Sunday, January 31, 2010

Autonomy vs Control

In designing and developing learning materials for mobile devices there are a number of different points to consider. What kind of access is available to students? What service providers or data plans are available to the student? Are the students familiar with mobile devices and are they comfortable working with them? Who has control over the choice of mobile device and data plan? Should this be the domain of the institution or the student? All of these questions address the larger issue of institutional control verses learner autonomy.

Institutional Choice

If a particular institution is going to be providing devices to the learner they have control over what types of devices are used as well as what data plan is chosen. The institution could choose to go with one particular device or a select few. In a model like this the designer can be sure that all learners will have access to the same device capabilities. The designer can create learning materials that work on that particular device and have a relatively good idea of how the materials will look to the learner. The designer can also know what the limits of the data plan are and be sure to design materials which will not exceed those limits.

Another benefit to this model is increased support for the learner. The learner will not have to spend their time and money choosing their own device or plan as it is already done for them. They will also not have to worry about any problems that arise with the device as the institution will most likely have tech support available for situations like this as well as reserve replacement devices.

Learner Choice

If learners are free to choose their own device and plan institutions lose control. Designers will not know what type of device they are designing for or if their design will even work on the device that a student chooses. Another consideration is that of familiarity with mobile technology. This model assumes that each learner has a mobile device that they are familiar with. What if that is not the case? The learner would then be forced to not only choose a device and appropriate plan but also to familiarize themselves with the platform.

One of the advantages seen in m-learning is the ability to personalize the learning experience. In the article Mobile Learning in Higher Education: Multiple Connections in Customized Learning Spaces, author Ruth Renard discusses the ability of m-learning to allow students to customize their own learning experience (2008). The idea is that each student will be able to use their own device and software to increase learner independence as well as reinforce learning through each learners own preferred learning style (2008). How can learners truly personalize their learning if they are not given the opportunity to have a choice in what type of mobile device they use?

Autonomy vs Control

The problem of devices comes down to autonomy vs control. Institutions require a certain amount of control in order to ensure quality learning materials for the learners. However the learners might do better with greater autonomy. If we are designing learning materials for m-learning it might be better to use a more learner autonomy pedagogy such as constructivism or connectivism. The designer could provide some basic starting points but leave the learners to determine what type of content to access and how to present and share ideas. It would be similar to the course we are currently taking where we as learners, are free to use whatever tools we want to access and create course content with a bit of support from our instructor and the institution.


Renard, R. (2008). Mobile Learning in Higher Education: Multiple connections in customized learning spaces. Campus Technology. Retrieved from