Times are changing.
Education as we know it, is increasingly becoming a resisting and numbing force to liberating the collective intelligence potential and the disruptive capabilities that new media technologies have made recently available to us.
Photo credit: Mobilearn
Education, intended only as top-down, lecturing-based approach to allow others to cope and adjust to modern life needs and requirements, is positively failing its mandate.
Knowledge sharing, cooperation, critical and inquisitive minds, innovation and diversity are all skills that few academic institutions cultivate, nurture and pass onto their students.
As we insist on imposing a standardized curriculum on individuals having the most diverse interests, passions, talents and backgrounds, we only breed homogeneous thinking, shallow research, little new exploration and a deep lack of skilled and sustained critical thinking talent.
Even to a kid, this approach to learning looks like something that is a left-over from our past, not a knowledgeable choice of how to best educate ourselves in these technology-rich and highly interconnected new times.
And as more and more people live their daily lives while moving, commuting, traveling for work or leisure, just-in-time access to what you need to know becomes increasingly an asset modern people can't do away with.
But as business workers interpret just-in-time, on-the-move information access a "given" of their ecosystem, educational institutions and schools certainly have not been looking positively at the array of just-in-time learning opportunities that mobile media devices can deliver to anyone.
Photo credit: Mobilearn
This is because we have learned from our own culture that learning has to take place in confined space, where students and a "teacher" manage the transfer of information via speech and blackboard notes. That's the way we still oblige the great majority of our young people to find out about how the world works: detached from context, forced into a confined and limiting space, utilizing only one communication sense to deliver ideas and concepts that require direct exposure and interaction to be fully understood.
But it doesn't have to be so.
As computers have long been utilized to transfer information in such formal settings as the traditional classroom, the extra step needed to realize that computing devices are now portable information devices which can call-back home from anywhere you happen to be, it's a small one.
Learning within context, at-the-time when you need it, and by exploring and calling up the precise information you need to know about, it is a fundamental paradigmatic shift from the way we conceive education today.
By mixing e-learning and mobile computing, a new form of education may be created. It is called mobile learning, or m-learning.
Given its definition m-learning could very well be a new form of personal learning that never ends, allowing more and more people to realize how much of our lifetimes on this planet are truly extended adventures in personal learning.
The advocates of lifelong learning have been advocating this very change in how we conceive, design and deliver education. Individuals are constantly learning, searching, questioning and acknowledging new information from the environment they operate in, no matter what their interest or specialization is.
Unless your work assignment is something that a computer or other automated machine could take over from you, an increasing number of work activities depend on your ability to learn and familiarize yourself with a continuosly growing array of new concepts and ideas.
My own work as an independent publisher, researcher and online reporter is a certainly a positive witness to this truth. But unless I can fully access, navigate, search and explore all of the information I need, anytime and anywhere I am, my ability to learn and acquire new useful information could be significantly limited by the fact that my computer and ADSL line can't apparently follow me everywhere.
But things are changing as I talk, and what used to be a fixed desktop PC weighting several kilos it is now a large pack of cigarettes that I can lug into my pockets, while the ADSL plug in my wall at the office is now a stamp-sized extra option on my mobile cigarette pack-sized device which connects via wi-fi, GPRS, UMTS, 4G or (soon) xMax to any information resource I need on this planet.
And the last two years have seen indeed an explosion of mobile devices as we have never been able to see before. The growing popularity of Apple's iPod, Blackberrys, and mobile phones now integrating audio playback devices, radio, access to online video and television, gaming, Internet browsers, email, photography and digital video recording are available in any electronic store from Seoul to Rio.
Photo credit: Mobilearn
M-learning could promote a shift from the teacher-centered classroom to hands-on, first-hand, just-in-time, lifelong learning.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to learn about art history while in a museum sitting in front of a painting described on your mobile instead of listening to a mono-dimensional lecture of your professor in a crowded classroom?
Instead of studying about trees in a classroom, wouldn’t be preferable to touch and discover how nature works while being inside a true natural habitat and looking at living examples of what is being learned instead of supposedly learning about it through at home reading of long text passages on academic books?
Wouldn't this learning approach make you as a student more prone to enjoy and seek further learning opportunities while involving you more fully and directly into the selected subject matter?
"Recent research on human learning challenges the separation of what is learned from how and where it is learned.
The circumstances on which knowledge is developed and deployed are not separable from or ancillary to learning."
They also suggest that, "exploratory learning", an approach where learners are encouraged to explore and work by themselves for a particular aim may be much more conducive to effective learning than top-down pre-designated learning curriculums where a micro-set of knowledge is supposedly delivered to the largest number of people. In a way or another you can see the politics of mass communication at work as much here, in education, as they have been in media and consumer industries for the last one century or more.
Exploratory, just-in-time, informal learning it’s actually quite appropriate for learning problem-solving skills as this approach naturally creates a mental space focused on adjusting to and resolving specific problems, understanding them and their causes, as well as visualizing different possible solutions and their possible use.
Mobiles learning devices are also excellent interpersonal communication tools bringing the opportunity for co-discovery learning (people cooperating together in order to resolve problems) and for developing cooperative research and analysis skills, effective collaboration approaches, and effective communication skills when not in a face-to-face situation. As you probably have already found out in your own life, sometimes much better results come when learning from peers cooperating with you at solving a problem or issue than when learning the same subject matter from the lecturing of a supposed "expert", isolated from the actual problem and confined within the boring white walls of a traditional classroom.
These are some of the reasons why I do see m-learning as being a vital new way of looking at how learning can and should take place in the future.
We need to liberate individuals from the existing massified education paradigm based on a notionistic approach to memorize pre-selected sets of information.
This educational approach has nothing to do with our much needed requirement to understand, think critically, and develop effective mental tools that would allow us to communicate and exchange ever more rapidly efficiently with our fellows.
M-learning may indeed be one among multiple elements facilitating further experimentation and research into this fascinating field.