Habits Hinder Progress in Mobile Learning

In German we have a saying: Der Mensch ist ein Gewohnheitstier – humans are creatures of habit. And while habits are an important part of our daily routine and make us more efficient in the things we have to deal on day in and day out they are also killers of progress and innovation if we don’t challenge them from time to time.

As Mark Twain said “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” and I think it is time for Europe and North America to reflect on our perception of mobility and learning.

Lets take a step back and look on our perception of how and when we access the Internet. In most cases the access point is still fixed at a location, either our home with a personal computer or at our workplace. Sure, we have the mobile access through our smart phones and we use it to check emails, appointments, traffic, weather and the news but how far are we with the idea of learn anything, anytime, anywhere?

We still have the habit of doing “important” tasks on our personal computers or laptops which includes a lot of formal and informal learning. And I think we don’t challenge this habit enough. Why does it need to be this way?

I think it is part of the idea that learning also takes place at a fixed location, the university or college. Attached to this is a certain time window, usually from the morning to afternoon hours. Again, why do we think that learning has to take place at a certain location at a certain time especially when we talk about self paced learning?

Another part of the puzzle is that we have the luxury of choice. By the time the Internet became popular in the mainstream with affordable rates and good connection speed we also saw the rise of mobile phones. But both devices, the computer / laptop at home and the mobile phone got their own tasks attached to them. Not because mobile phones were not capable of displaying ebooks, doing bank transactions, receive weather or traffic data via SMS but because we could “just not do it on such a small screen”.

Interestingly all those services grew rapidly in regions of the world with no access to classic wired Internet. Putting copper or fiber optic cables in the ground were simply no option for India, China or countries in Africa and South America. Mobile Internet was far easier to implement and the result is that today those countries are leapfrogging Europe and North America in terms of mobile usage.

People are used to take their mobile phone and manage all sorts of tasks with them. It’s their personal computer and what we tend to promote as the dawn of the “Post-PC Era” is already reality in those parts of the world.

Countries like Saudi Arabia are investing massively in mobile learning, especially in the higher education sector, in order to build a post-oil knowledge based society. And students who grow up with a mobile mindset will have less cut and dried opinions (if any) when it comes to mobile learning.

This trend also comes with a pedagogic shift away from the teacher centric approach towards a learner centric one which is going to call for more self responsibility from the learner. But thanks to advances in personalized progress tracking, self assessments and adaptive learning solutions students will have far more insights on their performance as they have today in the classroom where the big surprise often comes with the exam notes.

The shift in technology, lifestyle and its impact on learning is what fundamentally driving our approach at OpenLanguage. We feel that mobile learning should not be about forcing learners to use their smartphones and tablets to learn. It’s about responding to changes in how people use technology. It’s also about taking affordances of new devices to reimagine language learning and deliver more to learners. That’s why the OpenLanguage Tablet Textbook app is not just a repurposed PDF. It’s a book with multidmedia support for learning and features that allow users to film themselves speaking the target language and share their work with their teachers. We also want to help language learners understand how and what they learn based on progress tracking and bite sized lessons that fit in a busy and mobile lifestyle anywhere, anytime.

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