mLearn 2008: Notes

mLearn was held from 8-10 October 2008 in Telford, UK. In addition to my blog posts about the conference, notes about interesting presentations, papers and projects are below.

Towards a pedagogy-driven account of mobile learning
This morning’s mLearn 2008 keynote was titled Towards a pedagogy-driven account of mobile learning by Diana Laurillard, Institute of Education, London Knowledge Lab.

Twentieth century learning theories, e.g. social constructivism, constructionism, etc., generally propose the same thing: that the “engine” driving learning is a process of iterative development of an idea  by a learner, which he/she refines through proposing it, defending it, questioning it, etc., and ultimately can apply as a concept to other contexts.

Laurillard proposed a conversational framework that represents different learning approaches as a way to hold up digital technologies against.Teachers need to challenge what the technologies — which are first and foremost designed for business and leisure — really afford for education and how they support pedagogical requirements. To reverse the direction of purpose: from business- and leisure-driven to pedagogically-driven.

Learners’ needs go way beyond the learning offered by Facebook. The educational voice needs to be more powerful to articulate how technology should serve learners’ needs, instead of always thinking how we can use the technologies available for learning (typically with a question such as this: “Facebook is very engaging for learners, how can we use it for education?”)

Obstacles to mobile uptake in SA
The paper presentation of Obstacles and Challenges Encountered in South African Secondary School Mobile Learning Environments by Sumi Eicker and Machdel Matthee provided these valuable insights:

  • SA’s teenagers are ready for mlearning but need
  • edu systems that can cater for it
  • educators that can implement it
  • parents that are open to the idea

How to reach learners that don’t have teachers?

MiLK project
The Mobile Learning Kit (MiLK) enables games that connect students, curriculum and everyday environments using simple web and mobile technologies. A scaffolding to build narratives. Debra Polson, interaction designer and researcher, Queensland University of Technology, presented interesting MiLK projects that involve learners designing and playing games. The process for this is as follows:

  1. Explore
  2. Research
  3. Design (Peer assessment — because peers play the games that learners create — is a strong motivator to apply one’s self during the game design.)
  4. Publish
  5. Play
  6. Reflect

We are considering running a MiLK project at next year’s SciFest Africa in Grahamstown.

Also see Cipher Cities and Scoot, a treasure hunt using lo-fi tech. Parents and kids play together.

Podcasting in higher educational institutes

In a pilot project, podcasts were found to help “connect” — emotionally — distance education students with a university. The real person voice helped to create a human connection between tutors and students, which reduced both student and tutor anxiety.

Engaging the learner through game-based mobile learning environments
Lisa Gjedde, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University. Background: mobile learning may offer contextual learning potentials. Games can create user engagement and motivation.

In this project, three mobile platforms were developed to help answer the research question: To which extent can MLEs support and enhance collaborative learning?

The mobile games include multi-modal learning tasks: auditive, visual, tactile, kinestetic. Player feedback: “You were the one doing it all the time, and not the cellphone … you walked around and did it.” Engagement through: fun, context, collaboration, movement, challenge-level. Learners said that the group work (4 member teams)  made them feel positive about collaboration in the future. Gave real-world context to maths. Conclusion: need for further research.

Language learning “on the go”
LondonMet e-packs (online language learning materials repurposed for use on mobile phones) were developed for adult language learners at London Metropolitan University to support learners after-hours.

Pedagogical choices for mobile learning objects (MLOs):

  • Reusable, granular and decoupled
  • Presentation of language in context
  • Layering of activities to develop skills
  • Varied and appropriate feedback features, e.g. not just “you got the question right” but “read this text to find out if you got it right or not”

Challenges in designing MLOs:

  • Need to break lessons into smaller units

Designing for cellphones:

  • What phone? Software?

What did the students think of the e-packs? Liked them. One said they offered “freedom from the computer.”

mLearning offers small, bite-size learning opportunities. Language learning is comprised of many skills that need to be acquired: reading, writing, listening, comprehension, vocabulary, pronounciation, etc. Bite-size learning activities, which constitute a larger lesson, definitely have their place, especially when done in context.

Researching mobile learning
Giasemi Vavoula ( presented on the challenges associated with researching mobile learning.

