I am a sort of pseudo-technophile. I don’t champion it all that often as I have always been of the belief that technology equates to utility so if the utility doesn’t become apparent in a few heartbeats, I generally discard it. That being said, I do maintain a hefty dose of social media channels, dabble in Second Life (which has a lot more utility than I initially thought), love my podcasting/video tools, but I am most excited (academically giddy) with the possibility of mobile learning, of using mobile devices to achieve that desired goal of lifelong learning.

However, mobile learning generally is the black sheep of the classroom>elearning>mlearning continuum precisely because it is so far off the pedagogical radar. It disentangles foundational curriculum and takes learning out into the streets, like a Parisian mob (it was Bastille Day the other day; apologies for the reference). Learning with a phone? Sending shivers down institutional spines the world over.

But it is the future and there is no escaping it. It just a matter of wrapping our mind the cognitive realities of learning without the disconnect between life and the object of learning (when life becomes the object of learning). To understand the pitfalls, the natural rhythms, the paths to cognitive development. Learning as a social mass with tools all the masses use: mobile phones. There are approximately 6.7 billion on the planet and 1.6 billion of those are connected to the internet. However, there are more than 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions. An extra few billion we can educate. Be sure to check out this site as it offers a brilliant mobile taxonomy that can be quite useful for institutions considering offering a mobile suite of educational services.

Mobile learning can be ubiquitous and now, as far as I can see it, it can be seamless. Welcome to Layar, an iPhone/Android app that allows you to layer information over reality (as seen through your phone). The video does a good job as a proof of concept and offers a good use case so I won’t spend too much time going into my own.


Teachers out there, if you aren’t thinking about how this can be used for learning, then you should be. Not because it is the cutting edge/flavor of the month/shiny new object that all the kids are playing with, but rather because of the utility it affords the learning process. It offers a thousand more chances for people to learn in the course of their daily life. Why bother with the abstraction/disconnect of the classroom conversation and the real life experience? Cement that conceptual understanding with reality. Immediately.

If someone doesn’t know they are learning, can it be considered valid? Can it be benchmarked and measured as progress? Of course. A hungry, eager, active learner is a lifelong one, one naturally predisposed to seek the information that satisfies their need, their knowledge gap. Mobile applications like these immediately clear the debris from that path to self-actualization by combining the object of study with the study itself. Relatively seamlessly as well.

OK, I couldn’t help myself. Here is the mobile taxonomy from the eLearning Roadtrip blog.

Mobile services taxonomy. There is more depth that can be thought possible. But where does higher order learning fit in?

Now, let’s do a quick bit of future-esque imagining. The mobile, like the laptop before it, has unstrapped the learner from the confines of location. Free to roam from place to place, to interact with reality, to reference information to satisfy needs, to do this all in motion, within the context of our daily lives. With Layar it is approaching seamlessness, the technical and waking reality converging as filters. But there is a next step that could be had. Imagine the technology being absolutely embedded within the waking life. Imagine a technology that was borderline invisible it was so well integrated. Imagine learning with this technology as an extension of self. Not like a cyborg, although my mind went to some Hollywood futuristic doomsday scenario as well.

The technology bends to you and allows your natural learning impulses to be exploited for greater cognitive development. Watch this video from Nokia about Morph, a proof of concept for nanotechnology, and consider the possibilities. Is technology driving the learning process? Perhaps, if only by unlocking means of channeling our natural energies into discovery. But we shouldn’t be afraid. It is not a threat, just an augmentation. Of learning, of reality. Besides, it certainly isn’t going anywhere.


By Michael Gallagher

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.