Tag Archives: distance education

Global Mobile Learning

Mobile Learning…for the World

By Mark Sivy, Ed.D.

UNESCO and UN Women held the global Mobile Learning Week 2015 this past February. The purpose of this annual meeting is to bring together an international group of practitioners, researchers, and other stakeholders for the purpose of promoting mobile technologies as a means to advance education. This year’s theme of Leveraging Technology to Empower Women and Girls focused on how “with appropriate implementation and training, mobile technology can open doors of opportunity to women and girls who are often under-served educational.” According to the event description, the symposium explored “how newly affordable and increasingly ubiquitous mobile devices can improve access to education, strengthen learning outcomes and, ultimately, nudge the world closer to true gender equality, both in education and beyond.”


Why Mobile Learning?

Mobile learning is playing an increasingly important role in international training, talent development, and education processes by providing the means for convenient learning using a broad range of mobile devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, and smartphones) at a time and location of the learner’s choice. Mobile learning can provide personalized learning advantages to younger learners and can facilitate many aspects of the flipped learning space. When offering learning opportunities for young adults and adults, mobile learning provides such advantages as access to on-demand content, self-directed learning, and the individualized incorporation of new knowledge with existing experience.


To fully understand mobile learning, a common definition is necessary. Finding this is as elusive as a definition for many other contemporary terms such as e-learning, virtual learning, and web-based learning. A good generally applicable definition for mobile learning can be developed from. So mobile learning, based upon the 2008 Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) description of educational technology, can be comprehensively explained as “the study and practice of facilitating learning and improving human performance through various mobile contexts and interactions by creating, using, and managing appropriate technologies, learning processes, and resources.” From this definition, one can see that mobile learning is a complex relationship between multiple components, including:

  • Study – having knowledge of learning theory and research that are associated with the use of educational technologies.
  • Various Contexts and Interactions – these can provide abundant learning opportunities, but also present many of the unknowns, barriers and issues that can arise.
  • Ethical Practice – increasing the likelihood of attaining intended learning outcomes by being responsible, maintaining a respect for of learner abilities and progress, applying appropriate methodologies, and using principled intentionality when innovating.
  • Appropriate Technological and Educational Processes and Resources – even with a valid need guiding the selection of technology and instructional methodology, the combined implementation can sometimes result in instructional complications and learning issues if the overall strategies are not well-planned.

mobile learning

Making It Work

Mobile learning can facilitate and leverage processes such as innovation, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, productivity, and leadership, but is dependent upon addressing many factors. The implementation of a mobile learning strategy should be guided by learner needs, the available capacities to design and provide exceptional learning content, and learner access to the Internet and mobile devices. Properly trained IT staff are needed for the installation, maintenance, and administration of back-end systems. Talent development is necessary to prepare instructors to produce learning through positive and engaging experiences. Finally, mobile learners need understandable guidelines and readily available support.

Reflection Point: “If you could kick the person in the pants [who is] responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”   ~ Theodore Roosevelt



Association for Educational Communications and Technology (2008). Definition. In A. Januszewski and M. Molenda (Eds.), Educational Technology: A definition with commentary. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Learning at a Distance


by Mark Sivy

In beginning to understand the current status of learning-at-a-distance, I thought a good starting point would be to offer a brief personal perspective on its evolution. During my professional and academic journeys, I‘ve come across a wide range of definitions and uses for terminology associated with learning at-a-distance. At times this has led to misunderstandings, confusion, and even the use of less than optimal teaching practices that result in poor learning outcomes. So based upon my experiences, I’ll give three general stages that have occurred in the evolution of learning at-a-distance, each being described by my views on what they involve in terms of the instructor, learner, and medium. The loosely defined time periods are based upon the years when the given methods of teaching and learning were fairly well rooted.


Distance Education – Web 1.0 (before 1994)

Distance education can be traced back to colonial America in a reference made to a mail-based correspondence course found in an advertisement in the March 20, 1728 issue of the Boston Gazette. It stated that “Persons in the Country desirous to Learn this Art [shorthand], may by having the several Lessons sent weekly to them, be as perfectly instructed as those that live in Boston”. Mail correspondence continued to be the medium of choice until evidence of technology-enhanced distance education began to appear in the early 1900s when educators began using inventions such as the radio, slide projector, motion picture, and television to produce learning.

Classic distance education used a course-centered approach to teaching in which subject matter was prescribed to the student. Delivery of content was very often via audio, readings, and viewings of video-based materials and lessons. Exchanges between teachers and students are often via mail, e-mail, and phone conversations. Communication and learning are primarily unidirectional, from the instructor.


Online Education – Web 2.0 (~1994-2009)

PLATOThe application of modern digital technology to education was first noted with the use of computers to form an organized and connected system of learning known as PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) in 1960 at the University of Illinois. Then in 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee’s efforts gave us the World Wide Web, the digital facilitation of web-based education was born.

This form of online learning is produced through student-centered methods of education. Websites and course management systems along with web-meeting applications are frequently implemented. Interactions between teachers and students are most frequently via e-mail and learning management systems. Communication and learning are typically bi-directional between the teacher and student, with some interaction between students.


Virtual Learning Environments – Web 3.0 (~2009 and beyond)

Through the development of new learning theories, technologies, and instructional systems practices, online education has evolved to become a more complex integrated system consisting of multiple learning strategies. This includes combining the benefits of such items as social media, virtual learning management systems, modern instructional design, mobile learning, semantic web principles, digital design, and gamification.

Web 3.0

Virtual learning environments embrace a community and context-centered philosophy through which there is the observation, discovery and synthesis of knowledge and skills via participation and shared learning. In addition to e-mail and learning management systems, participation and learning occur online via social learning and networking tools, collaboration tools and virtual environments, thus incorporating the benefits of interactivity and virtual presence. Communication and learning are multi-directional with the majority of this occurring among students. The needs for personal flexibility and mobility are addressed.

Reflection Point – “Web 3.0 will be the ‘intelligent web’. Apps are getting smarter, because data is getting smarter.” ~Nova Spivak