Technology has been used in the classroom for decades now. But with the advent of cloud computing and the proliferation of smaller, more portable computers and Internet-capable devices, it's now possible to bring the classroom into the technology instead. Mobile learning, focuses on learning through mobile devices, allowing learners to move about in a classroom or remotely learn from the location of their choice. The movement has gained a lot of steam in recent years, and despite some criticisms, isn't likely to fade fast – especially as new technologies that make mobile learning more practical continue to emerge and the popularity of remote learning opportunities like online colleges continue to grow.
While the applications of mobile learning are growing all the time, Online College has highlighted some of the major trends here, showing the changes in how we teach, learn and interact in educational environments.
- Location-based integration. Mobile learning has taken to the streets, with technologies that allow for seamless integration with a wide range of locations. One of the best uses of this technology has been within museums, where visitors can use a mobile device to listen to information about items in the museum's collection. The American Museum of Natural History in New York is one museum with an especially rich mobile tool, guiding users turn-by-turn to the best pieces in the museum's collection and enhancing the experience of visiting. Of course, mobile integration isn't just for museums. Some colleges are using it to create high-tech tours for visiting students and their families. With millions of smartphone users and the number growing larger each year, this trend is likely to grow as more businesses and organizations work to enrich the patron experience.
- The domination of ebooks. Amazon is one of the biggest retailers of books, but in the past year, their sales of ebooks has outstripped that of traditional books. The same holds true for bookselling giant Barnes and Noble. The ebook is steadily becoming a popular part of everyday life for many Americans, and the digital book is slowly making its way into the classroom as well. Some states, like California, have proposed replacing student textbooks with ebooks. Not only could it be a big money saver, it may help eliminate the problem of student textbooks becoming quickly outdated as new discoveries are made, something every teacher and child can appreciate.
- Cloud computing in schools. Cloud computing is a big buzzword these days, with tech companies like Microsoft and Apple pushing their devices and applications — and schools haven't ignored the hype. Schools are increasingly looking to cloud computing as a way to provide access to information and to close budget gaps. An inexpensive solution, cloud computing is becoming the norm everywhere from grade schools to grad schools, perhaps because it is not only simple to use, but mobile as well. Information on the cloud, whether for lesson plans or class projects, can be accessed from anywhere, anytime and on any mobile device. In an increasingly mobile world and classroom, cloud computing is more than just a trend, and is likely to become the standard in information management over the next decade.
- Bring-your-own-device classrooms. Since most kids these days already have access to a mobile device, schools are seizing the opportunity to turn these gadgets from distractions into learning tools by incorporating these devices into classroom lessons and projects. From mobile phones to laptop computers, teachers and students are increasingly bringing technology to the classroom, and in many school districts, it's being put to good use. Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of one-to-one computing programs in raising test scores and increasing college attendance, but with many districts strapped for cash and unable to provide devices for each student, this isn't always a possibility. The solution may be found in asking students to bring their own devices to class, cutting back on the number of mobile devices the school needs to provide while still enhancing the learning experience.
- Online collaborative learning. There aren't a lot of places these days that are devoid of an Internet connection, and many people can now access the web from, well, anywhere they can get a cell phone signal. Schools are embracing the web as a learning tool in a variety of ways, but one particularly exciting one has been the growth of online collaborative learning. This can mean a variety of things, but in many cases it involves students each participating in a project on the web. Numerous classrooms have taken to collaboratively blogging about projects and ideas in the classroom. Others have produced their own podcasts. Still others ask students to work together to create a multimedia website. These kinds of projects not only help students learn to work together, but educate them on technological tools they'll need to use in their academic and professional lives. The popularity of these kinds of lessons isn't likely to fade anytime soon.
- The rise of the tablet. Tablet computers come in many shapes and sizes, but as they grow smaller and more portable, they are becoming a fairly common addition to the American classroom. The iPad has been one such tablet device that has shown a lot of popularity and promise in recent years in the classroom. Great for doing everything from studying the periodic table to playing educational games, the app-based device has been a big trend in schools across the nation, with many shelling out millions to provide students with access to the devices. While some debate the effectiveness of tablet computers as a learning tool, experimentation with them in the classroom has had largely positive results from both teachers and students.
- Online class management. Online class management systems like Moodle and Blackboard have grown exponentially in their number of users in recent years. Part of the popularity stems from the ability to not only access and update student records from a computer, but from mobile devices like a phone or an iPad as well. Students, teachers and parents alike can easily check grades, upload assignments and check on homework through the assessment tools, making them not only more accessible, but more practical for anyone involved in the educational process.
- Social media for education. When it was first created, Facebook was solely a place for students to connect with one another. Today, just about everyone has a profile on the site, and it's being used for a lot more than just rehashing weekend parties. In fact, many educators have begun using it as a way to connect with students, spark discussion and relay important assignment information. With the majority of college students able to access the site from their phones or other mobile devices, students have no excuse not to get involved in class, no matter where they are or how busy they may be. While social media in education is still tricky territory, as sites like Twitter and Facebook evolve, the ways they're used in the classroom will likely become more refined and potentially more powerful in creating a better educational experience.
- Snack learning. One of the criticisms of the digital generation is that they have short attention spans. However true or untrue this may be, educators are taking note and developing learning tools that offer up snack sized bits of learning for students on the go. These single-serve educational bites may make it easier for students to tackle the ever-increasing amount of information they need to know, from mastering a programming language to learning the basics of American history and just about everything in between. Mobile devices are a perfect extension of this concept, allowing learners to engage in short bursts of learning while waiting in line, on the bus or sitting on the couch.
- Mobile learning in workplace training. Mobile learning isn't just catching on in schools and colleges, it's also becoming a part of the workplace training experience as well, providing information and a new format for testing understanding. With many businesses already supplying workers with smartphones for work, it makes sense to get the most out of these devices as possible. One way companies are doing this is by having experts share their expertise, either through blogs or a series of podcasts. Additionally, mobile devices are an excellent source of reference information should an employee ever encounter a situation with which he or she isn't familiar. Performance support for employees can help reinforce their training and make for a stronger more confident workforce– something every business is undoubtedly looking to establish.