Monday, March 22, 2010

Challenges to Mobile Learning

In many ways mobile learning would be a good fit for the learning institution I work for. We are a small college whose mandate is to bring education to isolated communities in Northern Alberta. As you can imagine our service region is quite spread out and we have instructors working as far away as Ontario. However there are some significant challenges this institution would have to overcome before initiating an M Learning program. Three of these challenges are a lack of infrastructure available in some of our servicing regions, financial barriers of our student demographic, and a lack of buy-in from faculty.

Challenge 1
According to the Northern Lakes College website, the service region covered is "in excess of 163,000 square kilometers"( As you can see from the map provided the campuses are quite spread out and in many cases in fairly remote areas. Cell coverage is quite spotty in many of our communities and internet is often limited to dial up or satellite. Dial up internet is extremely slow and satellite is contingent on weather and quite costly. M Learning would often depend upon one or the other of these.

A clear cut way to overcome the lack of service availability is to provide access points for students to downloading content to work with offline. A student could download their content for the week while attending an online session for example. Lectures could be created as a podcast if students were unable to attend virtually because of lack of service.

Challenge 2
Aside from the barrier of distance, our students often choose our institution because of the financial burden involved in going away to school. Many of our students have families to take care of. It is difficult for them to move away from their communities. Going to school away from home requires money they do not have. Creating an M Learning program may increase this financial strain. If students are expected to pay for a device to use as well as service to the device school will become more costly than it already is.

The cost barrier faced by our students could be solved by the college providing devices for use in specific classes. One of the programs I work with has recently instituted a laptop program which allows continuous access to one laptop per student for the duration of the program. So far it has been fairly successful; however it is quite a strain on our already overworked IT department.

Challenge 3
Another challenge comes from faculty not buying into the idea of M Learning. Part of the problem is that many of our students receive funding from different agencies. Many of those agencies have very specific attendance policies which have not caught up with a model that follow learning on the go. Because of this many faculty members see no point in creating such resources because they will not be properly utilized. We do have quite a few courses on Moodle with the idea that students can access they course content/resources from home and we do conduct many classes through an online meeting software from Saba called Centra. Saba has recently released a free iPhone app for Centra which is one step towards M Learning, however my institution does not have the correct version for the use of this app.

The challenge that will be the most difficult to overcome is the one of lack of buy in. It is difficult to convince someone who sees little to no value in a tool of its usefulness. It just seems to be the case that most of our faculty do not have a lot of experience with different technologies. Maybe an increase in PD spent on technology in the classroom would help but then we would still have to convince the administration. Unfortunately all of this takes money which is in relatively short supply. I think our best course of action is to continue as we have done before, pushing little by little and eventually M Learning will stop being a radical idea.

Although there are many challenges to implementing an M learning program I don't think it is impossible. My particular institution just needs some time to catch up to the technology. We have made a good start with our small laptop project and transferring course content to Moodle. I am excited to see where we go from here.