Proliferation of mobile technology

Mobile technology refers to devices that are both transportable and offer instantaneous access to information (Coates et al., 2009). The manifestation of mobile technology is frequently embodied by smartphones and tablet devices. In 2016, 2.2 billion Smartphones were sold worldwide (Gartner, 2017). Smartphones are an integral part of many people’s lives and the adoption rate continues to grow year on year (Gartner, 2017). With the widespread proliferation of these devices, come new challenges and opportunities, particularly for educators and institutions.

Smartphone sales

Source: Statista.

Within the content of Higher Education, technological innovation has received significant research and scrutiny. For educators and institutions, the opportunities are great for graduates in the modern knowledge economy (Glenn, M, 2008). Distance learning, interactive complementary course materials, learning management and collaboration all have transformational potential for education, both presently and as we move into an uncertain future.

Constraints with mobile technology

With the opportunity that new technology affords in education also come new challenges. Mobile technology is seen by some as a disruptive force in education and has the potential to isolate and limit social interactions between learners (Blake et al., 2012). The infrastructure, time and resources needed to successfully integrate mobile technology within learning, is also a challenge for educators (Jarvela and Laru, 2008). Students may have access to mobile technology, but ownership does not directly correlate to applying it for learning purposes (Akkerman and Filius, 2011). Mobile technology has the potential to be used in a variety of ways, sometimes in ways that are activity distracting or disruptive to learning (Adeeb and Hussain, 2009). For less techno-savvy learners, technology can reduce confidence or enhance apprehension during learning activities (Coulby et al., 2011). There is also the potential for learners to experience technical difficulties when using mobile technology within learning activities, which again may impact on the cohesiveness of the lesson and/or the learner’s confidence. There may be an assumption that today’s learners are confident applying their technical knowledge of mobile devices to learning, but this also may not be correct (Callaghan and Lea, 2011). Cultural factors within institutions may also present a problem for mobile technology within learning. Tutors and staff, use to traditional teaching methods may be reluctant to embrace new technology. However, many oppose the view that mobile technology is a hindrance or a problem in education.

Opportunities with mobile technology

Technology has the ability to complement learning activities (Jayme Jenkins. 2016). Mobile devices can be utilised in education in a variety of positive ways. Educators have the ability to create dynamic and immersive lessons, thereby harnessing the power of technology within the classroom. Real-time feedback and gamification have the potential to enhance learning experiences. It is suggested that activities that harness technology in teaching can maintain a high level of student engagement and boost student learning, compared to activities without a technological element. Enabling such activities is a challenge for educators (West, D.M. 2013). In the research conducted by The Economist, it is suggested that mobile technology has a significant role to play in Higher Education (Glenn, M, 2008). The flexibility afforded by mobile technology, can enable learning to take place at any place or time, including outside the traditional setting of a classroom or lecture theatre (Chen et al., 2009). Learners now have the ability to transport their learning environment (Looi et al., 2012). Mobile technology also allows for the potential to extend to the learning experience, long after the lesson has finished. Learners have the opportunity to continue or lengthen their learning experience by continuing to work on materials or resources at home or in another location (Chen et al., 2009). Opportunities to continue discussions that would have historically ended after the lecture finished, can continue through tools such as mobile technology (Kuzu, 2011). Mobile technology can also cultivate greater collaboration. Mobile technology provides practical tools for learners to access teaching materials and also directly interact with fellow learners and/or instructors. Mobile Technology can enhance communication and allow learners to ask direct questions to their instructors in real time (Kuzu, 2011). Distance learning is frequently cited as a highly anticipated area where mobile technology can have a dramatic impact on education. For developing counties without sufficient infrastructure and resources to provide quality education on a mass scale, mobile technology has the potential to provide educational opportunities for students in remote locations or with limited resources (Carillo et al., 2011).

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), whose vision is to position the UK “to be the most digitally-advanced Higher Education and research nation in the world” (JISC, 2017), produced a roadmap adapted from Gary Woodill’s and Chad Udell’s work on Mastering Mobile Learning, 2014. The roadmap attempts to act as a practical guide for institutions looking to adopt and embrace mobile technology. The roadmap encourages institutions to consider the following key questions when exploring mobile technology;

  • What is the learning problem you are trying to solve?
  • What technology will you require?
  • What skills will teachers/facilitators have to learn?
  • What would be the cost of implementation?
  • How can you facilitate acceptance?
  • How will you measure success?


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Tom Tomlinson

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