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Masters of Learning

I had the delightful privilege of moderating the FETC Virtual Conference this past May. (If you missed it, the proceedings are available on demand through July 28 at fetc.org/events/virtual-conference.)

One of the events was a Q & A with Elliot Soloway, of the University of Michigan, and Cathleen Norris, of the University of North Texas, regarding their mobile learning research initiatives. Their strong contention is that students will bring their mobile phones to school to learn--and it will happen a lot sooner than we think. It's inevitable, they say, and educators need to get with the picture.

I've been in educational technology for 25 years, and I've seen every manner of technology touted as the tool that will change the face of education. And as far as I can tell, nothing to date has beaten the ballpoint pen for its transformative effects on learning: a cheap, portable, cross-platform communication device that requires no training or upkeep.

Oh, wait a minute. Did I just describe a pen or a mobile phone?

I don't have a whit of hard evidence to back up my feelings about mobile learning, and I hate it when people use an "N" of 1 to support their hypotheses, but I'm going to do it anyway. When my 9-year-old granddaughter comes over to my house, she wants my Droid. She doesn't want my big, beautiful iMac. She doesn't want my sleek, lithe MacBook Air. She doesn't want TV (which is strictly limited at her house). She wants my phone to download puzzle games that she can play with a sense of ownership that I have come to believe is not a passing fad.

Mobile learning devices are also going to do what schools, governments, foundations, and technology companies have not yet been able to do: close the digital divide. With the cost of such devices dropping precipitously every day, there's no reason that every child can't have a hand-sized mobile computer to use at home, at school, on the bus, in the playground, and every place else in between. Schools will be able to buy the devices for the children whose families can't afford them. And technology companies will compete with each other to sell a common learning interface that will work across all phone platforms, so that teachers don't have to worry about which kind of phone a student owns.

Yes, there are challenges to bringing mobile phones into the classroom, but aren't we up to them? Soloway and Norris have already figured a few things out in their research (turn off texting and voice in school, for example). But these problems are trivial compared to the potential payoff: a continuous, ubiquitous learning environment in which every student can feel like the master of his or her own learning.

Continue the conversation. E-mail me at tmageau@1105media.com.

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at therese@educationworksconsulting.com.

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