Take a look around and chances are you'll see a mobile device. Phones, iPods, laptops, netbooks, iPads, USB drives, and handheld games seem to be everywhere. Combine these ever-present gadgets with educational and productivity uses and you've got mobile learning.

Mobile learning can happen anywhere: in a classroom, at the dining room table, on a bus, in front of a science exhibit, at the zoo…anywhere! Portability is not as important as the ability of the learner to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create using tools that are readily athand. Here are some examples:

  • A learner may take notes on her phone and later transfers them to a laptop where she adds images and shares the document online with her study group.
  • A student who does not understand a math concept finds a podcast to view that visually explains the concept.
  • During class a group of students create flashcards that they can access from their handheld computers at home.
  • Students film video using their cell phones and transfer it to a computer for editing. The video is saved to a website for classmates to learn from.
  • While reading historical fiction, a student wants to know more about President Nixon, so he instantly accesses the article about Watergate online and views the Watergate complex on an interactive map.

With a variety of tools and resources always available, mobile learning provides increased options for the personalization of learning. Mobile learning in classrooms often has students working interdependently, in groups, or individually to solve problems, to work on projects, to meet individual needs, and to allow for student voice and choice. With access to so much content anytime and anywhere, there are plenty of opportunities for formal and informallearning, both inside and outside the classroom.

While some schools ban mobile devices, other embrace them. Some invite students to bring in their personally owned devices, and others have class sets of mobile devices for students to use. Netbooks, iPod touch, and iPads are very popular devices for mobile learning because of their cost and availability of apps. They are used for collecting students' responses (clickers), reading electronic books and websites, recording reflections, documenting field trips, collecting and analyzing data, and much more.

Mobile learning has many different definitions and is known by many different names, like m-learning, uLearning, personalized learninglearning while mobile, ubiquitous learning, anytime/anywhere learning, and handheld learning. No matter what you call it, mobile tools are here to stay. Learners that harness the power of these tools can be more productive and have resources for learning when and where they are needed. Learning is indeed in hand!

Learning in Hand is a resource for educational technology by Tony Vincent. From netbooks and web applications to iPods, iPads, and podcasting, Tony has put together practical information for educators.

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