Can mobile technologies help achieve learning for all?
Mobile learning offers a path for improving education quality and learning outcomes, as well as educational access and equity.
UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week 2016 has shown the vast potential of mobile technologies for improving learning. Mobile learning refers to the personal use of mobile devices—particularly smartphones—to access digital content and applications with learning purposes. Mobile learning may occur during formal instructional time (during school lessons, for instance) or in informal settings (as when doing homework or participating in e-learning courses). Mobile learning allows for a personalized learning experience anytime, anywhere.
The contribution of mobile learning to ensure Quality Learning Opportunities for All
The Education 2030 Framework for Action, the internationally agreed plan for implementing Sustainable Development Goal 4, specifically calls on countries to harness information and communication technology (ICT) to ‘promote quality and effective learning’.
Mobile technologies can improve learning by enabling young people to learn on their own using Internet resources or special educational applications. They can also give students online access to skilled and knowledgeable teachers and high-quality e-courses. They have the potential to transform teaching methods within the classroom, though this is often not fully realized, by giving students direct access to information and allowing teachers to play more of a guiding role in a student-driven learning process. Mobile learning initiatives promote digital literacy, in a global context where digital skills are increasingly essential for accessing information and benefitting from economic opportunities.
Mobile devices can also be used to provide hard-to-reach populations with better access to quality education.
In short, mobile learning represents a possible game changer for the transformation of education—provided that an enabling environment exists. Its potential is dependent on good connectivity to the internet; on hardware that can render educational content usable and dynamic; on the affordability of connectivity and hardware to the underprivileged, who can arguably benefit most from the opportunities made available through mobile learning; and on effective training of teachers to make use of the technologies.
Creating enabling environments for mobile learning
What policy approaches are needed to ensure that mobile technologies promote quality learning for all?
1. Put education needs first. Policies intended to promote the use of digital technologies should have education objectives and outcomes as priority number one. Policies should not focus blindly on providing access to technology equipment, but rather on serving the real needs of teachers and students, in classrooms or out of school. Mobile technology is a tool in a repertoire of other tools that may or may not be the most adequate solution to address specific educational needs and challenges.
2. Use mobile learning strategically. Governments need to think strategically about how to benefit from mobile learning, including how it could enhance access to education in remote areas, how it could contribute to the development of digital skills, and under which conditions it could spur innovations that may transform education. Rather than having separate strategies, mobile learning should be embedded into wider education quality improvement plans.
3. Empower teachers as a precondition for success. Mobile learning policies have to first target the empowerment of teachers through the development of their professional capacities and skills to effectively use mobile technologies for instruction. Training, however, is not enough. Governments should provide teachers with an appropriate working environment that rewards meaningful innovation efforts, provides support, and contributes to the development of teacher professional communities.
4. Leverage existing investments. Governments should take stock of ongoing initiatives and past experiences in technology in education to avoid duplicating efforts or repeating past mistakes. Drawing on what exists, either in classrooms or in the pockets of students, will always pay off; investments in mobile learning work better if they are well-orchestrated with already available resources such as in BYOD policies (“Bring Your Own Device”).
5. Ensure long-term commitments to broadband connectivity, making the Internet universal, affordable, open for educational use, and safe. Schools and universities should be connected as a first step in the journey to universal connectivity. It is at schools that connectivity is likely to pay the greatest dividends; where a measure of equity can be assured for students who do not have connectivity at home.
6. Promote inter-sectoral cooperation. Governments should endorse cooperation between ministries in mobile learning and, more generally, in all policy work focused on empowering digital development. In particular, in the case of education, inter-sectoral cooperation involving ministries of technology or communications, education, higher education and quite often the regulators, should be based on the principle that ministries of education take the lead. In countries where local authorities have relevant responsibilities in education their participation should also be ensured as to make vertical coordination equally feasible.
For more policy recommendations, see the UNESCO-ITU policy note Mobile Learning: Innovating to Provide Quality Learning for All.
Cases to learn from
While many high-income countries have made advances in mobile learning, there are many more interesting policies and programmes underway in the developing world. Kenya and Costa Rica’s experiences offer insight into the crucial question of how to incorporate mobile learning into teacher training, and the cases of Honduras, Guatemala, Myanmar, and Venezuela also provide successful models of large-scale implementation within schools. The new UNESCO report, “Comparative Review of National Mobile Learning Initiatives in Latin America” (see the executive summary in english) also analyzes four country case studies (Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, and Uruguay) to develop recommendations for mobile learning policies that can support learning for all.
This blog post has been adapted from the publication Mobile Learning: Innovating to Provide Quality Learning Opportunities for All, an Education Policy Note produced by UNESCO-ITU for Mobile Learning Week 2016.
Autor : Francesc Pedró, Chief of Section - Sector Policy Advice and Information and Communication Technology, UNESCO
Contributed by : Francesc Pedró, Chief of Section - Sector Policy Advice and Information and Communication Technology, UNESCO