By Dr. Christelle Scharff
Mobile technology is closing the achievement gap and providing students and adults around the world with unprecedented access to education.
Mobile learning offers new ways to support learning through tablets, MP3 players and phones. It accommodates different styles of learning – anywhere, anytime and, particularly, on the go. Cloud technologies are at the root of mobile education’s rapid expansion, opening up new learning possibilities for people across the globe who previously had no access to any kind of education at all. Cloud technologies are used in solutions going from SMS services adapted to basic phones to sophisticated mobile apps for smart phones.
In developing countries, mobile has leap-frogged fixed-line connectivity. Africa, for example, is the fastest growing mobile market. Many Africans have accessed internet for the first time on a mobile phone and, often, only on a mobile phone.
With the guidance of teachers, a mobile device can provide a medium for learning for millions of Africans who go online “mobile first” or even “mobile-only.” Mobile can personalize solutions for individual learners, help educators customize the teaching process, use interactive media to adapt levels of difficulty, provide individualized feedback, and customize individual student understanding and pace.
Mobile also enables students to comment on content, to generate content, to connect with other students, and to publicly ask questions and receive support. Mobile devices can also deliver evolutive and personalized content impossible for print books. It simplifies access to content and experts, and overcomes traditional constraints of time, location and collaboration. They also permit to collect data on students’ results and progress that will allow improvement to education as a whole.
With access to so much content anytime and anywhere, there are plenty of opportunities for formal and informal learning, both inside and outside the classroom. Educational apps allow students to learn at their own pace, suggest individualized learning paths, and point out their strengths and weaknesses. Students’ own analytic insight makes teaching more effective in a way that is not possible with the traditional classroom/lecture models.
Mobile learning with cloud computing has the potential to make things even easier. Downloading memory-consuming programs is no longer required. Students have access to the application anytime they want, regardless of the number of participants. All the annotations made on a tablet app are synchronized and immediately visible when students open their mobile device. Even, in constrained environments, apps can be used in stand-alone mode and synchronized when needed.
And security concerns, including privacy, can be curbed through the use of a mobile device management solution hosted in the cloud.
The widespread use of mobile devices enables a long-awaited dream: learning on the go – any place, any time.
The combination of cloud technologies, a global demand to learn, and the penchant for smaller screens and faster connection speeds are driving the rapid adoption of mobile learning. We are at the tipping point to make mobile education available to everyone, including nations with few other alternatives.
For additional perspectives from Dr. Scharff on mobile trends, watch a recent virtual roundtable, “Mobile Transformations: A 2014 Industry Outlook”.
Dr. Christelle Scharff is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Pace University in New York City and the current Chair of the Computer Science Department. In 2012-2013 she was a US Fulbright Scholar at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal. She teaches a wide range of computer science courses including Programming, Global Software Engineering, Mobile Application Development, and Quality Assurance at Pace University. She has teaching experience in the US, France, Senegal, Benin, Cambodia and Vietnam. She was awarded research grants from NSF, IBM, Microsoft, NCIIA, and Google. Christelle is the initiator of MobileSenegal Hub (http://www.mobilesenegal.org) a capacity building project that trained more than 400 mobile developers in Senegal and organizes meetups and Mobile Monday Dakar. Follow on twitter at @scharffc.