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Learning through Mobile Technology: The Future of Things to Come

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge. The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China. Enabling that person – and the millions like him or her – will have a profound impact on the development of the human race.



The posting below is one look at the future of mobile technologies in higher education.  It is from Chapter 8 Learning through Mobil Technologies in the book Designing for Learning – Creating Campus Environments for Student Success, by C. Carney Strange and James H. Banning. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco [] Copyright © 2011, 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company. One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200. San Francisco, CA 94104-4594 All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.




Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Theory: A Scientific Concept


Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning

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Learning through Mobile Technology: The Future of Things to Come


The integration of mobile technology and learning in higher education has been one of the most exciting and transformational changes in how colleges and universities attend to their work of teaching, research, and service. The past ten years in particular have witnessed a revolution in how educators construct the processes of learning and how to engage students in them. Referring specifically to online learning, one observer described this as a paradigm shift that presents “an uncharted set of challenges for academic institutions, most of which are much more familiar with the traditional classroom setting” (Borden, 2011). This shift will reflect both how we fundamentally approach learning as well as the role of instructors. The author suggested:

Higher education institutions will increasingly rely on learning management systems that enable “prescriptive content” – meaning the systems define appropriate content for each student, according to their measured abilities, and employ learning modalities and techniques that are proven to drive achievement. This method of online learning challenges students while allowing them to progress at their own pace – ultimately resulting in increased academic success and satisfaction.


This will entail further,

a higher standard of excellence, driving increased demand for quality, tech-savvy instructors … [who] will be called on to use technology in the fully online and blended learning classrooms, thereby changing the way courses are taught. Instead of demanding memorization and feedback, instructors will employ tools that enable application of knowledge to real-life problems and real-time collaboration with peers.

These shifts are not minor adjustments; they are in fact fundamental changes to the way we do things now. Traditionally, knowledge is delivered, but the success of its use depends on it being engaged. Conventionally, knowledge is accessed through standardized methods for all to use, yet learning is certainly a function of individual student differences, preferences, and resources.  Customary practices of teaching are for the most part place-bound, but in an age of mobile learning, does that approach make sense anymore? In an age of lifelong learning, does it make sense to package learning in time-bound blocks (semesters), just to be able to generate a distribution of outcomes to which one can assign grades? What if time and technique were varied but mastery of relevant learning outcomes or competencies held constant? The Gates Foundation is doing exactly that, for example, in supporting innovative competency-based degree programs at Southern New Hampshire University. Perhaps they recognize that the outcomes of learning are at least as important as the means to achieve them. Rather than standardize the inputs to college, doesn’t it make more sense to standardize the outcome and allow individuals to exercise their own strengths to maximize their mastery? Isn’t success about results? These are the kinds of questions that will continue to emerge in the future as new technologies and methods challenge the assumptions and expectations we hold in the mix of student success.

The canvassing of 2,558 experts and technology builders about where we will stand by the year 2025 in terms of our digital future yielded some very interesting assessments. Observing that “the world is moving rapidly towards ubiquitous connectivity that will further change how and where people associate, gather and share information, and consume media” (Pew Research Center, 2014), the panel foresaw the development of

an ambient information environment where accessing the Internet will be effortless and most people will tap into it so easily it will flow through their lives “like electricity” … mobile, wearable, and embedded computing will be tied together in the Internet of Things, allowing people and their surroundings to tap into artificial intelligence-enhanced cloud-based information storage and sharing.

Among the fifteen theses about the digital future, one spoke directly to the work of educators: “An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.” Citing the Google economist Hal Varian (Pew Research Center, 2014):

The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge. The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China. Enabling that person – and the millions like him or her – will have a profound impact on the development of the human race. Cheap mobile devices will be available worldwide, and educational tools like the Khan Academy will be available to everyone. This will have a huge impact on literacy and numeracy and will lead to a more informed and more educated world population.

Finally, as one expert commented, “the Internet has already made it possible for us to use one of our unique graces – the ability to share knowledge – for good, and to a degree never before possible.” As an institution dedicated to the generation, preservation, communication, and critique of knowledge, higher education must continue to embrace these new tools of understanding while keeping sight of its core mission – to include, secure, engage, and invite students into the learning community.

Whether a replacement for or complement to traditional methods of teaching and learning, it is clear that the mobility, engagement, and individualization possibilities of digital technology have raised the ante significantly in the discourse on educational reform. While not a panacea to all the limitations of the current system, the digital revolution in higher education has changed the conversation about the quality of teaching and will continue to lead the enterprise to new forms and models of learning. Prensky (2001) presaged, “As a result of this ubiquitous environment [of technology] and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors” (p.1). As a result, “students have come to expect a high level of engagement in their learning” (Martin & Ertzberger, 2013, p. 77). Whether we can deliver that through the trappings of our traditional system is in doubt, but the promise of the new technology to do so in the future is compelling.



Borden, J. (2011, August). The future of online learning. elearn Magazine. Retrieved from .

Martin, F., & Ertzberger, J. (2013). Here and now mobile learning: An experimental study on the use of mobile technology. Computers & Education, 68, 76-85.

Pew Research Center (2014, August). Pew Research Internet Project: Mobile technology fact sheet. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.