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.

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Defining digital education

Digital education is when teachers use electronic tools to create, store and process content and information to enhance teaching and learning. It is the teacher’s role to choose the electronic tools and devices that complement their teaching approach. The decision on what digital tools to use to achieve what outcome is an important part of the process of moving towards integrating digital teaching in the classroom. The use of technology in digital education improves the quality of learning through access to digital media such as video clips, online tools (such as interactive assessments) and teacher-specific tools (such as analytics that track learners’ progress). Digital media also provides learners with opportunities to self-study and interact with ideas and topics in new and exciting ways. 

Digital education is not a new phenomenon. For over 25 years teachers have used technology to enhance the learning experience in their classrooms. There is a wealth of information and experience on what works and how to use it. For example, teachers have used video content to show science experiments and documentaries on historical events, CD-ROMs to provide interactive experiences, test banks to assist in the development of classroom assessment and audio CDs to assist with listening and pronunciation. More recently, this digital content has been made available through interactive whiteboards in classrooms. With the advent of the internet and the provision of online access, as well as the ever-increasing availability of affordable devices such as tablets, a variety of digital education options are now available and widespread adoption is expected in coming years.

Learners can interact with digital education tools at their own pace and use these tools in ways that respond to their learning styles. For learners who are exposed to various digital media applications (apps) in their day-to-day lives, digital education tools offer new ways to engage these 21st Century learners, for example through educational strategies such as gamification or approaches such as mobile learning.

Learners using tablets in the classroom

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Mobile learning in Africa: How mobile educational technology benefits learners

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.

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