Thursday, May 13, 2004

Mobile learning (M-learning)

What appeals to me most about mobile learning is not the fact that it is mobile but that it redefines our perception of computers and networks. Gone are the prerequisites for networked learning of five years ago -- a desktop machine, a lot of wiring, and a physical phone line or cable. Now you can access the Web with a mobile phone from anywhere you have a signal.

I used to think M-learning was dumb, suitable perhaps for simple EPSS or JIT help and reference. I saw lots of applications for that in mechanical work, repairs to machinery, military systems and so on. But the real potential completely eluded me till I started to realize that M-learning freed you from the EXPENSE of having a traditional computer and the requirement that you have a telephone landline or cable infrastructure. No big deal in affluent America -- we've got all that stuff, and we still prefer to wi-fi at Starbucks.. But how about the rest of the world? What about people who don't have a desk, let alone a desktop computer; where a phone line is simply unobtainable -- not because their job takes them on the road, but because they have to live without these things?

I have an interest in the development of alternative education systems and entrepreneurship environments in Africa. Most African countries just don't have the resources to create even a low- bandwidth phone-line or cable infrastructure, and lines are stolen within days of being put in place anyway. Most people can't afford computers, and have no real need for them. But most urban people somehow manage to have a mobile phone. If there is a way to make M-learning work (and M-commerce too), it could have a big impact on the needs of developing nations.

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