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Defining mLearning ad nauseum: my evolving take

If you have studied mobile learning in the academic literature, it is a field fixated on defining itself which suggests, perhaps, some structural flaws in its own rendering. Every paper begins more or less with a definition of what mobile learning is, which doesn’t seem to be the case with more mature fields. The issue is that mobile learning is a mature field; it has been around for a few decades now. The literature just doesn’t reflect that with its preponderance on acceptance models, granular observations at specific sites with little generalization, and little underlying theory.

I have always supported a definition of mobile learning that moves beyond the normal tropes of anytime, anywhere configuration and into something a bit more cognitive. I have mentioned it before here on this blog and it keeps evolving so I will keep sharing it. Parts of this are borrowed directly from Sharples and other figures from the mlearning literature and parts are my own.

Mobile Learning is defined as follows:

  • Learning that occurs across multiple contexts, amongst people, and interactive technologies.
  • Learning that encapsulates public and private processes and high and low states of transactional distance; activity will flux between working alone and working in groups as well as towards and away from the organization.
  • Learning that is mobile in material, physical, and cognitive forms.
    • If there is no transformation of your understanding or your capacity for perception, there is no mobile learning.
    • If there is no negotiation of your body’s interaction with the lived world, there is no mobile learning.
    • If there is no interaction with material, however defined, there is no mobile learning.

Mobile learning by Jennifer Gallagher

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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