Learning with mobile devices

A comparison of four mobile learning pilots in Africa

For the past few years, I have been involved in several projects aimed at delivering education via mobile devices. These include providing local language (for many African languages) children’s reading books to Worldreader for distribution on feature phones, developing a bilingual maths dictionary Android app for isiXhosa learners, and supporting the Gauteng Education Department’s Paperless Classroom digital rollout by providing textbooks on tablets via the Snapplify e-reader. These projects all involved repurposing existing print material for use on a mobile device, so I was very interested in reading Shafika Isaacs, Nicky Roberts and Garth Spencer-Smith’s recent paper (in the South African Journal of Education) where they compared four mobile learning projects across Africa.

The paper looks at:

ukuFUNda Virtual School, a collaboration between UNICEF, the South African Department of Education and the Reach Trust, used Mxit, an existing social network application, to deliver educational content and psychosocial support to learners and teachers in secondary school. Initially designed for feature phones, Mxit could be accessed on several devices. ICT4RED was a tablet-based initiative, providing devices and training on integrating ICT in the classroom to teachers in the Cofimvaba district of the Eastern Cape, South Africa resulting in ‘a change in the way 350 teachers (in 26 schools) applied technology and teaching strategies to support their teaching and learning and to improve their 21st century teaching skills’. The PRIMR project involved providing e-readers to learners and tablets and instructional material to teachers in Kisumu County to see if reading and mathematical skills were improved with this technological intervention. The Nokia MoMaths project provided a free maths practice platform via a browser to secondary school learners in South Africa, with over 10000 exercises available. These four m-learning projects were situated within a resource-challenged K-12 formal school setting, targeting disadvantaged education communities.

Isaacs et al. ‘s paper evaluated the four projects using both the mobile learning affordances and mobile learning configurations conceptual frameworks.

M-Learning Affordances

Adapted from Isaacs et al. ‘s Learning with mobile devices: A comparison of four mobile learning pilots in Africa

Six ways in which mobile learning technologies enhance learning:

  1. accessibility, which is access to learning opportunities, reference materials, experts/mentors, other learners
  2. immediacy, which is on-demand learning, realtime communication and data sharing, situated learning
  3. individualisation, which is bite-sized learning on familiar devices, promotion of active learning and a more personalised experience
  4. intelligence, which is advanced features making learning more productive through context-aware features, data capture, multimedia
  5. big data, which is large and complex data sets collected from user information
  6. context management, which is delivering content appropriate to the learner’s goals, situation, and resources

For all four projects the accessibility affordance ranked highest – they were providing digital educational resources to communities that needed them. Other affordances such as big data and immediacy were not a priority while individualisation, intelligence and context management were low-ranked.

M-Learning Configurations

Adapted from Isaacs et al. ‘s Learning with mobile devices: A comparison of four mobile learning pilots in Africa

Six spectra which provide a variety of approaches to mobile learning:

  1. learning spectrum which ranges from formal (in class, in school) to informal (out-of-school but formal learning, and/or informal learning for pleasure or entertainment)
  2. kinetic spectrum which ranges from the learners being stationary to being mobile;
  3. collaborative spectrum from individual to collaborative
  4. access spectrum about the availability of devices
  5. affordability related to user costs, including subscription and data costs
  6. pedagogy” spectrum which articulated the approach to learning

In terms of the learning spectrum, the ukuFUNda Virtual School and MoMath were informal (used out-of-school) but supported formal learning, including academic support. PRIMR was focused on formal education in classrooms while ICT4RED encouraged professional teacher learning formally in workshops, and informally, on their own beyond the classroom and training sessions. The ukuFUNda Virtual School and MoMath services were mobile on the kinetic spectrum, while PRIMR were used in the classroom. ICT4RED was both mobile and stationary in its approach. When it came to collaboration, ukuFUNda Virtual School and MoMath were geared towards individual use while ICT4RED and PRIMR were more collaborative. When it came to affordability, all services were free to the users, but ukuFUNda Virtual School required the user to purchase their data while MoMath was zero-rated (no data charges) by the mobile network operators. When it came to pedagogy, ukuFUNda Virtual School did not follow a standard approach as they relied on individual applications with their paths to deliver educational content. The other projects had structured, detailed pedagogy.

Full paper with all findings freely available at the South African Journal of Education.

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