Mobile learning: Smart education system for India

As mobile technologies proliferate, India must remodel and upgrade its education delivery system

Updated: Jun 5, 2015 12:26:26 PM UTC

"The nearest college is 25 kilometres away. It is very difficult to travel such a long distance every day especially in times of heavy rains and scorching heat. Hence, I decided to stop my daughter's education after she completed her 10th standard." Such statements are very common in many Indian villages and remote locations where accessibility to quality educational institutes is very limited. What is the solution to such problems that are so common in the Indian landscape?

The concept of m-learning (the use of mobile devices to deliver education anytime anywhere) could be a boon for India’s education sector, especially in the field of adult learning.

According to a recent study, Indian users, on an average, spend 3 hours and 18 minutes every day with their smartphones. Can't we think of a new dimension of using the same mobile phones to revolutionise the Indian education sector, using a concept called m-learning or mobile learning?

This blog talks about the different aspects of using mobile devices to devise a smarter education system for India. smart_education

The progress of any nation depends on the system of education adopted by it to groom the next generation. With the proliferation of mobile technologies in all walks of life, it is the need of the hour for India to remodel and upgrade the current education delivery system. Though there are many long-term plans that are in various stages of implementation, the immediate goal should be to reach huge masses with limited investment. Nothing but mobile devices can help in the quick conceptualisation of smart education systems. This can be mainly attributed to the fact that India has the second largest mobile phone user subscription base in the world, with over 900 million mobile phone users. Mobile devices have good penetration even in rural areas where other infrastructure does not exist. This growing ubiquity of mobile phones, the widespread availability and adoption of mobile broadband technology and market penetration of low-cost smartphones also hold key promises for the use of mobile technologies for education delivery in India.

All of us are aware of the concept of e-learning which refers to the use of information technology to deliver learning. Several initiatives have been taken by the government of India to promote e-learning. One of the most prominent among them is the setting up of the “National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL)” by the ministry of human resources development. The aim of NPTEL was to develop curriculum-based video lectures and web courses to enhance the quality of engineering education in India. This programme became a great success that in turn triggered the setup of several such programmes across India by both public and private parties.

Both e-learning and m-learning are very closely related, the main difference being in the endpoint devices used for viewing the content. Another key aspect of m-learning is that for m-learning content to provide 100 percent end user experience, it is important to keep track of some parameters like layout and format of the content because of some inherent limitations that are present in mobile device design.

Following are some examples of m-learning in the Indian context:

Flipped classrooms: This is a new education delivery mechanism that is revolutionising the education sector across the world. Flipped classroom uses a combination of face-to-face content delivery and offline learning approach to take the learning experience to the next level. It involves mastering initial concepts of a subject offline by viewing lecture videos and then interacting with experts/teachers later for clarification of doubts and for the practice of advanced concepts like projects and practical sessions where face-to-face guidance is inevitable. The offline videos can be downloaded and viewed using mobile devices and live interactions with the teachers can be done using smartphones.

Another variant of flipped classrooms that could be a boon for the education sector in India is the concept of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). MOOC is an open source model for delivering high quality learning content/courses online to anyone free of cost, with no specific restrictions on attendance, age, geographies and so on. Top global universities have already joined MOOC platforms or started their own MOOC initiatives. Together, they host thousands of courses. The response from Indian students and teachers for MOOC courses has been fantastic. Globally, Indians form the second-largest pool of students attending MOOC courses. Some of the leading MOOCs providers are Coursera, edX, and Khan Academy. Initiatives like MOOCs when coupled with their accessibility using mobile devices will definitely go a long way in providing high quality education anytime, anywhere to Indian masses who have been deprived of it for various reasons.

Game-based learning: Mobile games have always been a favourite pastime for people of all age groups. Game-based learning refers to the use of games as a mechanism for learning specific concepts. The advantage of game-based learning is its capability to grab and retain the interest and attention of the learner throughout the learning process. Several mobile applications for learning subjects like mathematics, English, and statistics already exist in the mobile application store. More such mobile games should be developed for subjects in all domains in order to make m-learning an interesting experience.

Personalised learning: When it comes to learning, people will have their own choice about the preferred mode of learning. For example, some learners would like to read and learn whereas others would prefer to watch a video and learn a concept. With the advancement in the field of learning analytics, it is possible to display content in a preferred mode of learning for each learner. Learning analytics refers to the application of analytics to the data created by each learner to track their personal likes and dislikes with regard to various aspects like type, format, and depth of content coverage in the courses. This would go a long way in enhancing their learning experience.

Social learning: The use of Web 2.0 technologies like blogs and communities to facilitate learning by collaboration and sharing of knowledge is called social learning. Nowadays, many social media networks like LinkedIn and Twitter have also contributed their share to learning by forming communities and conducting Q&A sessions with experts in various domains. The most prominent usage of smartphones is for accessing social media networks. Support for learning provided by the social media networks will go a long way in promoting social learning using mobile devices.

The government has already taken some initiatives to popularise m-learning in India like the distribution of Aakash tablets to college students. However, these initiatives should be accelerated to ensure that the benefits of m-learning penetrate across the length and breadth of India and not only the student population. Some of the steps that could be taken by the government to promote widespread adoption of m-learning are:

  • The government should offer subsidies to mobile service providers for providing special tariff plans for accessing education portals and specific education sites.
  • Conduct m-learning promotion and awareness campaigns extensively in villages and other remote locations in India.

Now coming to the concluding notes, what could be the future of m-learning? Obviously, it will be something to do with the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. IoT is a technology that is used to interconnect embedded objects/devices such as sensors, mobile devices and so on, and facilitate communication among them without the need for any human intervention. The proliferation of IoT technology could lead to the emergence of wearable learning that is, getting custom learning experiences with the help of smart sensory and visual devices that obviously could take us to the next era of learning.

Disclaimer: This document is intended to convey the views of the author and not the organisation.

- By Anupama Raman, Curriculum Architect, IBM Analytics Education Services, IBM India

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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