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What if access to all the knowledge in the world was in your pocket?
Certainly not a completely achievable goal, but with today’s mobile technology the world’s knowledge has become an order of magnitude more accessible that even a decade ago. And if nothing else, common sense would tell us that such a scenario would result in a far more productive learning environment. After all it is easier to move the knowledge to the learner rather than move the learner to the knowledge.
For thousands of years learners were more mobile than knowledge and so for thousands of years learning paradigms moved the learner to the knowledge. How many learners each morning are bussed to their schools? How many learners pack their bags each September and move off to college dormitories? Or conversely, how many workers do not have access to real-time knowledge that would make them more productive because they cannot easily move to knowledge?
Only recently has technology become so advanced that it can be cheaper and more productive to transport the knowledge to the learner rather than transport the learner to the knowledge
This particular transformation can come about at this point in time because of the convergence of three particular technologies:
1) The “point-and-click” interface: Point-and-click is not new. We first encountered it in the mid-80s on the Apple II. What is critical about it is that it is a universal interface of what Warren Buckleitner calls minimum user competence: Anyone can point-and-click.
2) The miniaturization of touch screens and storage capacity: Touch screens have also been around for a while, but the continuing march of miniaturization simply means that what once fit on our desks now fits in our pockets.
3) Ubiquitous Wi-Fi internet access: This is the last leg of the convergence tripod. As wireless connection becomes more ubiquitous the bridge to information becomes smaller and smaller.
It’s quite possible that one of the reasons that e-Learning is, in many cases, less than successful could be the amount of “User friction” involved in accessing and acquiring knowledge through systems that are not easily accessible to the learner. Mobile devices such as iPhones, iPod Touches and PDAs could, by there mere existence and use, transform the productivity of distance learning. E-Learning becomes m-Learning.
Imagine a typical e-learning situation where the learner engages in the learning process through a standard PC. The first requirement in such a scenario is that the learner be in the location of the PC for the interaction to take place. If this is not the case, no learning. This paradigm also eliminates many “just-in-time” scenarios encountered in work and life.
Now imagine that that “PC” has been shrunk in size to the point that it fits in the learner’s pocket and goes where the learner goes. Suddenly learning can take place literally any time the learner has a moment to take the device out of his/her pocket. “Just-in-time” be comes a reality.
While Knowledge In Your Pocket (Mobile Learning) is enabled by the convergence of 3 technologies, the convergence itself can really only result in information and data in your pocket, not knowledge itself. Knowledge is the ability to understand and utilize information for useful purposes. Information doesn’t become knowledge in your pocket until a fourth capability is added to the convergence. That capability is the skill of the learner to analyze and then synthesize knowledge from information. Therein lies the role of the mentor: Assisting the learner in the development of the critical thinking skills required to create and utilize knowledge.
This is not really a new role for mentors, teachers and trainer, but the role takes on added importance when the volume of raw data that can reach the learner is so much greater than it was even a decade ago.