Challenge 1: Capturing learning contexts

  • Social assessment methods: Diaries, questionnaires, post-interviews, attitude surveys
  • Need to triangulate mixed methods of assessment (technology-based and social-based)

Challenge 2: Capturing learning outcomes

  • Fixed space, e.g. classroom, has proven set of ways to assess cognitive learning, e.g. exams. Not so with mobile.
  • Alternatives to measuring outcomes are needed, e.g. learner perceptions (attitudes), assessing learner-created artefacts. But still no consensus on assessment.

Challenge 3: Challenging ethics

  • Mobile technology translates (most often) to personal technology. Can participants really consent to unknown scenarios?

Challenge 4: Formal vs informal?

  • “Seeing informal and formal learning as fundamentally separate results in stereotyping and a tendency for the advocates of one to see only the weaknesses of the other. It is more sensible to see attributes of informality and formality as present in all learning situations….The challenge is to identify such attributes, and understand the implications of the interrelationships between them.” Colley, H., Hodkinson, P. & Malcom, J. (2003) Informality and formality in learning: a report for theLearning and Skills Research Centre, p. 8.

Mobile learning foresight: the future of learning is already here
Mark Kramer, University of Salzburg

What’s already here:

  • Mobile content, e.g. iTunes U
  • Multimodal inputs, e.g. Jott
  • Aggregated inputs, e.g. Twemes
  • Visual comms (as opposed to text-based), e.g. Qik, Seesmic

Future predictions:

  • Self-organised learning: learners grouping and directing themselves
  • More collaborative through ubiquitous social networks
  • Location based
  • Context aware
  • Conversational

But with increased velocity in our exposure to information and communication, there is a technological burden.

Tech-enabled language learning: Making the link between noticing and learning
It is important that anyone learning a language notices when they are saying something incorrectly. Suggested process: Notice, record in a diary (consolidate), reflect in a group (hopefully). There is usually not much feedback to teachers about what language learners need “in the world.” This project shows teachers the gaps and how learners are progressing. After showing learners the benefits of noticing (through video examples), they are asked to use (mobile) diaries to capture what they notice when not in class. These diary entries are then discussed in class — physical or virtual.

Communications: anywhere, anytime

This morning’s mLearn 2008 keynote was titled Communications – anywhere anytime by Dr Mike Short, VP R&D, Telefonica Europe. 95% of 15-24 year olds in European countries have a mobile phone. More stats at GSM World — latest report. Mobile is not going to go away.

His thoughts on the future of the web:

  • Web 1.0: Users surf, consult
  • Web 2.0: Users create, collaborate, share
  • Web 3.0: All of the above, but in a supported, integrated way. Now the web suggests, services discover. Life happens on the web, which provides storage and processing power.

Assessing the value of mobile learning: the evidence challenge

This afternoon’s mLearn 2008 keynote was titled Assessing the value of mobile learning: the evidence challenge by Vanessa Pittard, Director: e-Strategy, Becta.

Mobile ICT use in Britain not all rosy. 84% of teachers said that they rarely/never use mobile ICTs to allow learners to work together for school activities. Only 6% of schools have campus-wide wifi.

The cost/benefit analysis and the evidence challenge

Moving from nice-to-have to must-have: developing the business case for mlearning:

  • Concept — not technology: practice; customer/user benefit
  • Buy-in — addressing key decision maker agendas
  • Readiness and planning — “should I invest now?”
  • Decision — options and practical choices
  • Management — risks and solutions; addressing barriers
  • Justification — cost/benefit analysis

Quantified benefits are the hardest part (examples):

  • Learner satisfaction and engagement (because of ICTs) measures
  • Learner time on task (through ICTs)
  • How much time to prepare for the lessons?
  • How long would it have taken to achieve the same lesson without ICTs?
  • Quality of outputs?
  • Impact on learner capabilities and learning behaviours?
  • Formal outcomes and progression?


  • Engagement/inclusion in learning
  • Learner autonomy
  • Collaborative/distributed learning
  • Experiential/situated learning
  • Bridging formal and informal learning

There’s a lot to say to stakeholders, but important to focus on learner and learning outcomes. Also, could the same learning have been achieved without the ICTs?

Miscellaneous bits and pieces

  • Myst2008 — location-based game, played at SciFest in Joensuu. Perhaps play at SciFest in Grahamstown?
  • The MOBO City: A mobile game package for technical language learning — Focus was on teaching technical English vocabulary to students. Based in Iran.

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