Tablets – An Integrated Experience in Learning

Norman Winarsky spoke with Mashable to discuss how tablets are changing the user experience and how they search for information.  In the article How Tablets Are Changing the Way We Search, Mr Winarsky talks about how engagement with the screen, keyboard, speakers, microphone and two different cameras (on both front and back of the device) can impact how you connect with the information you look for and receive on your tablet.

Already Google’s launch of Google Goggles is making good use of portable devices.  In Goggles you can take a picture of an image or capture a recording of a sound and it will automatically use Google’s search engine to provide searches related to your audio/visual query.

In education, this can have profound effects on young learners or those with learning difficulties.  Information can be supplied easier through multiple sensory elements, not just through typing search terms into a search engine.

However, given my own research using mobile devices in art museums, the problem with Goggles now is that the information you find through Google’s search engine can be lacking.  One issue is that the most popular site listed is often Wikipedia.  And although I believe Wikipedia has its uses in education, since there is sometimes issues with credibility, it takes additional time teaching students how to be good source critics. 

Then for more obscure searches, you have to change your search terms to find relevant information, defeating the purpose of multi sensory searches.  And for very popular searches, say capturing an image of a Monet painting, it returns pages and pages of websites selling posters, calendars, cards and other merchandise which easily looses your audience’s attention to have to sort through to find information.

For now it seems the tools are advancing faster than the information accessed through them.  There is a need to create a better educational aggregator that works in tandem with applications like Google Goggles to connect students with the right information faster.


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Go with the ‘Flow’ – Games for learning and fun!

A unique way to create opportunities for involvement for a learner is to engage him/her by overlaying game dynamics onto the experience.  Since I have laid out the characteristics of Flow in my previous post, I will note here that the third point works exceptionally well for integrating game dynamics in learning experiences. If the activity is engagement with an object in a museum, then the level of skill involved in that engagement must balance in order to master Flow.

Introducing game dynamics allow for this balancing act to occur.  A good game allows a player to practice a skill in the first level and then becomes more challenging over time, causing the player to develop their skills to master the game. The goal of successful game design balances actions and outcomes and integrates those into a larger context (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005).

One of the foremost writers/lecturers on employing game dynamics in education, James Paul Gee talks about how games are embedded into a material, social and cultural world (check out his lecture at NYU; it is very insightful).  Allowing learners — and now players — to explore multiple paths through learning activities gives them the opportunity to create meaning that builds from their personal experience.  Learners/Players engaged in a game must pay attention to details, problem solve, examine different points of view, and overcome challenges.  All of these skills can lead to powerful forms of learning, but only if the activity is carefully implemented into a program that considers how to use it effectively and what learning outcomes should be achieved.

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Intrinsic Motivation: what does it mean to be motivated in a space and why are learners motivated to learn?

A key goal in any educational setting (online, in class, wherever!) is to support the learner in finding what intrinsically motivates them to learn. Educators are not drill sergeants forcing information into the brain of the learner, but in a John Dewey-inspired way are cast as support systems who create conduits of learning to help learners realize their potential. But this process must be self-reflective and include a step that helps learners to discover their own personal motivation that inspires them.

So what does it mean to be motivated in a space and why are learners motivated to learn?

To begin to answer this question I researched Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of Flow, which defines the perfect state in which a person is at his/her personal best. The theory takes into account the motivation behind reaching this state and the feelings associate with it. For reference, the main characteristics of the state of flow are:

  • The quality of the experience is rich and diverse
  • There is a clear purpose for the experience (including specific goals, of which the learner is aware)
  • There is a balance between the individual’s level of skill and the challenge posed by the activity
  • The individual has a positive state of mind

Intrinsic motivation comes from a sense of curiosity about an object or topic that creates interest, which with sustained engagement creates opportunities for learning (Csikszentmihalyi, in Intrinsic Motivation in Museums: why does one want to learn?, 1999).  A study about motivation in learners by Dweck & Leggett further substantiates this idea by stating that when a person is intrinsically motivated, they actually pursue learning goals.

Although, much like what I discussed in my previous post, Falk and Dierking argue that the link between the content (the topic, the object, the information presented along with either and the curation of both) and the learner’s personal experience must be explicit for substantive learning to occur.

Technology, therefore, must be the bridge between the topic/objects and the learner that makes the connections explicit and allow room for personalized learning.

