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Mobile learning: Training on the move


Bob Little reports on recent developments in delivering learning via mobile technology.
The development and increasing spread of mobile technology is not just changing how we access information and communicate. It is also encouraging greater use of this technology to deliver learning materials.
In turn, this is turning the 'course' and even the more granular 'modules' into learning apps. The growing trend is for these to be accessed as performance support tools and used for informal learning as much as for formal learning.
Nonetheless, in recent months, two formal learning projects have pushed back the boundaries of mobile training around the world – and one has been commended by the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.
In a proclamation made at the end of December last year, President Obama said: "Our nation was founded on the enduring principles of equality and freedom for all...yet, around the world and even within the United States, victims of modern slavery are deprived of the most basic right of freedom...we cannot strengthen global efforts to end modern slavery without first accepting the responsibility to prevent, identify, and aggressively combat this crime at home...I urge all Americans to educate themselves about all forms of modern slavery and the signs and consequences of human trafficking."
"The growing trend is for [learning apps] to be accessed as performance support tools and used for informal learning as much as for formal learning."
The US Department of Defense (DoD) is doing its bit to comply with this by using mobile training to help its personnel around the world learn about the dangers of human trafficking.
In October 2005, recognising it as a contributing factor to sex trafficking, patronising prostitution was made a specific, chargeable offence for US service personnel under Article 134 of the US military's statutory criminal law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Since then, America's military personnel have had access to elearning materials on 'trafficking in persons' (TIP) - but only some 60% of these people have completed this course.
In a bid to improve the TIP completion rate, the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative organised a pilot learning programme delivered via mobile devices. Among other things, this mobile training aimed to showcase the efficiency of mobile learning in targeting just-in-time and on-the-field training needs for DoD staff.
Some months before all this, the University of Ibadan – one of Nigeria's foremost universities – began using mobile phones to deliver formal learning to its students.
The key significance of this move is that the University has by-passed desktop and laptop computers as a delivery mechanism. Instead, it is opting to deliver these elearning materials, along with assessment tests, to students' mobile phones. Its reasoning is that more students have mobile phones than have access to (reliable) computers and today's mobile phones have the capacity to deliver sophisticated, multimedia-based learning materials.
According to the university, making these learning materials available via mobile phones produces a number of benefits for students, teachers and administrators, including:
  • The ease with which tests, quizzes and surveys can be distributed and the results gathered and analysed
  • Potentially continuous interaction in real time between the teacher and student, as well as among students, via the forum and chat room options
  • The ease with which notifications of events, deadlines, timetables and exam timetables can be sent to each student
  • Books can be accessed via mobile phone at some 10 - 15% of the cost of supplying hard copies.
In this project, the University of Ibadan partnered with teaching and testing specialist, the Educational Advancement Center (EAC) along with eXact Learning Solutions, a digital repository solution provider which specialises in developing mobile learning solutions and content. eXact developed a system that delivers the required learning materials via mobile phones from its LCMS infrastructure.
"Apart from providing an outstanding learning tool to students, the University of Ibadan is providing a cost-effective communication tool on campus - which can be tracked," said Muyiwa Bamgbose, the CEO of EAC.
Carin Martell, of eXact, explained: "In Nigeria – and, indeed, in other parts of Africa – some people are 'technology shy'; others can't afford a computer, and many more can't even find one to use. Moreover, erratic and inadequate power supplies, allied to unreliable and inadequate internet facilities, contribute to inefficiencies when it comes to using computers to deliver elearning.
"On the other hand, 1.5 billion people all over the world - and some 80 million people in Nigeria - have mobile phones. In effect, these are powerful computers which provide an ideal delivery mechanism for learning materials," she added.
"Moreover, these pocket sized computers are nearly 'always on' – and that means that they can deliver learning materials anywhere, as and when required. And, because of their design, mobile phones are automatically able to handle audio, pictures and video of good quality – thereby creating powerful tutorial materials.
"This not only makes it easier to deliver the learning materials to the University of Ibadan's students as and when needed, but it also makes the management of that learning easier, more efficient and more effective.
"Student activities can be monitored – in terms of who has studied which learning materials sent – and the results copied to teachers, administrators and parents, as necessary, via email or SMS," she said. "In addition, the University can send tests, quizzes and surveys as a broadcast to as many students as necessary at the same cost as sending them to just one student – and the results are collated automatically."
For over 20 years, Bob Little has specialised in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning – especially e-learning – and technology-related subjects. His work is published in the UK, Continental Europe, the USA, Australia and (remarkably) elsewhere too. He blogs at His website is You can contact Bob via [email protected]

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