I've just delivered a webinar on mobile learning*, and I thought it would be a good idea to summarise the points I made here too.
*Check out our Webinars pages if you haven't done so already! - www.teachingenglish.org.uk/webinars The recording of the m-learing webinar is here: http://britishcouncil.adobeconnect.com/p6od5tezc0w/
Why is mobile learning a hot topic?
At the end of last year, there were something like 5.3 billion** mobile phone subscribers around the world. That figure is increasing rapidly too. Mobile phones are also increasingly the most common way for people to access the Internet. As the phones - whether 'smartphone' or 'feature phone' - become increasingly sophisticated, connected and available, we now have a new set of tools available for us and learners to use in (and outside) the classroom. And yet just 6 or 7 years ago I was telling learners to switch off their phones in the class!
Simpler than it sounds
I have a very simplistic view of mobile, or m-learning. I don't actually like the use of those titles, as I think it makes it sound a lot more intimidating than it should be - it's like you need to 'know m-learning' in order to 'do m-learning'. It sounds like a whole new approach to learning and teaching (which I admit it is in certain scenarios, especially in the developing world) straight from the future and a million miles away from what we do in the classroom now!
In reality, in my position - working in the developed world, with most students coming to lessons with smartphones or feature phones connected to the Internet - it's just a case of making small adjustments to activities or routines which are enhanced by the way the mobile phone makes them easier, more effective or more interesting for learners.
So, this list may be a little bit disappointing, as my ten ideas are generally nothing new - just a new version of what most of you have probably been doing in the classroom for a long time. The good news is that they're generally easy to do. They're not complex - unless you find the features of the phone that they exploit complex, that is! The first five you can do on feature phones too, the last five are generally better with smartphones.
Be realistic and make sure it fits with your teaching, rather than vice versa
Remember it's important to start simply - for some learners (and especially teachers) it will be quite a culture change to be asked to take out their mobile phones. Start by using it briefly and so it fits in with your plans the lesson, rather than changing plans to incorporate it. And, depending on who you are teaching and what you do, consider spending time on setting up class rules for its use. Make sure students know what's not acceptable from the start.
- Use calendars: most phones have them, so you can ask learners to record birthdays, homework, tests and so on. A nice way to start breaking the culture of 'no phones in the lesson'.
- Research: allow students to google in class, for projects or questions you set. You can ask them how they found their answers as well as what they found.
- Photo-share: ask and answer questions about a photo on the phone. It's a nice way to personalise and avoid asking questions about, for example, a model in a coursebook!
- Take photos: ask students to do this as homework maybe. For example, try 'photo bingo': students take a photo of a e.g. a busy street then in class you play bingo with it to recycle vocabulary e.g. kiosk, umbrella, etc.
- Time: use the timer or stopwatch for activities to add a new dynamic - though be careful to avoid overuse!
- Class blog: set up a blog on a platform like posterous. Once you've set it up, you can allow students to send answers/contributions to the blog simply by sending an email from their phone (or any other Internet-connected device).
- Record voice: most phones have their own recorders, but Audioboo is an excellent free service worth checking. It enables you to use your phone like a recorder and then post the audio online (on your blog, for example). You could prepare a podcast for your learners, give them instructions or ask them to submit a recording.
- Create films: it requires quite a bit of work, but the results can be great. Most smartphones have a video camera that should enable learners to record presentations or even something more dramatic!
- Organise: recommend your learners use an application like Evernote, which makes organising and retrieving study notes a lot easier.
- Recommend other apps: there are lots of them out there which can help learners. The British Council has its own range, which you can find out more about here: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/mobile-learning
More to come
There's lots more too - dictionary apps, QR codes, polls, full courses even, to name just a few. For now though, hopefully this will help you answer the question 'what's mobile learning' the next time a colleague asks.