|Definition of mobile learning
– as we understand it – is not about delivering content to
mobile devices but, instead, about the processes of coming to know and
being able to operate successfully in, and across, new and ever changing
contexts and learning spaces. And, it is about understanding and knowing
how to utilise our everyday life-worlds as learning spaces. Therefore,
in case it needs to be stated explicitly, for us mobile learning is not
primarily about technology.
We find the definition by Sharples, Taylor and Vavoula (2007, p. 225)
attractive, who view mobile learning as “the processes of coming
to know through conversations across multiple contexts among people and
personal interactive technologies”. However, we prefer to think
of the processes of ‘coming to know’ to be located more broadly
within communication which, we feel, rather thanfocusing more narrowly
on the interpersonal, better captures the fact that meaning-making is
bound up in economic, socio-cultural, technological and/or infrastructural
systems including the mass media and technological networks/infrastructure.
Sharples, M., Taylor, J. and Vavoula, G. (2007) 'Theory of learning
for the mobile age.' In Andrews, R., & Haythornthwaite, C. (Eds.)
The SAGE Handbook of E-learning Research. London: Sage, pp. 221-47
We see learning
using mobile devices governed by a triangular relationship between socio-cultural
structures, cultural practices and the agency of media users / learners,
represented in the three domains. The interrelationship of these three
components: agency, the user's capacity to act on the world, cultural
practices, the routines users engage in their everyday lives, and the
socio-cultural and technological structures that govern their being in
the world, we see as an ecology which in turn manifests itself in the
form of an emerging cultural transformation. The diagram is deliberately
non-hierarchical, i.e. it can be read clockwise or anticlockwise and each
one of the three branches of the concept map can be read first. It seems
important to us that none of the domains is dominant over the other, and
that their relative importance is determined by the specific context in
which the model is used.
Agency: young people can be seen increasingly
to display a new habitus of learning in which they constantly see their
life-worlds framed both as a challenge and as an environment and a potential
resource for learning, in which their expertise is individually appropriated
in relation to personal definitions of relevance and in which the world
has become the curriculum populated by mobile device users in a constant
state of expectancy and contingency (Kress and Pachler, 2007);
Cultural practices: mobile devices are
increasingly used for social interaction, communication and sharing; learning
is viewed as culturally situated meaningmaking inside and outside of educational
institutions and media use in everyday life have achieved cultural significance;
Structures: young people increasingly live
in a society of individualized risks, new social stratifications, individualized
mobile mass communication and highly complex and proliferated technological
infrastructure; their learning is significantly governed by the curricular
frames of educational institutions with specific approaches towards the
use of new cultural resources for learning.
We are currently
witnessing a significant shift away from traditional forms of mass communication
and editorial push towards user-generated content and individualised communication
contexts. These structural changes to mass communication also affect the
agency of the user and their relationship with traditional and new media.
Indeed, we propose that users are now actively engaged in shaping their
own forms of individualised generation of contexts for learning.
New relationships between context and production are emerging
in that mobile devices not only enable the production of content but also
of contexts. They position the user in new relationships with space, the
physical world, and place, social space. Mobile devices enable and foster
the broadening and breaking up of genres. Citizens become content producers,
who are part of an explosion of activity in the area of user-generated
But, sceptics might ask, is there a direct relationship
between user-generated content and learning? Undoubtedly the link is currently
still more obvious in certain disciplines, such as music, media studies
etc, than others. Yet, if not planned for, failing to explore how educational
institutions can cope with the more informal communicative approaches
to digital interactions that new generations of learners possess, we argue,
could lead to a schism between learning inside and outside of formal educational
settings. We see the notion of 'learner-generated' as a paradigm shift
where learning is viewed in categories of context and not content and
as a potential. Learning as a process of meaning-making occurs through
acts of communication, which take place within rapidly changing socio-cultural,
mass communication and technological structures that we have briefly outlined
User-generated context for us is conceived in a way that
users of mobile digital devices are being ‘afforded’ synergies
of knowledge distributed across: people, communities, locations, time
(life-course), social contexts and sites of practice (like socio-cultural
milieus) and structures. Of particular significance for us is the way
in which mobile digital devices are mediating access to external representations
of knowledge in a manner that provides access to cultural resources. This
dynamic digital tool mediation of meaning-making allows users to negotiate
and construct internal conceptualisations of knowledge and to make social
uses of knowledge in and across specific sites or contexts of learning.
The second key issue
is how learners appropriate mobile devices to set up specific learning
contexts for themselves. How do they generate contexts for learning? Forming
contexts with and through mobile devices outside of, as well as within
existing educational sites of learning, we consider to be a key feature
of appropriation. We see it related to the significant ongoing changes
in terms of sociocultural practices and approaches to learning.
We define appropriation
as the processes attendant to the development of personal practices with
mobile devices and we consider these processes in the main to be interaction,
assimilation and accommodation as well as change (Cook and Pachler, 2009;
Pachler, Cook and Bachmair, 2010). Whilst clearly terminologically linked,
these are not the same as the development stages that are described in
Piaget's (1955) theory of development, which are sensorimotor, pre-operations,
concrete operations, and formal operations. However, our work is aligned
with Piaget's (1955) description of learning and perception as a constant
effort to adapt to the environment in terms of assimilation and accommodation.
