Devices that access the Internet have become increasingly popular as they become more affordable. Several companies launched comparable iPhone smartphones (for example, Samsung Galaxy) and there are also several tablets on the market. Although the first impulse is to consider these devices for entertainment purposes only, the idea of mobile learning (m-learning) is gaining fuel and becoming a reality. It is actually the fastest growing area of e-learning, with the enormous advantage of mobility. What we thought mobility meant for e-learning (having the ability to easily collaborate with people from all over the world) is increased a thousandfold in m-learning, where you have the ability to learn without being tied to a desk, or even a plug.
If m-learning hasn’t been taken seriously before, tablets make it look like the next big thing in distance education. Companies now buy tablets for their employees in the Oil and Gas section, as well as in Construction. The numbers are also increasing for tablets used in higher education. Apparently, the first million iPads were sold in the first week of their launch.
Some of the tablets that are now available have features that make them impact the 21st century learning experience. The best example would be the iPad 2, of course, which includes apps like MathBoard: quizzes for kids from kindergarten through elementary school; Solar System: interactive 3D tour of the galaxy; Introduction to Montessorium letters: learning sounds and phonograms; Shakespeare in Bits: Animated Illustrations and Modern Language Translations of Romeo and Juliet; Virtual history, Rome: 3D reconstructions of ancient Rome, etc. The iPhone4 also comes with a variety of educational applications, such as National Geographic, which explores any corner of the world; New Oxford American Dictionary, which contains more than 250,000 entries; Cliffs Notes: reviews of great literary works; Periodic: the compact periodic table, etc.
Although these applications are educational and beneficial, there are very few learning management systems (LMS) that are compatible with mobile devices. Some platforms, such as emTrain, Element K, Sum Total, and Blackbord Learn offer applications that are available on iTunes and can be used on portable devices. However, there are no easy-to-use (quick) content creation tools. Very few providers offer web conferencing tools as downloadable applications. The importance of making tools available as applications lies in the user’s ability to access them more quickly. For example, if one is looking to create a quiz from the iPad, they would rather search iTunes for “quiz” and then “create a mobile learning quiz” on Google. Moodle is an open source LMS alternative that works very well on the iPad. The Moodle system itself is not in Flash, and the input fields are very accessible to end users and administrators.
Knowing how to take advantage of that opportunity in the market, Apple brought iTunes U, with the U standing for “university.” This provides institutions with a home for all their educator-created digital content, downloadable on Mac, PC, iPhone, and iPad. Knowing that students are already using iTunes and familiar with the environment, it is easy to introduce some educational applications. It goes without saying that iTunes U is accessible to all students.
For those educators, both small and large, looking to publish content online quickly, there are other options. Using your own LMS allows you to make your content accessible to a large audience. Using an open source platform, like Moodle, as mentioned above, could be a real time saver in getting your content to the masses. Note: Apple’s approval process for your iTunes store can be difficult and time-consuming to navigate.