Tag Archives: UNESCO

Emerging trends in education and mobile learning

At the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week 2014 I sat on a panel titled Emerging Trends and New Technology – considered in the context of mobile learning. Below are the notes of the key points that I made.

Note: The issue of Emerging Trends and New Technology begs the question: for who? For students in California, or for those in Kolkata? Developed country trends are very different from developing country trends. Most of the points below focus on the latter. Some of the ideas are drawn from the NMC Horizon Report 2013: K-12 Edition, for which I was on the advisory board.

Overlapping of education trends and mobile-enabled opportunities

The brief for the panel stated:

We keep being told that technology is going to transform centuries-old teaching paradigms, but traditional approaches seem to have real resilience and staying-power.  Is this the moment of transformation?  Why is this technological innovation different for education than previous moments (for example, the rise of television or the popularity of personal computers)?

I don’t believe that technology is the single driver of education transformation, although it is certainly a key influencing factor. Education is under pressure to change because of a number of factors. Recently, a United Nations task team led by UNESCO produced a think piece on education and skills beyond 2015 – key points listed below. In all of these instances, mobile learning is well suited to supporting these changes.

  • The think piece highlights that with the increase in access to information, and production of knowledge (both underpinned by technology), there is a questioning of the very notions of the authority of traditional bodies of knowledge controlled by legitimate educational institutions. Mobiles provide a new, and sometimes only, access channel to the internet for many people.
  • The piece predicts there will be a shift away from teaching in a classroom-centred paradigm of education to an increased focus on learning, which happens informally throughout the day. A core feature of mobiles is that they support ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. Because they are personal and always at hand, they are perfectly suited to support informal and contextual learning. Mobile has a role to play in bridging the formal and informal learning spaces. But this requires change in both spheres. More work is needed here. The NMC Horizon Report 2013: K-12 Edition report highlights this as a significant challenge.
  • Learning that is time-dependent and location-dependent is not an option for everyone anymore. Again, anywhere, anytime learning speaks to the changing needs of people.
  • The piece also predicts that there will be an increased blurring of the boundaries between learning, working and living. Mobiles already support skills development in a range of fields including agriculture and healthcare, and provide paying job opportunities for mobile-based ‘microwork’.
  • In addition to education basics such as literacy and numeracy, the piece says, there will be a need for digital and information literacy, as well as critical thinking and online communication skills. These skills are increasingly important for entering the job market. With the guidance of teachers, mobiles provide a medium for developing these skills for millions of Africans who go online ‘mobile first’ or even ‘mobile-only’.

Lastly, I see that the world outside the education institution is changing at a rapid rate, where technology underpins how people communicate, socialise, play, do business, pay for goods, or even farm. This change exerts a pressure on the static nature of education inside the schools walls. A relevant quote is from a forthcoming Prospects Journal edition on mobile learning: “Mobile learning is no longer an innovation within institutional learning but a reflection of the world in which institutional learning takes place,” Traxler & Vosloo, 2014.

Mobile learning itself is a trend

It is on the one-year horizon for the NMC Horizon Report (along with cloud computing). Devices are easy-to-use and pervasive. Device uptake is already huge, and will only grow. A huge amount of mobile apps and services bring education content to mobile devices. App development and programming is being taught in some schools.

Social media bigger than ever, and growing

The NMC Horizon Report says that “Social media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and communicate.” Social media has grown beyond anyone’s expectation. This is where (young) people are “living” online, and they connect via mobile. According to Flurry Analytics, overall app use in 2013 posted 115% year-over-year growth. The segment that showed the most dramatic growth in 2013 was Messaging (Social and Photo sharing included), with over 200% growth.

Pearson Labs explain that “over the past two years, there has been an ongoing debate about whether or not social media should be used in school. But now the debate is over – estimates place the number of teens using social media for learning anywhere between 80 per cent and 98 per cent, and our own discussion on this last year showed an enthusiastic teaching community. Now that social media use is prevalent in most schools, the debate shifts, to how to educate children about how to best use social media?”

Education response:

  • From an education perspective, we must include socialness in learning experiences. Peer-to-peer support and connectivity, tutoring, knowledge sharing.
  • We must also prepare young people on how to navigate this space. Teach and practice digital citizenship. Use social media in the classroom.
  • Policy approach: change from Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to Responsible Use Policy (RUP).

