5 reflections on mLearning

Wikipedia’s first sentence about this new field is:

“The term M-Learning, or “mobile learning”, has different meanings for different communities”


what does mobile learning mean to you?


The next 5 points will explore what this field means to me and how I see it evolving. Hopefully this journée(y) will spark a few reflections of your own, and that you’ll choose to share them with us all.

NB I will be addressing mlearning in the “anywhere, anytime” context, not the use of mobile devices in the classroom, which I see as quite separate.

1) Etymological roots


We can trace the word “mobile” 4500 years back to “meu”, an Indo-European root which means “to move”… no big surprise, right? “Meu” then transformed within Latin, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, Iranian and Indian language famillies and morphed into these words in English:

Interesting to see how “emotion” and something that “moves” you are one in the same



A thousand years ago, someone in England might have used the word “laeran,” which at the time meanteth not “to learn” but actually— “to teach”.    Wild, eh?

So, if my high school arithmetic still serves me right:

mobile + learning + Wordle =


2) Mobile Learning  =  in-the-moving-moment

A few days ago I participated in an mLearning panel in the Virtual Round Table webinar that Heike Philp, Shelly Terrell, and Berni Wall pulled together. Big KUDOS to them for their hard work (and Heike… the next round of Lancelots is on me)! After the panel, Berni and I had a quick exchange on twitter, which summarized an important part of mlearning for me:


During the panel, I also cited the king of the internet, GOOGLE’s opinion on the matter. Their expert in mobile user experience, Leland Rechis, states that google views mobile use in three ways:

A. “Repetitive now

B. “Bored now

C. “Urgent now


3) If it’s now, on-the-go, and “repetitive, bored, urgent” then what is the best implementation for learning on the go?


Do you ever talk to yourself when you walk down the street?


I’ll admit it… I do… I have ever since I was a kid.

However, the minute I see someone walking towards me, “a normal silence” reigns. :)

UNLIKE those folks nowadays that walk down the street talking out loud, seemingly to themselves… the ones with the Bluetooth thingamajiggie, or the iPhone headphones with audio pickup…

Our somewhat odd walking-talking friends bring me to this query:  Will language learners soon be walking down the street practicing their lessons outloud while staring at their little smartphones? :)

Probably not.  Though, mLearning won’t be as one-way as it is today.  It will become COM-MUNITY-oriented (in latin com+munus = with + exchange).  So, while I do foresee communities forming around mobile applications, and mobile learning platforms, I don’t expect an extensive amount of  verbal mLearning for two specific reasons:

1) It’s socially awkward to communicate “for learning” when you’re on-the-go, especially when other people around you are not participating.  (tho, possibly chatting and messaging).

2) A mobile device has endless potential, and considering point 1, I think it will fulfill other “collecting functions” as I’ll describe in point 4.

I feel the very vital portion of vocal expression/communication will continue to be tackled in the classroom, at home eLearning on a larger screen, or HOPEFULLY in real conversation in the foreign language.


4) mLearning is about learning w/ a mobile device

mLearning will explode in the next few years, and in ways we have only just started to imagine. Up until now, it’s been mostly examples of old technology (flashcards/language lessons) in a new technology format (smartphones/tablettes). Although, those applications will always have a draw for certain users, I believe mLearning will soon become much more


be about GATHERING new knowledge from the environment,


It will put the learner in the driver seat by pinpointing their own personal needs, relying on their creativity, and turning them into a content producer.

This will enhance our roles as teachers, as we can become guides and “instigators”, encouraging students to enjoy “homework” through mLearning missions!

5) “Phones” are now much more than “sound”

(from the Greek word phōnē = (voice))

1896 ring ring...

15 years of evolution

the infamous iPhone quattro







They are the objects that we tug along everywhere, day in and day out, and they have become slightly schizophrenic assuming the roles of our camera, map, mp3 player, game platform, notepad, pager, phone, books, videocamera, wallet, internet, TV, Car GPS, health diagnostic tool etc etc etc ad infinitum.

And more than anything, they are the most personalized digital object we have, so I’m going to finish by saying that in the future, mLearning will certainly be as much about Me, as it will be about Mobile.

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.     Cheers, b

(Steve Jobs photo credit)

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About Brad

--- i'm a learner-teacher, language geek, outdoorsy kind-of-guy --- U might miss the next tweet... Wanna subscribe by email ? ;-)
  • Ceri

    Congratulations, Brad!
    And what a great post to kick off with. So many different trains of thought to follow.
    I love the mobile wordle, the way that commotion and motivation and momentary come together, three different aspects of mobiles and learning in the classroom for me. Though I’m very much a baby in this area, taking my first tentative steps, with my students as my guides. And I love the idea of thousands (tens of thousands?) of learners walking the streets mumbling to their phones in whatever language they’re carrying in their pockets. A great image! I used to encourage beginners to speak out numbers and letters they saw in the street in English(I still do) – I did it in Italian, in Spanish, in Hungarian. That was pre mobile phones – I bet we all looked mad :)
    Thanks for some Friday evening inspiration!
    And welcome to the blogosphere :)

  • Heike Philp

    This is your first blog? Wow, I am puzzled. Where have you been hiding so far? You ought to write, Brad!

    Rgds Heike

  • Anonymous

    I’m still kind of hiding actually, as I’ve only shared it with you and Ceri! Once all the pieces come together, we’ll launch it! LOL. Thanks for the sweet words. You’ve earned a round of Lancelots! :0

  • Anonymous

    THANKS CERI! … language students walking down the streep bumping into poles and each other… hilarious image in my mind. :)

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic post Brad. I’m going to share it with Ben. I think he’ll enjoy it too. Looking forward to more great posts from you. You certainly are an excellent writer!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Tara, and coming from you, the most recent author whose book I bought!!!!, that means a lot :) . Keep rockin out in the twitter world. Love your energy. Cheers :)

  • http://sowingdandelions.wordpress.com/ Cintia Stella

    Congratulations on starting your blog!
    I smiled when I read that “phones” are now much more than “sound” because that’s an observation that I’ve been making for some time now. I keep saying that the definition in the dictionary should be updated!

    I live in a part of the world that lags a bit behind in technology, but I’m always interested in learning about what’s available and particularly about teaching, what tools we can use to enhance our teaching and our students’ learning experience. Cell phone fees and Internet service are quite expensive in Peru so it is challenging to implement mLearning here; however, posts like yours are so motivating that I have decided to buy an iPhone and start exploring what I can do with it. :)

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hey Cintia! So Glad you came over for a look and comment.

    wow… i wonder if we send your comment to , maybe both of us could get a SUPER education discount on the iPhone 5 coming out this summer! wishful thinking.

    I always knew there were imbalances in information/internet access, but just found out recently about the term “digital divide”. As always, work with what we got, where we got it, and make the best. Cheers, b

  • seburnt

    This is my new fascination. =)

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    ditto !

  • http://twitter.com/naomishema Naomi Epstein

    Once again you’ve presented me with a different way to look at familiar words or objects!
    I most certainily second what others have said – you  WRITE so well!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    thanks Naomi !  Don’t know how this was “feedburned” out… posted this a few months ago.  Oh well, nice to revisit an old post ;-)