Cheaper mobile devices coupled with the boom in educational app development means that many learners in developing countries can now access quality educational media outside of the classroom. An increase in mobile access (especially in Nigerian and South African markets) has enabled educational technology businesses and non-profits to broaden education, taking learning to students’ daily commutes and homes.

What is mobile learning?

Mobile learning is education that makes use of mobile devices such as cell phones, smart phones and tablets. As more people gain access to mobile devices (while quality in-classroom education remains less consistently available), learners get additional ways to access and share vital knowledge using mobile devices.

Why is mobile learning useful?

Mobile device ownership in Africa has increased rapidly in recent years. In Ghana, for example, 8% of people polled in 2002 owned cell phones whereas 83% of people (in a similar-sized survey) own cell phones today. This increased access makes mobile learning a useful way to reach a broader segment of learners who may have the capacity and desire to learn but limited, unequal access to classroom education.

In addition to providing increased access, mobile learning has multiple benefits:

  • Usability: Mobile-owning learners know how to use their devices, thus the barrier to learning how to use new mobile educational technology is low
  • Access: Learners can access lessons and learning feedback anywhere using their devices: During commutes, for example, and at home
  • Instant feedback: Learners can receive instant feedback such as grading of questions without being dependant on teachers
  • Personalized learning: Mobile lessons can be tailored to individuals’ academic strengths and weaknesses, providing educational supplementation that helps to fill any crucial gaps in learning

Why is mobile learning a good choice of educational technology in Africa?

In many African countries, landline ownership is minimal and learners do not have access to broadband internet. Mobile devices, however, provide connectivity and the possibility for online and social learning (as well as text-service learning for learners whose households do not own a smart phone).

Mobile communication in Africa enables teachers, parents and learners to share knowledge and develop stronger educational frameworks. The UN’s mobile learning specialist Steve Vosloo claims ‘mobiles are streamlining education administration and improving communication between schools, teachers and parents’.

What can educators achieve using mobile learning?

There are multiple ways to use mobile learning: Packages of educational content along with assessment can be delivered via phone. Learners can also engage socially using educational apps, sharing knowledge in a mutually beneficial, collaborative digital environment. Educators can also use ‘gamification’ –  making lessons more engaging by using gaming principles in design –  with mobile devices.

Examples of effective mobile learning ventures in Africa

ReKindle Learning, founded by ed-tech entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana, works to improve education in Africa using mobile technology. One tool ReKindle has developed is KnowledgeFox which ReKindle describes as an ‘adaptive learning tool that ensures personalised reinforcement of learning in a wide range of academic and organisational learning areas.’ Adaptive learning makes use of data generated by the learner when using the platform. This versatile framework has been developed not only for providing assistance in academic subjects but also for process and systems training and professional skills development.

Another effective mobile learning venture is Rethink Education. The ed-tech business uses mobile platforms to improve access to education with the mission of giving learners equal access to education, anywhere. Mobile learning tools by Rethink include an app providing maths and science support for Grade 8 to 12 learners. Learners are able to work through the full high school maths and science curriculum using Rethink’s app, and educators can also customize existing app frameworks to serve their educational institutions’ needs.