How can mobile learning make blended classrooms more effective?

It seems like, with every passing year, technology and daily life become increasingly wound together.

With most learners bringing their technology with them into the classroom—either on their laptop or their smartphone—there’s less of a distinction between when classroom learning ends, and the out-of-class, self-directed learning begins.

Rather than maintain the divide, many instructors are looking for new ways to blend the two. They use online courses to deliver content, while saving group projects and activities for class. Or they find ways to incorporate the online learning program into classroom activities.

This blended learning approach has been very successful for many educators, but combining it with mobile learning can be a challenge. Individually, blended learning and mobile learning each require a learning curve to master. Trying to do both at once, while a natural step in the way current classrooms are evolving, also introduces numerous potential pitfalls.

Problems aside, the educators who are able to effectively combine mobile learning and blended learning will have set themselves up for a successful learning program. As instructors look for ways to improve their pedagogy, finding ways for these two teaching methods to work together will be an important competitive edge. Here’s where to start.

1. Think about why you’re choosing mobile.

One common mantra with any new learning tool or technique is to “begin with the end in mind.” In this case, it means focusing on your ultimate goal (that learners are able to master material), rather than the delivery method.

Mobile has many advantages over classroom and desktop alike. As a portable device, learners not only have access everywhere, they are also able to pick up lessons exactly where they left them off. They can start a lesson at home over breakfast, drive to work, and resume the lesson on their lunch break. They don’t need to be logged in to a specific device.

Mobile lessons are also ideal for delivering short bursts of content throughout the day. This can make them ideal for flexible courses and micro content.

However, mobile is less suited for tasks that require intense focus for a long duration of time. It’s also less suited for high-powered tasks that require a lot of computing, which brings us to the next point…

2. Choose your mobile activities with care.

Mobile courses are easy to consume, but they’re not good for producing work. If you’re planning mobile-based projects, you will need to think them through carefully to be sure that they are well-suited to the medium. It is all too easy to fall into a pattern of assigning traditional course work without considering the non-traditional delivery method.

That’s no to say you can’t create excellent mobile course projects and activities. However, these projects should play to the strengths of the mobile learning platform. Even if you can’t assign an essay, video, audio, and messaging projects are all well-suited to mobile learning platforms.

It’s also good to remember that with a blended learning strategy, mobile doesn’t have to be everything. Learners will still be coming to class, which will mean plenty of opportunity to collaborate with peers. Mobile can always support in-class coursework, rather than being the primary delivery tool.

3. Be creative (but also intelligent) in your use of technology.

Mobile opens up a lot of possibilities, from voice and video to mobile gamification. The biggest challenge for many educators will be finding new ways to use that technology creatively, without falling into the gimmick trap of tech for tech’s sake.

Personally, I like the audio/video capabilities best. I’ve used different language apps that allow learners to edit chat messages, but also send brief audio recordings to each other to help improve pronunciation. I can also envision ways that mobile learning could be combined with an augmented reality course in ways that helped make lesson content more relevant to the user.

4. Put community at the heart of your blended learning strategy.

If learners in many online classrooms struggle with isolation, blended learning has the opportunity to be more collaborative and communal than ever. Not only are learners meeting in person for coursework, they’re also more connected on their mobile devices outside of class.

This is a great way for learners to work together and share information in one place, without having to find another app like Facebook to make those same connections. Mobile technology means that whatever projects learners begin in class can be resumed later, no matter where they are. And cloud synching technology means they can move from classroom to mobile to desktop, without losing any of their work along the way.

5. Start small and work with your learners to improve.

As with any new learning approach, experimentation and iteration are your friend. The more you change at once, the more variable you enter into the equation, and the more difficult it becomes to determine which of those variables works, and which doesn’t.

By starting small and adding new projects, features, and assignments piece by piece, you will be able to ask your learners much more targeted questions about their experiences, and improve your course as you go.

Mobile and blended learning offer exciting possibilities, but neither are right for every situation.

If there’s a common theme to the suggestions in this article, it’s that choosing to deliver a blended course on a mobile platform just for the sake of doing it is bound for failure. Your goal should always be to look out for the learners, and make whatever choice is most helpful for them.

In many cases, the answer will be mobile learning, blended learning, or both! But focus on how to achieve the best outcomes for your learners first, and let your instructional design lead you toward blended mobile learning if that’s what will help you accomplish those goals.

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