Having almost been stationed in Mongolia for the Peace Corps back in my youth, I now return my focus to Mongolia, that land of the Asiatic Steppe. I think of how mlearning can accelerate development in an area that seems about poised to do so (that is develop significantly). And once again how to bridge a nomadic culture into a knowledge disseminating one. How mobile can mitigate distance and the lack of population density. How to harness the knowledge potential a literate society with good pedagogical frameworks and, if the situation demands, a pinch of ICT. All of this was inspired by a recent conversation with a mentor and stumbling across this presentation from We Are Social

There is plenty to latch onto here from this presentation and a little bit of cursory research to supplement this paints a bit of a picture, one of opportunity to both develop Mongolia in terms of higher education and retain its cultural nomadism (nomadism remains, at the very least, a cultural touchstone). The presentation can be found at the bottom of this post. 

This presentation, along with some cursory statistics for Mongolia taken from some UN statistics on developing nations, brings us this snapshot:

  • 88% mobile penetration 
  • 36% of population below the age of 14
  • Most sparsely populated country on earth: 1.76 per square kilometer
  • Heavy Chinese cloud investment
  • High literacy rate: 97.5%
  • 30% is nomadic or semi-nomadic
  • Internet users grown by only 20,000 per year since 2005 

So, we see a highly literate (at least reported literacy) and increasingly mobile, very young, and highly dispersed population. We see major technological investment (China) in supporting technologies for mobile and very little impetus for improving fixed line, bandwidth, or non-mobile connectivity due to both geographical distances and a sparse population. Surprising to me, we see continued and considerable evidence of a nomadic populace, a populace presumably reasonably equipped with mobile technology.  

For the purposes of mlearning for higher education, there is also a very limited pool of universities, making mlearning certainly feasible in terms of scope and scale. Several of these are discipline oriented or considerably specialized, making a project looking to create communities of practice for specific disciplines all the easier. Further, you have one governing consortium for all the universities, the Consortium of Mongolian Universities and Colleges-CMUC), another natural conduit for funneling these activities through (ideally as it begins to scale out from one project). Some of the representative CMUC members include the following:

  • Defense University of Mongolia
  • Mongolia National University
  • Mongolian University of Culture and Art
  • Mongolia University of Education
  • Mongolian Academy of Sciences
  • Mongolian University of Science and Technology
  • Mongolia International University
  • Mongolian Technical University
  • Mongolian Business Institute
  • Construction Technology College 

Essentially, you are working with a good combination of saturated technology (mobile), high literacy, a limited educational conduit to filter all pedagogy and learning environments through (higher education), and a highly dispersed and extremely young populace. This has all the makings of a good pilot or two for mlearningat the very least. 

Yet there are legitimate concerns over how ICT in this instance can affect nomadic cultures. My thoughts are that mobile in this instance will amplify connections, voices, and perhaps even give nomadic peoples a greater voice. For higher education, I suspect this could lead to greater rates of inclusion for nomadic peoples in formal learning programs. But there is ultimately a danger, a danger that increased connectivity can bring. The danger (danger to nomadic cultures) of migrating towards sedentary lifestyles, towards the trappings of modern life, to break with the past. These are real dangers and so any project would have to proceed cautiously. However, mobile offers a tool, some potential for an evolving nomadic culture to contribute on their own terms. The presentation can be found below. 

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.

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