Characteristics of Mobile Learning

Age group: 8-12 years, Audience: Teachers

Cell phones are banned for use by children in many schools. Why? Because they are misused? No necessarily. We take a number of measures to prevent rather than to combat breaches. Fair enough. But wouldn't it be nicer to instead teach children how to use cell phones and, more importantly, for what? Children engage in explorative activities out of their bubbling curiosity, and it would be criminal to curtail their curiosity. So encourage them to use mobile devices but after you have defined a justified boundary of access to features that will help them learn only the relevant aspects that are also safe for their age. Help them look at cell phone as more than a communication and gaming device — how about as an e-book reader?

As cell phones are now available in most houses, children have increasingly started to want to lay hands on newer and exciting electronic mobile devices. Cell phone vs. tablet — what is your take? Given a choice, you would obviously go for the one with bigger screen and better capabilities. But a child would make a choice based on a different rationale. In most probability, he/she would choose a device, irrespective of its size and features, just because it is new to him/her. So there you have the clue — novel items are what children carry craving for. And these days, we do have access to numerous options in mobile devices that could serve many purposes — we have music players that are enabled with Wi-Fi and/or 3G, laptops that can be converted to tablets, and what not! Options are available in plenty but not all of us might be in a position to provide our children with a new gadget every now and then. So what can we do? Well, one solution is to divert children's focus on to the unexplored capabilities of a device that is already available to them. Several child-friendly applications are available for this purpose. And then, why can't one use a music player to record and edit sounds? When a child starts operating a device with such an outlook, you can be assured that he/she is on the road to abundant voluntary learning, which is what we want, isn't it?
As you would have realised, mobile learning refers to learning through mobile devices. A number of its characteristics make it a glamorous and extremely useful platform for teaching lessons in schools. Let us go through a few characteristics in a little detail...
Multi-purposeful: Children are bound to carry a heavy load of books to school. Imagine how useful it would be for them if we made all their books available to them through a mobile device, such as a tablet! The prospect of using something much thinner than their books, that too a device, to be able to access a variety of things would itself get children excited to study. Also, by taking such a measure, we will save a lot of paper and plenty of time.
Interactive: To make children interact with the lesson content is now the 'in' thing. For this reason, children are made to perform activities in or outside the classroom, complete worksheets, and sometimes even play around with simulations. You might even have encountered situations in which you would have struggled to make certain resources physically available for children to perform certain activities. Have you not craved for a one stop shop for a variety of such resources? Well, then mobile learning is a definite blessing. You can create interactive modules for use in mobile devices — something children will always welcome.

Customisable: Just like how every child has a unique potential, he/she could also be most comfortable learning things a certain way that is different from the others. By using a mobile device in a class, you can present a block of content in a number of ways to suit a wide variety of audiences. Imagine getting to demonstrate the working of a machine and also having the children try making it work by themselves — wouldn't it make for the perfect learning platform? You could also tailor games to teach concepts to children.
Accessible: Using mobile devices, you can get access to any kind of content and any number of people. And then, if your class has children with learning differences, the use of mobile devices will allow them to feel on par with their peers and also enable a sense of normalcy in them among others.
Spontaneous: The best thing about learning through mobile devices is that you can do that from anywhere and at any time. This characteristic enables you to quench your spur-of-the-moment curiosities. You are bound to wonder contextually when you encounter something new or unusual. If you have a mobile device connected to the internet with you, you could immediately find the answer for your wonderment. And talking of children, we all know their minds are ever curious. What mighty relief it would be to let them find answers for their own questions!
Selective and Informal: Let us say you have to address a class of mixed age group. If you have to arrange for books for them to study, they will have to be different for the different ages. But if you have an environment in which the children can handle a mobile device each, you may provide each of them with access to the titles relevant to them, and even let them choose and explore only those parts that they wish to know about, without being dependent on others or a schedule.

Sharable: This is one of the best characteristics of mobile learning — what we learn using mobile devices can be shared easily with any number of people, at any place, and at any point of time.