“Improved outcomes for all learners” is challenging to define in a rapidly changing world. We all want students to succeed in careers and as individuals who contribute in personally meaningful ways. But what is a career and what defines a contribution in our global and mobile world?
What does mobile learning offer to improve outcomes for all? Mobile technology and connectivity disperses the power of learning across teachers, other experts, students and their parents, moving the teachers’ role from sole source of expertise to learning facilitator. As facilitator, the teacher connects students to the endless possibilities available for enhancing their own learning experiences based on their interests and passions, limited only by the capacity of their creativity.
The challenge for teachers is determining the best way to enable this with carefully designed instruction and guidance so that it is both rigorous and relevant, aligned with both state standards and students’ interests. Mobile learning may allow students to explore on their own, but that does not mean they do not benefit from maps, guidebooks, and the experiences of their predecessors.
Even with common materials, each student will follow a unique path in their explorations. Mobile learning lets students follow, not only their interests, but also the topics of greatest cultural relevance and meaning to them—and do so in ways which match how each student best learns. Mobile learning increases access to education, expands the field of learning, and personalizes the experience for each student.
Mobile learning redefines equity. Equity is often defined as equal access. Personal computing upset this equality of access because not all students had a computer available for their use. Even in the early to mid-2000s, as the Internet age bloomed, equity was not restored. More students had access to computers, but not all also had access to the Internet. Teachers had to face the uncomfortable fact that a percentage of their students could only complete assignments requiring a connected computer during the school day on school computers. By relegating tech-based education to the hours outside of the school day, teachers increased the inequity of their classrooms. Mobile learning, however, brings personal technology into the classroom and school day. Students who rely on school devices are still able to fully participate in the technological aspects of their education. Additionally, mobile learning can be device-agnostic, which allows students to connect with whatever devices their family has available or can afford.
However, mobile learning does more than help restore equal access. It demands that equity mean more. Equity, in a mobile learning environment, means, not just equal access, but equal access to an education that meets students’ needs based on their location, interests, developmental requirements, culture, and more.
Mobile learning addresses learning styles, student cultural identity, and individual learning needs in a way that differentiation and individualization can’t. Mobile students are empowered students. They craft their own learning experiences using multiple modalities. Their creativity shines a bright light on their knowledge and abilities that a teacher-centric lesson or assignment may never reveal. Students approach learning from their own perspective, built by their family, culture, and history. When students direct their learning they include this perspective naturally. This incorporation of students’ cultural values and influences is spontaneous and authentic, creating a rich spectrum of backgrounds and minimizing the possibility of cultural bias.
Mobile technology is frequently accessible in ways traditional learning tools are not. Traditionally, teachers enable access for students. The teacher notices a need and reacts accordingly. Lessons are changed to meet learning levels. Classrooms are re-arranged to accommodate disabilities. The teachers control accessibility measures and accommodations. Mobile technology moves this control to the students. Mobile devices and most websites have accommodations students can access on their own, without having to wait for a teacher to notice and identify the need. Mobile learning is personalized learning, which means meeting every student’s learning needs.
Mobile learning is democratic. Through equity and ubiquitous access, mobile learning levels the playing field for access to participation in the 21st Century economy. Mobile learning can be a de facto “wraparound service” for schools. Wraparound services connect students with support systems to sustain their education, frequently by expanding the school day or leveraging community resources. Models of school turnaround and transformation use extended day and community-based programs to mitigate the factors outside the school day that negatively impact student learning. In the same way, mobile learning practices remove students’ socioeconomic status as a barrier to access to excellent learning content and materials, peer collaboration, and cutting edge instructional practices and tools. Learning and social services support is available via students’ mobile connections outside of the confines of the school building and day.