M-learning an inclusive way of distance learning

Research article by Eng. Xuzel Ana Villavicencio Peralta
MSc. ICTs for Development – University of Manchester
Internship Programme – Summer 2020

Working with our children in Ghana has been most challenging. Apart from not readily having access to computing equipment, getting continuous Wifi is a luxury. Most people buy data credit for their smartphones, which gives them internet access when it is operating efficiently.

Due to the current crisis, we had to get smartphones for some of the children to enable them to continue with their education. This is a challenge that not only countries like Ghana are facing, but other developing countries around the world, especially children in remote or rural areas.

As leaders of tomorrow, these children need to have access to education, not only to enable them to fulfil their potential but benefit society as a whole and for the future of these countries.

When talking about education, one cannot avoid thinking about the weaknesses and limitations of the traditional classroom environment, especially now with the current context of COVID-19.

The advent of the Internet brought about a radical shift in the way educators and learners approached the teaching and learning process. It did not take long before online learning became a critical platform in the educational sphere, which enhanced the growth of virtual learning; however, it was the development of mobile technologies that triggered a revolution in education. The proliferation of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, enabled people to interact from anywhere at any time, making, m-learning a prominent feature in the online educational environment.

a) Infrastructure

Users of digital devices must have access to a network for them to maximize the power of mobile technologies. In this aspect, network coverage is the primary dimension of infrastructure (GSMA, 2019). Put differently, mobile devices or technology is ineffective or even useless without the capability to connect to the Internet. Even though 4G is the dominant technology in developed countries, in the developing world 3G and 2G are the leading network technologies (Open signal, 2016). What this means is that the speed of connection to the Internet for users of mobile devices is low in the developing world and faster in the developed ones. This is critical for educators as it helps determine the technology to use in the contemporary educational environment. Besides facilitating access to educational content, both 4G and 3G enriches the experience of educators and learners in ways that the traditional classroom could not.

b) Affordability

While the role of mobile technologies is increasingly becoming evident in today’s society, an individual must have access to a device and a data plan to benefit. A reduction in the cost of data is meant to expand access to mobile technologies. It is for this reason that GSMA (2019) highlights the increasing affordability of data plans in 4G and 3G zones across the world; however, more needs to be done in LMIC (Low- and Middle-Income Countries), where the cost of access is still high. Let’s not forget the cost of mobile devices, which is the most significant barrier that limits access to mobile technology for a majority of people. Despite the cost of data plans and mobile devices, m-learning remains affordable compared to e-learning. A report by UNESCO (2012) indicates that m-learning uses lower-cost equipment and is easier to acquire than a laptop or a desktop personal computer (PC). The take-off of e-learning has often been limited by the expensive, bulky, and fragile hardware, which is usually located in controlled laboratories. In contrast, the configuration of m-learning provides uninterrupted and uncontrolled access to mobile technologies.

c) Consumer Readiness

As mobile technologies revolutionize the way of life in today’s educational environment, people must change their perspectives to align with this unfolding reality. The term consumer readiness refers to the aspect of people demonstrating the awareness and skills required to use the Internet (GSMA, 2017). About digital skills, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) platform plays a vital role in enhancing their acquisition. As is stated by Dublin Descriptors (2005) to optimize mobile technology in the learning process, students need to achieve an adequate level of digital skills that will ensure they are capable of navigating the academic, personal, and professional fields.

UNESCO (2012) observes that even people living in impoverished areas are likely to own and know how to use a mobile device, implying that its use is intuitive, and prior training is little required.

d) Content and Services

The essence of mobile technology is to enhance access to information and knowledge. The content and services enabler refers to the availability of and accessibility to online content and services. Data shows that approximately 5.5 million applications are available in both Google Play and Apple Store (Statista, 2020c), meaning that students and instructors can use these platforms to access a wide array of apps that can enrich the learning environment, but also can develop a customized application, which means a teacher can use an app to personalize the curriculum and also encourage and teach their students to create their own applications (Vazquez-Can, 2012). In short, the educational opportunities that integrate applications are growing more than before. Students can now choose between short lessons that require a few minutes to complete, and long lessons that need more concentration (UNESCO, 2012).

As we can see, education is no longer limited to a single space, as is the case in the traditional classroom or home environment. m-learning has allowed education to thrive in places that were previously not thought possible as supportive of the teaching and learning process. However, educators must develop competency in developing educational apps and also consider the specific context from which the distance learners will be connected to curriculum content and services. More importantly, governments in the developing world must address the issue of affordability of data plans and mobile devices, even as they figure out how to make 4G the primary network technology in order to m-learning becomes a tool that provides more inclusive education. It’s only then that the technology could narrow rather than widen the digital divide between developed and developing societies

Commissioned for Sovereign House GH