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Situated Experiences – Connecting to a Learner’s World

My previous post builds a foundation for constructivist learning and shares a few ideas of how technology can be used to enhance this type of learning. But we can expand the framework and think about how to use mobile technology to connect the activities that learners are in engaged with every day.

All learners bring with them a personal context that influences how they engage with new information. Mobile technology therefore must be flexible enough to allow them to connect their understanding of this new information to their personal context (both on and offline) and build their knowledge in different ways.

Looking to Falk and Dierking’s theories of learning in museums, they suggests that mobile technology find ways to connect to a learner’s social groups. Active learning is as much about discovering new information as it is about sharing and discussing it. Social media sites are one way to support sharing of information in social groups.  And with the use of mobile devices, learners stay active in the learning process by allowing them to participate in their own time frame. Additionally, Falk and Dierking suggest that mobile learning must help to support learners’ interests both online and offline and support their motivation for accessing the information in the first place.

The motivation for a learner accessing information and staying engaged with learning activities is incredibly fascinating. I will venture further into this topic in my next post, looking at intrinsic motivation and “gamification” of educational content.

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Mobile technology must provide guided connections to an ever-connected world

George E. Hein’s theory that knowledge constructed in the mind of the learner based on their past knowledge fundamentally changes our approach to education in informal learning spaces. Rather than feeding information in a straight, didactic way, emerging technology can give us new outlets for teaching and empowers learners to explore and create their own meaning. In particular, the flexibility of mobile technology allows learners to select their own path through a series of learning activities and to engage with new information that builds from their previous understanding of the world.

But in order to create these learning activities and environments, we must always consider that the focus must be on the learner and their needs. So the question then becomes, “How can technology be used as a tool for the learner to experience and connect with the subject matter that is meaningful to him/her?”

Looking at what Hein suggests, the learner’s experience should be more like an encyclopedia than a textbook. The use of technology can and should allow for a vast area of breadth, but also provide in-depth learning in a subject as well.

However the technology must allow for personalization. The learner can select what topic interests them most and then provide guided avenues for further learning. It is here that the interconnected format of Wikipedia might provide a basis on which to imagine how this format can take shape. Digital natives do not think in strictly linear terms. Their understanding of the world is shaped by connections through many different media outlets. Therfore the technology used in the learning process must allow for these guided connections to happen.

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How can mobile technology, programs, or platforms be used to encourage engagement and allow learning to happen?

Albert Einstein once wrote, “Everything has changed, except our way of thinking.”  Reading this quote, I can’t help but reflect on how quickly technology, particularly mobile technology, is advancing in our lives.  According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, one-third of Americans own a smartphone and that number is increasing rapidly.  (In fact, it looks as though another report has come out Monday that would put that number around 42%).

Unfortunately, I’ve found many instances where educational spaces are  slow to shift their thinking (and even slower to action) about how to utilize new technology to promote learning.  Instead it is used in a cursory way; rather than being a tool to enhance learning, it just becomes a toy.

I’ve also heard the concern that using mobile technology in informal learning spaces promotes a “heads down, minds off” attitude.  Agreed!  It can be a distraction if the resources or activities are not there to encourage active thinking, reflecting, or responding to what is being learned.

Therefore, the question that I hope to answer is “How can mobile technology, programs, or platforms be used to encourage engagement and allow learning to happen?” 

In the next few posts, I will discuss my research of learning theory that defines how students learn (mostly in informal learning spaces, which has been my focus) and how technology impacts their learning.  By exploring these theories, I hope to give some context to our understanding of what learning should look like.  This will allow me to outline a theoretical framework in which to build from and answer the question of how we can use mobile technology to enhance the learning experience.

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Mobile Learning — What is it and why is it important in education today?

Mobile Learning, or mLearning, is the next step in integrating technology into the field of education in a way that can personalize learning for each student.

These two questions — “What is mobile learning?” and “Why is it so important in education?” are not going to be answered here in one blog post.  Simply because technology advances so quickly, so to does the meaning of mobile learning.  And therefore its importance changes rapidly too. 

I hope to establish through this blog a more concrete view of mobile learning and how to use it appropriately to enhance learning experiences.

And please, feel free to share your insights.  I hope to make this a space to advocate for mobile learning and to share ideas.

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