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E-learning – the latest trends

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Mobile devices

Mobile devices are enjoying an increasingly important role in education. The new Horizon Report for 2010 (Johnson et al., 2010) reported that mobile computing was one of six technologies to watch, while E-learning News (2010) predicted that the infiltration of personal devices into the classroom would be a key trend in educational technology in 2010.

Mobile phones – including those owned by students – are becoming increasingly sophisticated, enabling the user not only to call and text, but also to browse the Internet, take photos, record audio, write a message on Facebook, etc.

This sophistication means that they can be used for more complex learning, particularly that which involves Internet access and user-generated content. That students do use their phones for learning (for example, using the Internet to find information) is confirmed by a longitudinal study at one of London's largest universities, London Metropolitan (Bradley and Holley, 2010).

Web 2.0 and mobile devices

But perhaps the most powerful development in mobile learning (m-learning) is the possibility of combining it with Web 2.0 learning, because mobile devices can now be used for social networking and user generated content. This means that m-learning can be underpinned by the pedagogy of social constructivism.

Cochrane and Bateman (2010) offer a powerful case history of a degree course where mobile Web 2.0 was integrated into all three years of the course, offering a progression from a teacher-directed pedagogy to student-generated content around projects (heutagogy).

In the first year, students were given considerable guidance on how to use the devices appropriately, but even then they were expected to use them in a fairly advanced way, i.e. for reflective blogging.

Claiming that mobile Web 2.0 can be used to facilitate "collaborative, authentic learning within authentic contexts" as well as metacognition and reflection, Cochrane and Bateman (2010: p. 12) provide the following table showing the affordances of smartphones mapped to social constructivist activities:

Cochrane and Bateman (2010: p. 12) provide the following table showing the affordances of smartphones mapped to social constructivist activities

Table I. The affordances of smartphones mapped to social constructivist activities (Cochrane and Bateman, 2010: p. 12)

Mobile devices are of course not confined to smartphones. One report on educational technology trends (Converge Staff, 2010) claimed that tablet computers are becoming more popular in post-secondary education. Two New Zealand academics, Daphne Robson and Dave Kennedy, reviewed their use in a maths class and come up with some useful tips on teaching with tablet PCs (Robson and Kennedy, 2010: p. 27). Their overall conclusion is that the use of tablets increased student motivation.

Mobile technology has proved effective not only for its affordances, but also because the mobile network can be cheaper and more reliable than that for broadband. This is why mobile phone usage is revolutionizing some parts of the world, for example Africa, as it compensates for poor broadband connectivity and electricity shortages.

Mobile learning was (along with open source and teacher education) the most popular topic at eLearning Africa 2010, where a variety of initiatives were described, including the m4Lit project in South Africa, which helps to encourage literacy among school children and young adults (eLearning Africa, 2010).