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Can the Best of Informal Learning Simultaneously Be the Worst Thing for Cognitive Processes?

mobile.jpgIt struck me recently that mobile learning (or m-learning) is no longer a discipline within e-learning because of the ubiquity, enhanced screen size, and improved display quality of mobile devices. Remember when it was worthy of a press release when a medical or law school decided to require the use of mobile devices? No more. The question now seems to be when can they be used and when students are asked to turn them off or drop them in a bin as entering the classroom. Of course, the lack of presence in an online classroom has always meant that, pajamas and bunny slippers notwithstanding, it is possible for students to use all sorts of devices without a teacher typically knowing where students’ attention was focused.
The adoption and use of Internet-enabled mobile devices facilitates easy retrieval of information. Many people look up information at the slightest provocation. Who sang the song with the lyrics, “Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars”? (Answer: Frank Sinatra.) In which year was Ceylon renamed Sri Lanka? (Answer: 1972 and officially it is called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.) But in the process of answering questions so easily and quickly, there is no time for happy memories of dancing to Frank Sinatra at the Rainbow Room or humming the song through to see if the singer comes to mind. Similarly with Sri Lanka and other queries: there is no time for the association games we all play, often with pleasure and occasionally with frustration when the answer is on “the tip of your tongue“.
While mobile technologies provide excellent “Cognitive Prosthetic Devices” in the sense that they reduce the burden of recall, they reduce the pleasure of recall and may impair cognitive processes as a result. Exploring memories and challenging myself to remember things I learned may (if you’ll excuse another idiom since I was just searching for them), go the way of the buffalo. Convenient informal learning through mobile devices is fun too, since often when I do a search I learn new things, either tangential or relevant. Perhaps what ultimately matters is finding the right mix and the appropriate timing; and the classroom may be only a marginally better place for instant access than the dinner table.

31 Responses

  1. Jay Cross

    I agree that m-learning has become mainstream but I don’t think easy look-up pushes reflection to the sidelines. That’s a personal choice.
    When I attended business school, students were not permitted to use electronic calculators in the classroom. Hence, we spent time grunting through the numbers that could otherwise have been devoted to analysis and investigation.
    Similarly, being able to look up the date of Ceylon’s becoming Sri Lanka gives me a jumping off point for reflection. In fact, if I got the data from Wikipedia, merely asking the question opens up new avenues for exploration.

  2. Haitham El-Ghareeb

    Agree. I have stopped my research project in M-Learning. Though before, the problem with M-Learning were screen size and battery life, however; while black berrys and htcs are becoming more popular and widely spread now, I’m surprised that students don’t want to spend the time over their mobiles learning, or want to access the internet for learning materials (even when it comes free to them). I believe before we start working on M-Learning, we shall be working on students beliefs and backgrounds to convince them that (learning) is not a process related to time, learning doesn’t end, learning takes place every time and every where, because learning is closely related to life. I mean, think about (photographers) if they stopped learning all the time? I believe we wouldn’t have been able to have the great photos we have (digitally) right now. This is an example. Think about cinema, movies, music, everything around us that changes so fast. Even learning tracks need to change. This change has to be smooth and simple, ant that can’t happen until we utilize everything around us to help us (learn), and we shall not think about learning about a (challenge), we have to think about learning as the opportunity for new chances.
    Do you think we can convince students with this?

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  31. Michael Finney

    I believe we should be seriously looking at mobile learning. Phones offer so many opportunities to take the learning to the student and to allow the student to engage in a richer context. There are many opportunities here to take advantage of from a teaching context.

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