Gadgets that access the Internet have become more and more popular as they became more affordable. Several companies released iPhone comparable smart phones (e.g. Samsung Galaxy) and several tablets are on the market as well. Although the first impulse is to consider these gadgets only for entertainment purposes, the idea of mobile-learning (m-learning) is gaining fuel and actually becoming a reality. Actually, it’s the fastest growing area of e-learning, having the enormous advantage of mobility. What we thought mobility meant for e-learning (having the ability to easily collaborate with people from across the globe) is increased by a thousand times in m-learning, where you have the possibility of learning without being bound to a desk, or even a plug.
If m-learning hasn’t been taken seriously before, tablets make it seem like the next big thing in education at a distance. Tablets are now being bought by companies for their employees in the Oil and Gas section as well as in Constructions. The numbers also increase for the tablets used in higher education. Apparently, the first million iPads have been sold in the first week from release.
Some of the tablets that are now available have features that make them have an impact on the learning experience of the 21st century. The best example would be the iPad 2, of course, which includes such applications as MathBoard – quizzes for kids from kindergarten to elementary school; Solar System – interactive 3D tour of the galaxy; Intro to Letters by Montessorium – learning sounds and phonograms; Shakespeare in Bits – animated illustrations and modern-language translations of Romeo and Juliet; Virtual History, Roma – 3D reconstructions of ancient Rome etc. The iPhone4 also comes with a range of educational applications, such as National Geographic – exploring any corner of the world; New Oxford American Dictionary – containing more than 250,000 entries; Cliffs Notes – reviews of great literary works; Periodic – the compact periodic table, and so on.
Although these applications are educational and beneficial, there are very few Learning Management Systems (LMS) that are supported by mobile devices. Some platforms, such as emTrain, Element K, Sum Total and Blackbord Learn offer applications that are available on iTunes and can be used on hand-held devices. However, there are no easy to use (rapid) content authoring tools. Very few vendors offer web conferencing tools as downloadable applications. The importance of tools being available as applications lies in the user’s ability to access them faster. For example, if one is looking to create a quiz from the iPad, they would rather search “quiz” in iTunes then search “creating a quiz m-learning” on Google. Moodle is one alternative as an open source LMS that works very well on the iPad. The Moodle system itself it is not in Flash, and the input fields are very accessible for end users and administrators.
Knowing how to take advantage of such an opportunity in the market, Apple brought along iTunes U, with the U standing for “university”. This provides institutions with a home for all their digital content created by educators, which can be downloaded on Mac, PCs, iPhones and iPads. Knowing that students are already using iTunes and are familiar with the environment, it’s easy to slip in some educational apps. Needless to say, iTunes U is accessible by all students.
For those educators, both small and large, looking to get content online quickly there are other options. Using your own LMS allows you to make your content accessible to a large audience. Using an open source platform, like Moodle as mentioned earlier, could be a real time saver in bringing your content to the masses. Note: the Apple approval process for their store iTunes can be difficult to navigate and time consuming.