The rise of learning analytics and efficacy

  • Learning analytics is on the two- to three-year horizon for the NMC Horizon Report.
  • Rise of big data and analytic techniques to make sense of it and to help us gain insights about student behaviour and learning.
  • This has benefit for educators: can inform instructional practice in real time as well as aid in the design of curricula and platforms that personalise education.
  • This has benefit for learners: can suggest resources to students and highlight study areas that need extra work.

Better formative assessment, adaptive learning and personalisation via mobile

  • How do we create personal learning experiences even in groups of large classes? How do we cater to different learning styles (visual, text, etc.)? We must get this right on mobile – and we will as adaptive learning engines, more computational power and seamless learning (across multiple devices) become a reality.
  • However, in my opinion it is not being done very well right now. The Horizon Report highlights this as a significant challenge, saying that “there remains a gap between the vision and the tools needed to achieve it.”
  • As Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor at Pearson says, there needs to be a shift in focus from the improvement of schools to the progress of individuals. Monitoring and enablement of learners, powerful combination of teachers and technology (not technology replacing teachers).
  • But education institutions are not responding enough to the changes needed to curricula to recognise newly learned skills.

New models of education

  • The NMC Horizon Report says that “New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to traditional models of schooling.”
  • The rise of MOOCs is an example.
  • Distance education, underpinned by mobile access, will grow. A blended learning approach is still recommended.

For further reading, see the UNESCO report on The Future of Mobile Learning (report | slides).

The UNESCO years: A brief review

UNESCO logoFrom 2011 to 2013 I was the Senior Project Officer in mobile learning at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. My role was to help establish and lead the organisation’s mobile learning programmes, publications and events, largely as part of a multi-year partnership with Nokia. The goal of the mobile learning team, which I led, was to provide insight and expert guidance to Member States on how to practically leverage mobile technologies to help achieve the Education for All goals.

In the spirit of reflection (see reviews for 2009 and 2010), below is a summary of key achievements while at UNESCO.

Learning “on the ground”: Practical projects

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I co-managed four Mobiles for Teacher Development projects in Nigeria, Senegal, Pakistan and Mexico, all of which set out to explore how mobile technologies could be used to support teachers and their professional development. I directly managed the Nigeria pilot, in which primary school teachers of English were supported by daily messages to reinforce content knowledge, improve pedagogical practice, share resources and help motivate them. After four months over 70,000 users had signed up to the English Teacher service.

I also project managed the Mobiles for Reading project, which involved surveying over 4,000 users in seven developing countries on how mobiles are, and can be, used to support literacy development. The aim of the project, conducted in partnership with Worldreader, was to better understand how mobile phones can be used to extend access to reading materials in developing countries. A report is coming out in February 2014 with the results of the survey.

Building the body of knowledge: Publications

UNESCO paperIn two years the mobile learning team produced 14 papers — that have been translated into multiple languages – as part of the newly created UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning. The papers, comprising over 600 pages, examine more than 40 projects from around the world, considering issues related to policy, mobiles for teacher development and, more broadly, the future of mobile learning. A World Bank  review noted “this series of papers is highly recommended reading.” It was my responsibility to manage the overall publications project and also to author one of the 14 papers: Mobile Learning and Policies: Key Issues to Consider.

•We also published the UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning.  I co-authored the guidelines and managed a broad consultation process from experts, the general public and 20 Member States as they provided input to refine the final product.

While I was not directly involved in this project, the mobile learning team also conducted a comparative analysis of effective initiatives on the development of literacy and life skills through mobile phones for women and girls’ empowerment. The purpose was to identify practices that ensure the sustainability of programmes and offer opportunities to scale-up particularly promising approaches. The set of papers from around the world will be published in 2014.

Along with Professor John Traxler, I co-edited and introduced a forthcoming issue of Prospects journal on mobile learning. The issue, which includes a number of papers presented at Mobile Learning Week 2013, will be released in March 2014.

•Lastly, concerning formal publications from UNESCO, I also contributed to the Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education for All Agenda report, coordinated by UNESCO for the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Convening community: Mobile Learning Week

The flagship event for our team is the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week. From the first event in 2011, it grew substantially in 2013 to include the Senior Education Policy Makers’ Forum, attended by participants from 45 countries. I led the overall organisation of the MLWs.

Spreading the word: Advocacy

As part of advocating for mobile learning, and sharing our findings as broadly as possible, I attended and presented at a number of events (see full list). The standout ones were The Economist’s Nigeria Summit in Lagos; being a panelist at the Ministerial Programme of the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona; and presenting twice at the International Symposium: Mobile Phone and Creation at the Universite Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle.

