Mobile learning has been promoted as a massive up and coming phenomenon now for so long that you could be forgiven for being cynical; uptake for educational purposes has been very slow. However the devices and applications are getting so sophisticated that I’ve come round to the view that before long many learners will be carrying out significant parts of their studies using smartphones – and that we need to start preparing for that now.
In Japan more people access the Web from phones than from PCs (see Techcrunch article) and there are reports (see eg Wired) that a large proportion of Japanese are content with just a cellphone and don’t even want a PC. I find web browsing, even with the iPhone’s excellent user interface, clunky. You can zoom in on parts of the screen with ease but all that moving about to try to get to grips with the entire contents of a web page is tiresome.
Sites formated for mobile devices like that of the BBC are far more satisfactory, and we are currently doing something similar for course websites at the Open University. This is great for administrative aspects of courses such as checking your exam results or course calendar but much of our learning content is in the form of long texts. I am particularly interested in whether it is feasible to read large amounts of text from the relatively small screen of your iPhone or Blackberry. To this end I started reading a book using the free Stanza application on my iPhone. Here are my initial thoughts:
Advantages of reading texts on smartphones
There are of course many advantages to digital texts in general as opposed to paper, such as:
But it’s not all roses. You probably like books if you grew up with them like I did and here are some reasons why they’re better:
As people become more comfortable with reading from small mobile devices they will inevitably buy fewer books in the same way they’re buying fewer CDs and more mp3s. The price differential is likely to be huge. Paper books are certainly going to remain available for those who wish to pay for them. For those comfortable with reading from mobile phones it may seem an unnecessary luxury to spend £10 on a paper book when you can have the electronic version instantly in your pocket for £1 or less. Whether I (and the rest of my generation) can ever be completely comfortable reading in this way remains to be seen but I’m certainly going to persist with it. And for relatively small chunks of reading I have no doubt that this is going to be a popular way to learn.