their solutions and responding to others;
- Using apps as just-in-time performance supports for vocations;
- Asking learners to create original content;
- Replacing traditional instructor-led training;
- Controlling when students use mobile devices;
- Teaching with an iPad in class;
- Texting to help students learn to spell and to help interpret poetry;
- and even my own experiments in delivering content with MOBL21 and mobile devices plus teaching/presenting with an iPad.
This just can’t be right. Are you comfortable with any definition of mobile learning? Is everything mobile learning if it involves a mobile device?