Research and practice in mobile learning are still in their infancy. Over the past ten years the field has moved from small-scale research studies to some large national and international initiatives, such as the EC-funded MOBIlearn and m-Learning projects, a growing number of commercial services, and many institution-based projects. The evidence from research is mostly in the form of case studies that report the progress of a project, with accounts of their successes and difficulties drawn from observations by the researchers and interviews with participants. There have been a few attempts to carry out small-scale comparative evaluations of specific technologies, such as mind mapping tools on handheld computers, and a very small number of studies that have compared learning outcomes of classroom trials of handheld technology to traditional teaching. This paucity of quantitative and comparative data is entirely understandable given the rapid pace of developments in the technology and the time and resources needed to carry out a useful comparative evaluation. What is the value of running detailed educational evaluations of a prototype mobile learning system implemented on last-year’s handheld technology?
Thus, a critical reader of this report may find that the evidence of what research has to say for practice is, at best, unreliable and outdated. However, taking a broader perspective, we find a fairly consistent pattern of reports about what works and what doesn’t. We shall take an illuminative approach – attempting to shine a light on the emerging technologies and activities in mobile learning that appear, from a variety of evidence, to be supporting good practice in teaching and learning. We shall also attempt to focus on issues and problems, from technical failures to unexpected problems of engaging learners or supporting effective teaching.
To start, we need to clarify what is meant by ‘mobile learning’. The concept, like the technology, has developed over recent years, from the use of handheld devices in classrooms, through the use of technology to support learning in context and on the move, towards a broader investigation of learning in a mobile society. One definition that captures the dual perspectives of learner mobility and learning with portable technology is: Any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies. (O'Malley et al., 2003)
To provide a structure for the report, we shall begin with the two most active and promising areas of research, which are the use of portable technology to support curriculum learning in the classroom, and the use of personal mobile technologies for learning on the move. These can be seen as two ends of a dimension from enhancing classroom learning through devices such as handheld response systems, to learning as part of everyday life by informal communication and knowledge sharing with mobile phones.