Tag Archives: mobile learning

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).

Launch of phase 2 of bookly

booklyToday is the launch of phase two of bookly, a mobile/browser-based reading and writing platform in South Africa. In 2013 bookly won the Best Start-up award at the annual FutureBook Innovation Awards in London. It is great to see a South African initiative using the technology that is in the hands of our youth to improve literacy. This was the aim of Yoza Cellphone Stories, an initiative that I founded and run.

I received this from NATIVE VML, the company behind bookly:

I wanted to drop you a  line to tell you about bookly – both a reading and writing platform, with the goal of improving literacy in South Africa.

bookly was launched in May last year as an e-reader app on Mxit. We’ve had over 700 000 unique visitors, viewing more than 13 million pages. We added more than 450 books onto our platform and our users have added more than 250 000 books to their bookshelves! By partnering with local publishers,  bookly has also been instrumental in promoting South African authors. Thousands of reads have been achieved for the likes of Modjaji Books, Black Letter Media, Random House, MissWrite and Wordsmack and that’s just the beginning.

To get more people to read, we need more content that is relevant and personal to the kids. To get more content, we need South African to write their own stories.

This is where phase 2 of bookly comes in.

For phase 2 of bookly we are expanding into a writing platform. We have also created www.bookly.co.za, a mobile site which allows anyone to write a bookly.  A bookly  is a short piece of fiction that can be anything from poetry to a short story that is designed for mobile so the objective is to keep it concise but entertaining and provocative. A bookly can be written using anything from a feature phone up to a desktop PC. We will also be launching The bookly Award to encourage  kids to write on the platform. On top of that, we are working with writing workshops such as Sa-Yes, MissWrite, and Access to spread the word about bookly. For more info, please check out the attached documents.

More information about bookly and how to access it can be found in the press release, e.g. bookly can be found in the following ways:

Fiona Snyckers is mentioned in the press release as an author who publishes on bookly — she authored three of the best titles on Yoza in the Sisterz series.

I’m not exactly clear on their business model, but do know that they are not expecting to make millions out of bookly. Rather it is a vehicle for publishers and authors to create interest in their work, grow their brands and gauge interest in new works. With mobile, it is possible to get instant feedback from your readers. I learned this from comments received on Yoza stories. Further, bookly isa  vehicle for supporting literacy development and growing the author base in our country.

I wish bookly and NATIVE VML all the best. As Head of Mobile at Pearson I will be watching its progress with interest.

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


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.

Integrating mobile learning solutions for Syrian refugees in Iraq

mEducation Alliance logoLast week was the third annual mEducation Alliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., attended by over 175 participants from 20 countries with 40+ presentations about innovations for using technologies in education. Overall, this year’s event addressed a range of topics including technologies for reading, youth and workforce development,and for application in complex and challenging environments.

I gave four presentations, one of which was the UNESCO concept note Integrating mobile learning solutions for Syrian refugees in Iraq. This is a proposed project for which UNESCO is looking for partners for funding, technology support, content development, and more.

The abstract is as follows:

UNESCO research has indicated that mobile learning has special applicability in post-conflict, post-disaster contexts: displaced people often have working mobile devices; mobile networks are robust and tend to work even when other communication networks are down; and mobile content can be developed quickly and disseminated cheaply. Research has further indicated that mobile learning is most effective when it is integrated into more comprehensive educational solutions, rather than “parachuted in,” unconnected to schools and other community institutions. In the coming months UNESCO Iraq plans to build three schools for Syrian refugees in Kurdistan; UNESCO HQ proposes the creation of a mobile learning program to supplement, enrich and extend the educational services that will be offered in brick-and-motor buildings. Apart from providing immediate and urgently-needed educational support to Syrians, the project also allow UNESCO to establish an implementation model that can be applied elsewhere to advance the learning of refugees or other traumatized people.

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

Comments on Africa’s mobile phone e-learning transformation

I was recently interviewed by the Times Higher Education about mobile learning and higher education in Africa. The article, Africa’s mobile phone e-learning transformation, provides a good snapshot of the potential of mobile learning and why that potential is still not being fully realised.

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.