UNESCO Policy guidelines for mobile learning…..what they may mean for the development industry.

The UNESCO paper, entitled Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning has been recently published, and provides some enthralling examples and ideas as to how Mobile Learning can be used globally for education.

With a series of short vignette’s giving examples of innovative use of Mobile Learning, and other ideas of how and when Mobile Learning should be used. Ideas and examples put forward range from the very obvious such as providing immediate feedback, to minimizing educational disruption in conflict or disaster areas. These ideas are both enthralling and often up-lifting.

The policy paper highlights the growing availability of mobile devices due, principally to the rapid decline in prices for mobile phone packages. Indeed it is becoming very clear that much of the developing world is bypassing costly fixed infrastructure internet connectivity, and is exhibiting a much lower dependency upon the PC, as mobile becomes the defacto device for digital living and learning.

While few would argue with the trends highlighted, what is most interesting in this paper is the policies being advocated by UNESCO for educators globally, and the impact they will have on education service and content providers.

UNESCO recommended policies are hugely in favour of the utilisation of Mobile Learning. The paper produces a series of policy recommendations, beginning with three very simple recommendations to policy makers and educationalists:

  1. Examine the unique educational potentials and challenges offered by mobile technology and, when appropriate, incorporate these understandings into broader ICT in education policies.
  2. Avoid blanket prohibitions of mobile devices. Universal bans, unless implemented for well-considered reasons, are blunt instruments that usually obstruct educational opportunities and inhibit innovation in teaching and learning.
  3. Provide guidance on how new investments in technology can work in conjunction with existing educational investments and initiatives.

Few can disagree with these, there are however some more interesting and exciting ideas that merit more consideration:

Train teachers using mobile devices

The issue of training teachers to utilise e-learning let alone mobile learning technologies has always been an issue, and neatly UNESCO urges that teacher training packages to embed this new way of learning are delivered using this new way of Mobile Learning.  Why not…..

Content is key

UNESCO recognises that content is absolutely the key to success, and makes more policy recommendations here (6) than elswhere that we find the most interesting:

  1. Ensure that educational resources and content, including existing online repositories, are easily accessible from mobile devices.
  2. Support the open licensing of mobile content to facilitate its widest possible use and adaptation. This can be accomplished by supporting the use of open educational resources or OERs.
  3. Create incentives for developers to build content specifically for mobile devices. While it is possible to ‘migrate’ learning materials from computers and textbooks to mobile technology, designers need to ‘think mobile first’, making hard choices about how to streamline content for presentation and use on devices with small screens and limited input options.
  4. Encourage the development of platforms or software that allow classroom teachers (and others with firsthand knowledge of students) to create or tailor mobile content.
  5. Promote the creation of mobile content that is relevant to local groups and accessible in local languages. This can be accomplished by inviting local developers to build mobile learning content for their communities.
  6. Advocate for standards that make mobile hardware, software and content accessible to diverse student populations, including students with disabilities.

The commitment to Open Education Resources OER is significant, and will have an impact upon how the market develops. Where will value propositions emerge to support this new education model? Will the MOOC and associated assessment, certification and accreditation charges be the monetisation model? We anticipate a number of disruptive models to emerge to manage the open content conundrum.

The exhortation to developers to not just convert existing content, but to build mobile first content is a very notable recommendation. Responsive web design could well become the defacto development environment for much learning content.

The development of platforms or software to allow teachers to easily create or tailor mobile content clearly echoes the ideas put forward by Clayton Christensen in his work Disrupting Class, and is an area of rich opportunity. While BETT 2013 exhibitors demonstrated many ways of managing and utilising mobile devices in education, neat ways for teachers to create engaging and effective mobile learning or e-learning content were lacking in our view.  Are we about to see the emergence of a new generation of educator focused learning platforms?

Localisation at the local level

The localisation of the creation of learning content is a hugely interesting and significant policy recommendation, it is not just about localising to a language, but to an actual locality. Combining this policy recommendation to the platform to create content at the establishment level further underpins the trend toward teacher and pupil generated content, no doubt in part utilising the power of the mobile device at least in part. This content will of course, while localised be sharable as well as open content.

Mobile MIS for schools 

Other policy recommendations of significance are around the integration of the classroom with the home, the policy recommendation of sharing information with parents about student performance via mobile devices….the mobile orientated school MIS system?

BYOD

Other policies of note address the real issues around BYOD and inequalities that may emerge, and policy makers need to be aware of this. A strong recommendation to give students ownership of individual devices was made.

Disruption Opportunities Guaranteed

So a series of policy recommendations embedding the mobile device at the heart of learning and education, leveraging technologies to create truly local mobile orientated content, the use of mobile devices to manage learners performance all means the future according to UNESCO is disruptive.

Well worth reading Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning from UNESCO.