Mobile learning sceptic
I’ve always been a bit sceptical about the claims made for mobile learning. I’m a mobile learner, as I don’t drive, so I take trains a lot, but I don’t use a mobile phone for my mobile learning. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even seen anyone do an e-learning course on the train. However, I am a fan of using specific device affordances for learning. That’s why I’m fine with tablets in primary schools but not in secondary or FE/HE for long form writing, coding or using sophisticated tools. That’s where you need a notebook or laptop.
For mobiles the affordances are around quick, episodic events such as looking things up, quick experiences, learning games or alerts. The average time someone spends on a mobile device is seconds, and it’s getting shorter as txting on Whatsapp or whatever, overtakes voice. What seemed like a suicidal price by Facebook, now looks like a steal considering the geographic spread and ability to use Whatsapp for voice. Coming back to my point – we use mobiles for short, episodic experiences.
For years I’ve been talking about the need to move learning beyond the course in one specific way – repeated practice. It had become an obsession. Finally I got a chance to implement htis through LearningPool. Ebbinhaus in 1885 gave us the forgetting curve, showing that most of what we supposedly teach and learn is lost within minutes and hours. Learning is therefore one of the most unproductive areas of human endeavour. The trick is to look beyond the course and learning experience to the reinforcement of that knowledge and skills. To truly move learning from working to long-term memory we need to reinforce to increase retention and recall.
Miracle of mobiles
This has never really been possible in learning, as we lose the students attention as soon as they walk out of the door. Suddenly a miracle has happened, we all have the perfect device (well almost) – mobile phones. These powerful, personal and portable devices that can deliver personalised learning at anytime, anywhere to me alone. I mooted this idea with LearningPool some time ago, and with their characteristic ‘can do’ attitude they’ve come up with a tool that works – ENCORE.
ENCORE, takes the ‘cues’ from any course or learning experience and spaced them out in whatever frequency you want after the course to and end date. It may be up to the start of a new job, an exam, a product launch, whatever. This word ‘cue’ is important. It is not a matter of replaying the course but identifying key ‘cues’ like the handles of suitcases, so that the brain uses these cues to pull out the suitcases of knowledge and skills.
Tulving has shown that Episodic memories are encoded through cues that overlap the memories themselves. These cues allow retrieval. The theory therefore explains memory failure, not so much in terms of memory decay, as failure in retrieval. Research on cues and retrieval has shown that context and physical environment do improve memory, encouraging the view that learning should take place in the context in which it is likely to be used. Semantic memories may be turned into episodic memories through loci and peg systems. For examples historical sequences placed along a known route. Encoding is perhaps the one area of memory theory that has the most direct impact on learning, as understanding encoding can led to both better teaching and better learning. Tulving showed the importance of cues and when learners make the effort to identify and note down cues they improve retention (an obvious example is mnemonics). We now know the difference between maintenance and elaborative encoding strategies. (Elaborative encoding leads to deeper processing and therefore better learning.) We also know that the organisation of learning is important in terms of relating new learning to previous knowledge, emotional and context. All of this hold great promise when it comes to the sophisticated use of cues and elaboration through mobile spaced-practice.
My guess is as this develops significant increases in retention and productivity will be realised. We can remind learners about tasks, activities and push snippets of learning topics to them at timed intervals. We can insert new life into previous learning with bite-size tasks and activities to help refresh the learners’ mind. We can emphasise and fortify knowledge of learning topics with catch up and repetitive learning and research shows clear benefits in the thing that really matters retention.