Joshua M. Gaul, Director of Educational & Emerging Technologies, SUNY Empire State College
Higher education’s outlook has shifted dozens of times in the past 25 years. Traditional education became correspondence courses. Correspondence courses moved to online learning. Online learning has birthed multiple variations—adaptive learning, communities of practice, competency-based learning, and so on, but most still involved a learning management system (LMS). While innovative things are still done in the world of LMSs, the 24/7 access to information provided in the digital age makes learning—even structured, science-based learning much easier to build and access.
A few months ago, I decided to re-learn basic Spanish. I say re-learn because I took four years of Spanish in high school and 15+ years later, I can confidently say I remember very little from those classes. Now, I could take classes from lots of different places: my employer (SUNY Empire State College), another college, EdX, Coursera, etc. But I don’t need a degree or a certificate. And I don’t have time to write papers or watch hour-long lectures. I just want to learn for learning’s sake.
DuoLingo is a mobile application meant to start you on the path to fluency in any language, through science-based activities and formative evaluation. DuoLingo provides a way to learn basic Spanish anywhere—my office, my couch, the waiting room at my doctor’s office, and so on. It’s a perfect example of mLearning, the future (and past) of knowledge development.
Where education can really transform isn’t to double-down on the age-old theories of Jean Piaget and Malcolm Knowles, but to involve mLearning techniques and tools as a way to deliver rigorous, skill-focused supplements to structured eLearning programming
So how does education harness the growing power of mLearning without sacrificing the pedagogical prowess on which eLearning is built? After all, eLearning methodologies don’t necessarily have to be mobile-ready; I would prefer if my doctor’s entire medical degree wasn’t achieved via his/her Samsung Galaxy in between appointments at the DMV. Where education can really transform isn’t to double-down on the age-old theories of Jean Piaget and Malcolm Knowles, but to involve mLearning techniques and tools as a way to deliver rigorous, skill-focused supplements to structured eLearning programming.
Take the DuoLingo example. Using DuoLingo to familiarize myself with Spanish isn’t going to take me to a place where I would add “fluent in Spanish” to my resume. But using the software and the task-focused methodology that is DuoLingo and feeding those achievements and learning segments into a larger curriculum that applies the theoretical, conversational, and socioeconomical theories behind the need for Spanish fluency is a recipe for an impact-making course.
It sounds simple enough, and many instructional models (e.g. competency-based learning, adaptive learning) use similar methodology by delivering skill-based instruction in smaller, more manageable chunks. But mLearning tools take those short, categorical learning opportunities and go further, allowing instructors and developers to embed social functionality into those activities. Integrated discussion threads, authentication through other social applications, and notification settings are just a few of the ways mLearning can not only provide a more flexible and informal way for students to learn, but also help build a community around that learning without forcing them into, as traditional LMS-based courses tend to. Students get to choose their involvement with that community and use it to advance their own learning—personalization of learning without isolation.
Before the information age, if we needed to learn something, we usually just figured it out on the job. mLearning provides anybody with a mobile device to do that. It’s not going to replace eLearning, but it isn’t trying to. Just-in-time support and instruction, which mLearning provides, is becoming more and more embedded into the fabric of business and industry. And higher education needs to systematically leverage it sooner than later. mLearning is not the future of learning. It’s the way we’ve always learned, updated for the 21st century.