Given that most students use their smartphones on a daily basis, many universities and colleges are now trying to use this channel to improve knowledge transfer, although there are a number of constraints.
We're all aware of m-commerce, m-banking, m-marketing. But perhaps we don't often think about m-learning. Apparently universities and business schools don't either. According to a recent report from the International University Consortium for Executive Education (UNICON), higher education establishments ought to be using the opportunities provided by mobile learning. They should be making more effort to offer personalised learning methods to students, using the various types of mobile devices students already use. "These young people spend a lot of time online", explains Sébastien Brunet, Head of the Living Lab at CNED, the French National Centre for Distance Learning. "If we want to stay in touch with them, then we have to make the link between formal learning in the classroom and informal learning in their personal space, library facilities and so on via smartphones and tablets."
A step towards personalisation
How can this be done ? By for example sending lecture summaries and class notes in text, sound or video formats, whether before or after the class, or by taking a more structured approach - e.g. implementing collaborative platforms around forums and email groups, where students and faculty can exchange information. These methods also mean that students can put their periods of 'dead time' during the day - on public transport, for example - to good use and so continue to absorb knowledge. However, using mobile devices in this way has its limits. "We have to deal with real problems of technical standardisation. It's difficult to offer applications which are complex, interactive and relevant when the operating systems are so varied," Sébastien Brunet points out.
An advantage vis-à-vis the world of work?
Educational establishments are also faced with recurrent problems of network coverage in certain areas of the world, and with the high cost of quality applications. But above all, current thinking on m-learning is too focused on the devices used, and not enough on how they are used. "There's no point in simply transposing an exact copy of a document you could get on your computer on to a mobile device. You need to add functionality which provides interaction, and information-sharing," stresses the Living Lab Head. This is all the more true given that such learning methods are used more and more in-company - especially as regards accessing data via mobiles. This is another reason why it's useful for students to become familiar with these mechanisms. "Those who experience this way of working as students will be well aware of the advantages, limitations and risks and will thus more easily develop the right reflexes," concludes Sébastien Brunet.