I wrote The future of education in Africa is mobile for the BBC Future site and was interviewed by Times Higher Education about mobile learning and higher education in Africa (see Africa’s mobile phone e-learning transformation).

I was a member of the Advisory Board for the Horizon Report > 2013 K-12 Education Edition, and represented UNESCO on the executive steering committee of the mEducation Alliance.

Overall my time at UNESCO was interesting, challenging and very rewarding. It was a pleasure to work with an excellent team and learn from my colleagues, and I sincerely hope to continue those relationships into the future. In particular I would like to thank Mark West, Marie-Lise Bourcier, Fengchun Miao, Glen Hertelendy, Diane Boulay, Jongwon Seo, David Atchoarena, Mariana Patru, Francesc Pedro, Mar Camacho, Julio Sa Rego and Soojin Cho. I am also grateful to Nokia for their support for the partnership activities.

“Closing Remarks”: Observations @ mEducation Alliance Symposium 2013

mEducation Alliance logoAt the recent mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., I presented the closing remarks. Below are my key observations from the event.

Advancing Literacy through Mobile Technologies: Empowering Women and Girls – Phase II: From Insight to Action

mEducation Alliance logoAt the recent mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., I presented, on behalf of my colleague, Diane Boulay, Advancing Literacy through Mobile Technologies: Empowering Women and Girls – Phase II: From Insight to Action. The proposed project builds on a global study headed up by Diane on how mobile phones are being used to empower women and girls by helping to improve their literacy skills.

For this project we are looking for partners for funding, technology support, content provision, and more.

The abstract is as follows:

Mobile technologies carry the power and potential to accelerate and scale-up literacy education efforts and to counteract the effects of social isolation and exclusion, especially in post-conflict/post-disaster settings. Building upon the findings of a concluding UNESCO global study analyzing initiatives aimed at empowering women and girls through literacy via innovative mobile technology-based programs, this project focuses on concrete action to reach more illiterate and neo-literate women and girls faster, better and with broader impact.

mReading to children: Leveraging mobile reading to promote and advance early childhood literacy

mEducation Alliance logoAt the recent mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., I presented, along with Elizabeth Wood, mReading to children: Leveraging mobile reading to promote and advance early childhood literacy. For this project, proposed in partnership with Worldreader, we are looking for partners for funding, technology support, content provision, and more.

The abstract is as follows:

The project goal is to promote educational outcomes of young children by providing a free mobile phone based portal for early childhood educational materials targeted to teachers, parents and caregivers in Kenya and Tanzania. This mobile application will be optimized for low end feature phones and will leverage best practice in the science of early childhood, delivering curated materials in English and Kiswahili. The project will be implemented in partnership with Worldreader, a non-profit organisation that uses mobile technology to distribute books.

edWeb Webinar: Global Efforts to Understand the Potential of Mobile Learning: UNESCO Shares Its Insight

edWeb logoThe potential of mobile learning continues to expand in the U.S. and around the world. As districts and schools work to implement technology that has become commonplace for many students outside of school, they face many challenges and opportunities. In a recent webinar for the edWeb.net Mobile Learning Explorations community, I provided attendees with a global perspective from UNESCO, while Jennifer Fritschi, Director of Strategic Partnerships at SETDA and Mary Ann Wolf, CEO of Wolf ED, shared the United States’ perspective. Mobile learning has the ability to improve education systems and help reach marginalized populations through expanded access. The presenters shared their insight on trends, examples, and policy and practice implications, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and professional learning opportunities. The stigma that is associated with mobile learning was discussed as well as potential barriers that may be encountered during implementation. Collectively we tried to provide insight on how to overcome and ways to turn on mobile learning.

View the webinar.

edWeb webinar

Mobile learning at the Nigeria Summit

Nigeria Summit 2013
I was honored to sit on a panel at The Economist’s Nigeria Summit 2013 in Lagos. The panel was titled SKILLS AND EDUCATION – DEVELOPING NIGERIA’S PEOPLE POWER. Below are my speaking notes.