Thus, assimilation in the context of learning means that a learner takes
something unknown into her existing cognitive structures, whereas accommodation
refers to the changing of cognitive structures to make sense of the environment.
Furthermore, for us, the context of appropriation is emergent and not
predetermined by events; centrality is placed on practice, which can be
viewed as a learner's engagement with particular settings, in which context
becomes 'embodied interaction' (Dourish 2004).
We see appropriation as governed by the triangular relationship
between agency, practice and structures. This inter-relationship manifests
itself as emerging cultural transformations and appropriation provides
a lens through which to view and analyse these changes. Indeed, we suggest
that media convergence, together with the fluid socio-cultural structures
of milieus and their respective habitus, lead to modes of appropriation
as the individualised generation of contexts for learning. The spaces
thus created differentiate everyday life into individually defined contexts
as well as overarch different and divergent cultural practices such as
entertainment and school-based learning. We envisage that at a foreseeable
future point the sociocultural developments described above will lead
to a situation where there is no longer a need for a differentiation between
media for learning inside and outside formal educational settings.
Our notion of appropriation also provides a conceptual
frame to understand the growing gap between the literacy practices outside
and inside formal educational environments. By 'literacy practices' we
refer here to the cultural techniques involved in reading and producing
artefacts to make sense of, and shape the sociocultural world around us.
The key point is that learners are evolving practices and meanings in
their embedded interactions, i.e. interactions embedded in cultural artefacts
that are found outside formal learning systems. A key challenge is to
support learning between and across contexts outside and inside of educational
institutions. To do this as educators, we need to make use of emerging
cultural transformations that mobile devices afford and bring about as
well as of the resultant cultural products that enable the individualised
generation of content and contexts for learning.
In short, “appropriation is a generic term governing
all processes concerning the internalization of, and externalization into
the pre-given world of cultural products across the breadth of learning
in educational institutions and in everyday life. Appropriation and the
pre-given world of cultural products work as context of development and
are indispensible for the development of human beings. Today, everyday
life works as a dominant context of development and is tied up with media
use, notably the use of mobile devices, governed by structures of mass
communication. Learning and media use, as modes of appropriation, are
cultural practices which are determined inter alia by the agency of the
user, such as her habitus of media use and of learning. Appropriation
links curricular practices with child development, which take place in
a context of social, economic, cultural and technological transformation,
with children developing their inner capacities by internalizing cultural
resources including those artefacts made available by and through, and
created with mobile devices.”
Source: Pachler, N., Cook, J. and Bachmair, B. (2010) ‘Appropriation
of mobile cultural resources for learning.’ In International Journal
of Mobile and Blended Learning 2(1), pp. 1-21.
| At-risk learners
Mobile and individualised
mass communication has reached all social strata and milieus. One educational
challenge for the school is to deliberately identify the thematic conversational
threads of those milieus that are at a distance to the school. There exists
a real risk that some milieus are unable to benefit from the resources
society has to offer but which are essential for responsible and successful
living in modern, individualised life-worlds.
Mobile devices possess an inherent potential for cultural
participation as they are integrated into two main socio-cultural structures:
media convergence and socialcultural stratification. A complex expertise
is necessary to be able to act within these structures.
As a phenomenon of everyday life, the mobile complex is
clearly segregated from school but the school contributes important competences,
among others the ability to read and write. At the moment the school seems
to deliberately seek a segregation between itself and learners' life-worlds.
Banning mobile devices from school is an indicator for such deliberate
segregation. Many young people, especially male adolescents with migrant
backgrounds from the so-called hedonist milieu, do not have the intention
to match their life-world expertise to that required in school. Looking
at internet video platforms we can see that a lot of homework is produced
by means of the mobile phone (see e.g. http://de.youtube.com/group/MathTutor).
This indicates the at-risk learners' personal, and the school's institutional
practice of segregation is not the only possibility.
To overcome the segregation of the mobile complex and the
cultural practices of schools, our proposal is to adjust school to the
practices, agency and structures of the mobile complex. We emphasise the
proposed assimilative procedure of docking the school onto responsive
mobile und user-generated contexts. One important reason for doing so
is that these contexts work as 'zone of proximal development' in a Vygotskian
sense. Furthermore, the school can take up conversational thematic threads,
which are laid out by students in their personal media use. We try to
identify conversational threads of identity and expertise, which the school
can take up in order to assimilate the competences evidenced by the young
man in the process of taking and uploading the video into the school.
In our socio-cultural ecology, we define mobile devices
as cultural resources in the hands of 'at-risk' learners. By 'at-risk'
learners we mean young people who are underachieving in terms of the Programme
for International Student Assessment (PISA) in the area of literacy, i.e.
reading and writing. We clearly do not infer any lack of intelligence
or competence but simply draw attention to the question of their resources
not being validated by school and society or them not wanting to utilise
the resource valorised by society.