Mobile learning

Back in August I blogged a small piece on nano-learning and how this could potentially be ideal for use as a learning technique on smart phones, especially to help outdoor workers with very limited time for learning; well particularly during their working day anyway.

Having read through the latest book on Mobile Learning (Traxler, J. & Kukulska-Hulme, A. (Eds) (2016) ‘Mobile Learning. The Next Generation’), I thought a bit of reflection on the concepts and implementation of some of the projects within an outdoor context, in no particular order and also not necessarily having any logical meaning – it really is just a random typing of thoughts influenced and informed by the book:

  1. Mobile learning can certainly provide the freedom to effectively learn anywhere. Content can be designed to ensure that if communication signals are lost then phone storage and cache would keep applications functioning.
  2. Whilst an outdoor environment may not be conducive to focused and more complex knowledge building, but rather knowledge reinforcement, it could provide a spark for inspiration for further quiet contemplation whilst working outdoors, often alone or at least remotely from other workers.
  3. Context awareness through the use of GPS. If a user was in x location then learning content would be aware of this and suitable content would be ‘pushed’ to the device so a learner is effectively exploring elements of that locality. Augmented Reality (AR) could be incorporated into the context aware applications to make them more engaging than traditional text, images and video. Raising awareness of groundsmanship and engaging others, such as potential career workers or the general public through context aware applications could certainly help to broaden the understanding of the industry. Context-aware Learning Space (CALS) using context aware learning resources is the name of the game.
  4. Identification of weeds, pests and diseases to help reinforce this essential skill would appear to suit mobile learning, and especially quick nano-learning. This could possibly link to Twitter to raise awareness of current conditions such as the spread of disease within a geographic area giving helpful forewarning to others of what action might be needed to counter a potential disease attack.
  5. There will definitely need to be a coherent approach to mobile learning, ensuring that the learning is not fragmented, but has a building block approach. It will most likely be nano-/micro-/bite-sized learning within the context of modular learning. The back end system will need to be well structured to cope with this mini learning elements, especially managing what a particular user has already experienced and the need or extent of revisiting that learning experience. Without good structure and planning then retaining learners over a period of time will be unlikely and this will just be seen as a short term novelty and fad. An opportunity to engage and retain learners for more involved learning will therefore be lost.
  6. How best can the learning experience on mobile devices be shared with other potential / actual learners? Collaboration in learning, building a community of learners, whether geographically based, type of sports or facility based, age group based, learning level based, general interest based, or any other sort of community connections could help to further engage learners and with the focus being on mobile, and arguably interaction with social media accounts then viral learning is a possibility. Ethically, it will be essential for learners to be able to opt in or out of any sharing or collaboration activities.
  7. Risk assessments are an important part of good groundsmanship. Whether assessing the risk from the use of equipment or the ground one is to be undertaking work on, it’s important that the situation in which work is to be carried out is safe to the user, others and the surrounding environment. Mobile learning offers the potential to remind users – maybe through context awareness – of hazards and risks, plus it can then capture (photo / video / audio) the situation as a record of compliance, or similar. Being digital this can then be fed into the overall grounds management system evidencing appropriate/good practice is or was undertaken.
  8. Polling or surveys will sit very well with mobile learning, especially to help gauge user reaction to current events. Following up at regular intervals can help identify how opinions will change over time and informed trends can be deduced from what happens to initial, often overreactions. GIven time, people become more informed and less likely to overreact, and make more rational decisions. This could be useful to decision makers, to avoid making popularist short term decisions, with long term often negative consequences.
  9. Informal learning – mobile opens this all up. Totally ad hoc learning can occur, with maybe learners themselves generating learning elements to complement the structure mentioned in item 5.
  10. Monitoring and recording activities – work undertaken, the quality (good or bad) of the work, materials applied, the impact of material application, damage caused by over usage. It is so easy to capture digital data with a mobile device; the issue is what to do with it and in such a away that it is beneficial to an individual and an organisation. Avoiding information overload is a big problem in modern society, so an appropriate management system for capturing and then representing the recorded data – such as through the use of graphic dashboards – is essential if this is to be of practical use to a groundsman/grounds manager.
  11. Wearable devices, especially if GPS enabled, can free up hand requirements from users and could be an ideal way of capturing much activity which a grounds person carries out. Voice activated commands to start / stop recordings would also be a good feature, as clearly not everything in a working day would want to be captured.
  12. Games as learning elements on mobile devices could certainly engage many audiences.
  13. Gathering and understanding environmental data is an important part of groundsmanship, especially if better informed decisions are to be made on ground conditions, materials application and machinery usage. Sensors – temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, wind speed, air pollution (especially in cities) etc. can all be interacted with mobile devices (again this can also come back to context awareness of devices and capturing such data when they are in the vicinity of sensors).

There are many challenges to developing and deploying mobile learning as a complement to the full learning experience. Identifying where it can best fit in to learning systems (and don’t forget the audience as being the main recipients of the learning resources) will need some serious consideration before embarking on this route. However, with the proliferation of smart phones and the rapid pace of change of communication technology, learning professionals also need to keep pace with how change can, in a beneficial way, be applied to enhancing a learning experience. Hopefully we will continue to have enthused learners wanting to soak up more knowledge, which may also then be applied innovatively, to help drive the industry  forward.

Chris Gray: November 13, 2016

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