Education challenges

As we all know, the world faces major education challenges, including:

Shortage of trained and motivated teachers

“The latest estimates suggest that 112 countries need to expand their workforce by a total of 5.4 million primary school teachers by 2015. New recruits are needed to cover both the 2 million additional posts required to reach universal primary education and the 3.4 million posts of those leaving the profession. Sub-Saharan African countries alone need to recruit more than 2 million teachers to achieve UPE.” Global Monitoring Report, 2012

“More than 200,000 new teachers are needed in Nigeria to ensure that there is one primary level teacher for no more than 40 learners.” Global Partnership for Education (Every Child Needs a Teacher report)

“61-100 pupils per lower-secondary teacher in Nigeria.” Global Partnership for Education (Every Child Needs a Teacher report)

Out of school children and drop-outs

“Nigeria alone is home to an estimated 10.5 million out-of-school children … 42% of the primary school-age population.” (Global Monitoring Report, 2012)

UNESCO focus on teachers

UNESCO is focused on improving education quality through supporting teachers. It has a comprehensive teacher strategy.

It is sees Africa as a priority and works in many countries on the continent.

Mobile revolution

Africa is the second largest and fastest growing mobile phone region in the world.

It has an estimated 735 million mobile phone subscriptions.

Nigeria’s mobile phone subscription base is set to hit 120 million in 2013.

It has fundamentally changed the way that people communicate, socialise, do business, bank and farm. Why not how they learn?

Mobile learning

My particular focus at UNESCO is mobile learning: how mobile technology can be used to improve teaching, learning and effective administration.

We believe that we need to fully leverage and exploit every opportunity to meet the massive education challenges.

Examples of mobile learning to support teachers: by providing content, connecting teachers in peer-to-peer support networks, assessment, and supporting teacher administration.

Mobile learning is not a saviour – but it can contribute in unique and new ways, not possible before.

Nigeria teachers’ project

In Nigeria we are about to launch a pilot project, in partnership with Nokia and in collaboration with the National Teachers’ Institute and the British Council.

Aimed at primary school teachers of English.

Daily messages delivered via mobile phones: content knowledgepedagogical tips, assessment questions, and motivational messages.

Launching on 2 May in Abuja.

—-

I further describe the Nokia UNESCO partnership to support teacher development in Nigeria in this interview by WebTV.

The future of education in Africa is mobile (BBC article, UK version)

The article I wrote for the BBC Future site (24 August 2012) is not available to users in the UK, so here it is below …

The future of education in Africa is mobile

Mobile phone


Over the coming months, A Matter of Life and Tech will feature a range of voices from people building Africa’s tech future. This week, United Nation’s mobile learning specialist Steve Vosloo argues phones could be the future of education on the continent.

Education systems are under stress.

It is a problem felt in many parts of the world, but in Africa, the strain is even more acute.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 10m children drop out of primary school every year. Even those fortunate enough to complete primary school often leave with literacy and numeracy skills far below expected levels.

In addition, there is a major shortage of trained and motivated teachers. It is estimated that to ensure that every child has access to quality education by 2015, sub-Saharan Africa will need to recruit 350,000 new teachers every year. It seems increasingly unlikely that this will happen.

Throw in one of the highest concentrations of illiterate adults in the world, and you begin to understand the scale of the problem.

In the last decade many African countries have, against these significant odds, made solid progress in improving their education levels. However, the challenges are often too large. The “usual” tried and tested methods of delivering education are not enough.

Yet there is a potential solution.

While education struggles to cope, mobile communication has grown exponentially. Africa is today the fastest growing and second largest mobile phone market in the world. While in some countries – including Botswana, Gabon and Namibia – there are more mobile subscriptions than inhabitants, Africa still has the lowest mobile penetration of any market. There is plenty more growth to come. Over 620 million mobile subscriptions mean that for the first time in the history of the continent, its people are connected.

These connections offer an opportunity for education. Already, we are starting to see the beginnings of change. An increasing number of initiatives – some large-scale, some small – are using mobile technologies to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services. Mobiles are streamlining education administration and improving communication between schools, teachers and parents. The list goes on. Mobile learning, either alone or in combination with existing education approaches, is supporting and extending education in ways not possible before.

Numbers game

For millions of Africans, much of their daily reading and writing happens on mobile phones in the form of SMS and instant message (IM) chats. Mobiles are also increasingly being used to access long-form reading material – not only 160 character text bites. For example, projects such as Yoza Cellphone Stories, which offers downloads of stories and novels, has shown impressive uptake amongst young African readers who enjoy mobile novels or ‘m-novels’.  On Yoza, users not only read stories but comment and vote on them. In its first 18 months, Yoza had 470,000 complete reads of its stories and poems, as well as 47,000 user comments.

