Mobile learning can reach hearts and and minds in all parts of society
Information Communication Technology (ICT) – which includes everything from your mobile phone to the internet, radio and more – is a basic requirement for social interaction and economic progress. Recently, however, ICT has led to swift developments in society by integrating connectivity with a social challenge. This is perhaps most prominent in the use of technology to provide educational services.
A key reason why ICT has played such a catalytic role in increasing access to education is that the current infrastructure of schools, and other centres of learning, are unable to cater to mass segments of society such as working children, adults in blue-collar jobs, senior citizens, women facing social barriers, people with disabilities and more.
ICT can also play a significant role in enhancing the quality of education and training of teachers. More specifically, mEducation initiatives provide the opportunity to learn anywhere and anytime via devices such as phones, smartphones and tablets. Remote learning not only helps members of society connect to educational information, but it helps them connect to each other for the common goal of learning more.
The educational content available has also significantly enhanced how learning is delivered, and how mobile technologies play a positive role in breaking social barriers. What’s more, mEducation not only improves schools and their teaching processes, but also has a direct effect on increasing work opportunities through skills training, providing job connections and business support.
Despite its substantial potential, mEducation still sits on the periphery of educational and telecommunication services. This is perhaps due to a number of technical and social challenges that effect such initiatives, especially in the developing world. The most obvious are those related to the cost and quality of cellular and broadband internet access in most countries.
Additionally, users may not have the most compatible and adequate phones or tablets available to access online educational content, and sometimes technology may advance extremely rapidly rendering old devices obsolete.
It’s also a case of private telecom operators and other companies not understanding the business case of mEducation. While it is important to separate the hope from the hype, it is equally important to realise that our technology rich world has changed the way we live, and there is definitely immense scope for revising the way we learn.
There are also a number of social challenges related to online education that have recently affected many international programmes. Often, the very people targeted for educational programmes are those that face most barriers to accessing ICT services. Sometimes, it is the education programme itself that lacks relevance or a proper structure for effective delivery and results. Then there is also the “restriction-less” nature that relies only on the self-discipline of the student to benefit from such initiatives.
South Asia has one of the fastest growth curves in text messaging in the continent. As a result, a number of fragmented efforts have been initiated to tap into the region’s mobile penetration for educational development. Some governments and academic institutions have used SMS to conduct quizzes with adults from lower- and middle-class backgrounds.
Some have also used SMS to send information to parents to share with their children. These initiatives indicate that mEducation may not be exclusive to smartphones, but can also create an impact in regions where the majority still only has access to phones and devices with basic features.
Recently, UAE University organised a Mobile Learning Conference emphasising the importance and effectiveness of integrating mobile technology with teaching and learning. The conference invited higher and secondary education faculty members, graduates and instructional technologists, as well as representatives from business and government to discuss the use of mobile technology to meet the learning needs of 21st century students.
The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), the UAE’s largest higher education institution, also recently organised a festival under the theme of Sharing the Mobile Learning Experience, inviting hundreds of educational and technology experts from the colleges and other UAE-based institutions to gather to discuss developments and best practices relating to mobile learning in the UAE.
As part of its corporate sustainability strategy, du has made a number of in-house investments in this regard; the Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-university provides online training courses via a Cloud Campus for its staff and their families. The same programme is also available to its Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) customers. Additionally, the company supports ICT and education by providing a number of universities with high-speed internet access.
In the future, the UAE’s telecom companies can significantly accelerate access to useful educational content and promote quality learning in the country by providing appropriate and scalable technologies to improve learning at the formal and informal level for all its residents.
Hala Badri is executive vice president of Brand and Communications at du
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter
Updated: September 4, 2014 04:00 AM