OLPC/ mLearning articles

I enjoyed the readings this week which focused on the promise of mLearning, especially for developing nations. Resnick’s article succinctly but effectively made the argument that e-learning in general should not focus on knowledge distribution but more so on knowledge production. His point that fluency is a greater issue than access is a point well taken: if I have a car but I just store things in the trunk but don’t drive it, then I’m not really benefiting from that technology.

I found the report from the GSMA interesting, especially in the specific examples and case studies it provided. Particularly, I found the use of the MXit social network in helping South African students learn math concepts to be a way to truly utilize the most important benefits of mLearning: collaboration, anytime-anywhere connectivity, and customization/differentiation. Of course, at times, the GSMA report, like all industry written reports of this nature, did start to sound like an infomercial for Ericson, Mobitel, etc.

Contrast that with the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when watching the videos on the OLPC site. In addition to being truly heartwarming (no, I’m not being sarcastic) I found that the videos did a great job of articulating the overarching goals of the organization and how they have developed the technology in the laptops around those goals. There were several times where I watched the video and thought to myself “Well, they need to do x, y or z” and, low and behold, in the next few seconds it would describe how they anticipated such a need and built a solution into the technology. To just name a few examples: the screen can be read in sunlight, the software is customizable, the laptops are both durable and web-connected.

I found a few commonalities among the three texts. One, is that so much of what is being described or argued for would be totally impossible without the mechanisms of globalization: the BBC could not practically institute a mobile English learning system in Bangladesh; OLPC could not produce, customize and distribute their laptops as they do.

Another commonality is all three texts do well to show the promise that mLearning holds for developing countries. This, too, is related to globalization: because of the availability of technology on the global marketplace, developing nations can leapfrog steps in their technological development: they don’t have to follow the sequence of development as, sadly, there are significantly behind the rest of the world in having adopted new technologies as they were put into market. This is similar to how many developing nations have transitioned directly from an agricultural to a service economy: globalization and the global availability of products and knowledge provided the opportunity to skip the middle step of an industrial economy.

To put the same observation in a different context, all three texts reflect Christensen’s argument that any new technology (mLearning in this case) is most readily adopted and adapted to situations/applications where the alternative is nothing. Sadly, having little or no opportunity for formal education is a reality for all too many people around the world. The articles did a good job of showing that mLearning provides a (somewhat) cost effective solution for people who have no other choice.

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