Since 2010, the non-profit organization Worldreader has provided school children in a number of developing countries with access to digital books through donated Kindle e-readers. Recently, it has begun to publish the books via a mobile phone-based e-reader. The Worldreader app and its library of stories is already on 3.9 million handsets, with active readers in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana, to name a few.

In many countries, mobiles are the only channel for effectively distributing reading material, given the high cost of books and their distribution, especially to rural areas. Reading on a mobile device is different to reading in print. Mobile devices offer interactivity, the ability for readers to comment on content, the ability to connect with other readers and to publicly ask questions and receive support. Mobile devices can be used to deliver appropriate and personalized content, in ways that print books cannot. Of course, print books have their strengths – such as not having batteries that need to be recharged. A complementary approach that draws on the strengths of each – print and mobile books – is ideal.

Social networking sites, accessed primarily or only via mobile devices by most Africans, are also on the rise and offer another opportunity. Already they are being used by teachers and learners to share resources and provide support in open discussions. For communities that are geographically dispersed and cannot afford to meet in person, the support from such virtual communities is invaluable.

MXit is Africa’s largest homegrown mobile social network. With over 50 million users, the South Africa-founded service not only allows its mostly young users to stay in touch by text chatting, it also facilitates live tutoring on maths homework.  Dr Maths on MXit has helped 30,000 school-aged children work through maths problems by connecting them with maths tutors for live chat sessions. The service is effective for two reasons: it is cheap – the actual service is free but users pay a minimal data charge to their mobile providers – and it operates in the evenings, when learners need help with homework. For many children in South Africa, this is the most qualified tutor that they will have access to.

Of course, it is not possible to have a one size fits all approach. The mobile landscape in Africa is spread unevenly across 56 countries: in some places there is good infrastructure and access to mobile data, in others access is spotty and limited to basic services. To make a real impact mobile learning initiatives must – and do in Africa – cater to the full range of technology contexts. An example is Nokia Life, an information service with over 70 million subscribers in India, China, Indonesia and Nigeria. Popular information channels in Nigeria deliver preparation tips for middle and high school exams, health education aimed at families and English language learning. The service uses SMS, meaning it does not need mobile data coverage that is not as widely implemented in many places.

But it is not just about the services. If mobile learning is to have a real impact, we need to also rethink what we mean by education, schooling and what skills it delivers.

Recently, a United Nations task team led by UNESCO produced a think piece on education and skills beyond 2015. The piece predicts there will be a shift away from teaching in a classroom-centred paradigm of education to an increased focus on learning, which happens informally throughout the day. A core feature of mobiles is that they support ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. Because they are personal and always at hand, they are perfectly suited to support informal and contextual learning.

The report also predicts that there will be an increased blurring of the boundaries between learning, working and living. Mobiles already support skills development in a range of fields including agriculture and healthcare, and provide paying job opportunities for mobile-based ‘microwork’.

In addition to education basics such as literacy and numeracy, the reports says, there will be a need for digital and information literacy, as well as critical thinking and online communication skills. With the guidance of teachers, mobiles provide a medium for developing these skills for millions of Africans who go online ‘mobile first’ or even ‘mobile-only’.

On a continent where education change – what should be taught, how it should be delivered and assessed, and where learning happens – is inevitable, and mobiles are more affordably and effectively networking people to each other and information than ever before, the combined promise is bigger than the sum of the parts. Mobile learning is here to stay and will only influence and enable learning more and more.

Do you agree with Steve? If you would like to comment on this article or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Steve Vosloo is a mobile learning specialist with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. He founded the Yoza Cellphone Stories project in 2009. Read his blog or follow him on Twitter at @stevevosloo.

Picture used under creative commons from mLearning Africa.

UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning released

UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile LearningUNESCO has released the first set of papers in its Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning, for which I was a co-ordinating editor. The 12 papers of the initial launch make up almost 500 pages of research. Half of the papers focus on mobile learning initiatives and their relationship to policies, and the other half on how mobile technologies support teachers and their professional development. For each focus area there is a Global Themes paper that summarises the findings of the other papers.

UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile LearningIt has taken many months of hard work to release the 12 papers, produced by a range of external and UNESCO authors. It is certainly hoped that this first contribution in an ongoing series will help to stimulate the growth of mobile learning and lead to more governments actively embracing it.