Book Review: The mobile academy: mLearning for higher education

If you are interested in background information on the next major wave to hit higher education, you may want to read The Mobile Academy: mLearning for Higher Education* by Clark Quinn. Quinn does a solid job of walking a reader through all the key points necessary to adequately address issues revolving around mobile learning (mlearning) in an academic environment.

In chapter one, Quinn references a Pew Internet report  indicating 93% of adults under 30 have cell phones, yet, only 13.1% of institutions have mobile learning capabilities. The United States is lagging behind other countries in terms of mlearning but the need and want are increasing each day. In nine chapters, Quinn not only points out the need in terms of learning but also discusses infrastructure needs and organization policy considerations.

After an introduction of the need for mlearning, Quinn begins with the basics of what constitutes a mobile device. He applies rather strict criteria that essentially narrows devices to basically cell phones and possibly tablet devices. He also spends a considerable amount of time focusing on features that could be leveraged in a learning environment such as GPS, cameras, and microphones.

In chapter three, Quinn turns his attention to learning with a focus of how mobile devices can be used to support learning in a direct and indirect manner. He stresses learning has evolved from the industrial age, and we must adapt accordingly. I concur with this sentiment. Throughout the rest of the book, Quinn provides examples on how mobile devices can best support learning content such as introductions, concepts, examples, exercises, and summaries.

In chapter four, Quinn focuses on low hanging fruit that will provide a great start for higher education institutions wanting to start supporting mlearning. He provides a thorough checklist of services to provide to students and faculty from the ability to sign up for and drop courses to an events calendar. His position is, if information can be made available to mobile devices, it should.

Chapters five through seven focus on learning to include content delivery, interactive learning, and social learning. When discussing content delivery, Quinn stresses the need to chunk information into small manageable pieces that can be consumed easily on mobile devices. He goes into good detail describing which media type would be better suited for the type of content being delivered, e.g, introductions, concepts, examples, exercises, and summaries. Visual imagery from photos to video seems to provide the most benefit for mobile devices. To create a sense of interactive learning, Quinn outlines methods for providing feedback and assessment. He stresses the nature of mobile devices provide a great opportunity to provide feedback and assessment anytime and anywhere.  Learners should not have to memorize information if they can look it up. It is important that they can apply what they have learned. All assessment should be formative.  Finally, through social interaction, there is an opportunity for powerful learning. Social learning is about communicating. Again, mobile devices make learning an anytime and anywhere opportunity. Using tools like Twitter, Facebook, wikis, Google Docs, and others, learners can share ideas as they development.

In Chapter 8, Quinn touches upon new technologies which are on the near horizon to include augmented realities, alternate realities, and adaptive delivery. I am personally excited about the possibilities of augmented reality where information is overlayed based on geolocation and adaptive learning, which generates content based on what the system knows about the individual, the task at hand, the time, and location.

The goal would be create a personalized learning experience that would provide content, practice, examples, and more in a sequence that depends on the learner, the learner’s recent and overall performance, and the learning goals. More optimally, it would also recognize a learner’s current context and would take advantage of devices or location-specific information. (Quinn, 2011, p. 93)

Finally, Quinn addresses organizational considerations for development, deployment, management, and policy in regards to mlearning. When designing mlearning, there has to be a balance between subject matter experts and instructional designers.  For quality of learning, “pedagogical competence and technological competence are necessary” (Quinn, 2011, p. 97). Consideration must be taken into account for the number of different devices to support as well as different types of file formats. Also, will the institution pre-load devices or automatically deploy content through a Web interface. Quinn recommends piloting projects and then increase their scale rather than jump in with an all or nothing attitude.  He also outlines a number of policies to consider from accessibility to privacy.

Perhaps the most important lesson towards developing a mlearning strategy is  personally using mobile devices for your own mlearning. By being a mlearner, you are in a better position to assess what works and what does not. The overall goal is to keep improving the learner experience and outcome.

If you are interested in mlearning and what to get a solid reference for background information, I would recommend this book. What have your experiences been in regards to mlearning?

Quinn, C. N. (2011). The mobile academy: mLearning for higher education (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

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