From Engagement to Empowerment: The Evolution of Mobile Learning in the United States
In the initial phases of mobile learning, the emphasis in US schools was on the magic of mobile device usage in the classroom. Education leaders were bedazzled by the potential of these Internet-connected devices to grab students’ attention in ways that other learning materials had fallen short. The primary objective espoused by many school and district leaders was solely to leverage these highly compelling devices to stimulate new levels of student engagement in learning. Student engagement has long been the elusive magic bean in American education; if nurtured appropriately, the belief has been that test scores and achievement outcomes would soar toward the heavens like the magic beanstalk when students were more engaged in learning. In this flurry of excitement around the potential of mobile devices, education leaders placed only minimal emphasis on the hows or whys associated with the effective use of mobile devices and wireless connectivity within a learning environment. Real-world challenges associated with mobile device usage such as classroom management strategies, protecting student data, and the enterprise management of so many screens stifled innovation in too many classrooms and unintentionally locked in the perception that the only value of the devices was for engagement, not real learning. However, an interesting thing happened on the way to a new era of mobile learning. While educators have continued to chase the elusive magic bean of engagement over the past 10 years, students from kindergarten to high school have been using their own and school-provided devices as tools of empowerment, not just engagement. With a mobile device grasped firmly in the palm of their hand, students are self-directing learning beyond the sponsorship of teachers or pacing guides, personalizing learning paths that take into account their interests and passions as well as their strengths and weaknesses, and extending learning beyond the four walls and regimented desks of their classroom. As a result of these experiences, students now have a clear vision of what learning could be and articulate that vision around a guiding principle: learning should be social-based, untethered, and digitally rich. This new vision puts a stronger emphasis on the active “verbs” of the learning process while at the same time gently moving the passive “nouns” associated with mobile learning to the back burner. In this chapter, we will discuss this evolution of mobile learning from nouns to verbs by examining 10 years of longitudinal data from a large-scale quantitative study of the mobile learning activities, attitudes, and aspirations of K-12 students, educators, and parents. The study findings document the past and present environments for mobile learning in the United States and through the analysis of the corresponding trend lines provide an interesting glimpse into the future as well.