Smartphones have become unarguably the strongest channel of modern communication, commerce and collaboration. They also carry tremendous possibilities to alter the course of instructional delivery via mobile learning.
Success of smartphones is all evident in today’s global economy. Millennials, who come under the age bracket of 18-35 years, are the ones who use smartphones the most — the same age group which is the clientele base for the offerings of e-learning companies. Easy, portable, hand-held mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are becoming popular because everyone needs information swift and handy these days.
Staggering Growth of User Base
The number of smartphone users worldwide is forecasted to grow from 2.1 billionin 2016 to around 2.5 billion in 2019, along with a steady elevation in smartphone penetration rates too. According to Cisco’s 13th annual Visual Networking Index (VNI), in India alone by 2022, there will be 829 million smartphone users accounting for 60 percent of the population. Another study by ASSOCHAM-PwC puts this figure even higher. As per ASSOCHAM-PwC joint study, total number of smartphone users in India is estimated at 859 million by 2022, growing at CAGR of 12.9 percent.
Even the current number of users is no less than astonishing. ASSOCHAM-PwC put the user base at 468 million in 2017, whereas a little conservative figure by Newzoo’s Global Mobile Market Report put it at about 375 million in September 2017. If we assume ASSOCHAM-PwC’s CAGR true, the current user base in 2019 may be hovering in the range of 478-597 million, with penetration ranging between 36-45 percent.
Another promising mobile device to spur mobile learning (m-learning) are tablets. But, tablets’ penetration in India doesn’t look as reassuring as smartphones’. As of 2017, India has only 5.3 percent penetration, which is likely to grow to 10 percent in 2022. The low tablets’ user base is of course a dampener as these devices offer much more than smartphones and could be better leveraged for effective mobile learning. However, 10 percent penetration in 2022 will be a sizeable tablet using population, most likely the millennials which are the recipients of digital learning.
The above statistics strongly indicate towards a trend of harnessing the potential of smartphones as an electronic device to make it possible for anyone to learn anytime, at any place, and while on the move. When an Indian youth spends an average 3 hours daily on smartphones, the ability of this device to become a strong driver of e-learning is hard to ignore.
M-Learning: Aiding F2F and Distance Education
M-learning, or mobile learning, as the name suggests, is the learning which takes place with the help of hand-held digital devices allowing the user to access a course or a learning object even while travelling, without any interruption. About just a decades or two back, none could have imagined anything of this sort. Learning has always been associated with something which can be achieved in a static environment within a dedicated place having all requisite learning resources. Contrary to this belief, we all now know that learning goes beyond the four walls of a classroom, thanks to the advances in ICT. Now, a virtual classroom along with all the e-resources can easily fit into a small mobile digital device like smartphone, or tablet, laptop, notepad, etc.
The alternative education channel, i.e. distance education has been consistently trying to reach to the doorstep of the learner. This it has been doing by incorporating such educational innovations which reduces the strain of learning by making it convenient and responsive to the needs of the learner. Online learning seems just the right form of education which distance educators were looking for. Besides, more recent advances in technology like AI, ML, and data analytics have become an enabler in actually achieving the vision of open education philosophy of providing equal opportunities for everyone.
Internet and World Wide Web has made online learning possible and various digital devices have assisted access to these online courses differently. Smartphones with their wide adoption among the masses due to its low cost and high-end technology has proved to be an efficient channel for delivery of learning material. M-learning via smartphones became viable only because this device seamlessly integrated computing, broadcasting, and telecommunication in a single unit.
These days smartphones are being used more and more in traditional classroom settings in various forms like use of instant messengers like WatsApp. The teacher may send links of learning resources to his students’ group via these messenger apps to be discussed later in classroom setting – an example of asynchronous communication.
Similarly, synchronous communication may also be very well done through smartphone applications for resolving instant queries and getting feedback. Even during a classroom session, the teachers may employ smartphones for making students locate or search for information related to the topic, or solving puzzles and crosswords, or delivering gamified content.
Smartphone-Compatible Online Courses
Majority of e-learning companies are offering online courses compatible with smartphones. Interoperability across multiple devices is a feature given due consideration while designing an online course. Mobile applications for almost all the online learning platforms and learning management systems (LMSs) have become vital in light of the huge number of users who prefer smartphones to access courses.
As per the existing trend, laptops are preferred by professionals to access online reskilling and upskilling courses while students prefer smartphones when it comes to accessing a digital course. Likewise, in Tier-2 & 3 cities, tremendous smartphone adoption has led to increase in number of users opting for mobile online learning over offline mode of education.
The huge success of smartphone usage can be attested by the fact that Indians surpassed US in app downloads in 2017 according to an annual report by App Annie, an analytics company. Indians downloaded 12.1 billion apps on their phones and tablets, compared to 11.3 billion in the US in 2017! Byju’s – the learning app, the Indian edtech giant, has over 10 lakh downloads.
Other popular e-learning companies like Toppr, Vedantu, upGrad, Xtramarks, Educomp, Next Education, etc. all have their own mobile applications with quiet a good number of downloads. The mobile apps offer more ease of navigation and comfortable interface to the users. Once the available content is downloaded, it can be accessed offline too. This is the reason behind their popularity.
M-Learning: Boon and Bane
Mobile learning offers numerous benefits. The most important being the possibility to have a learning companion wherever you go. It gives the feeling of a seamless experience. The use of technology grounded in pedagogy makes m-learning more interesting and engaging for learners. The puzzles and games within the learning app make learning enjoyable and motivating. The synchronous chat and contact facility is an added advantage.
With smartphones, one can use in-built camera, video, audio recorder, and other applications to easily create, upload, and download relevant materials. These mini, portable smartphones have become a universe in themselves which can provide almost all of the offerings that a computer or a desktop can to the user.
Although, research studies in the field of mobile learning suggest a positive perception and acceptance on part of the users to adopt m-learning, there is a lot of negative effects of excess use of smartphones for things other than learning. The most favored app downloads in India are those of WhatsApp, Netflix, Savvn, Facebook, Twitter and online shopping apps like Amazon, Myntra, etc. All of these belong to the category of either entertainment or social networking media. Spending more time on these apps affects one’s ability to engage on other more important tasks.
Moreover, even if one is accessing m-learning through smartphones, the notifications from these apps act as a major distraction for the learner. The non-ionizing radiations emitted out of mobile phones have also been associated with health related hazards. These factors act as deterrents in the use of smartphones for mobile learning. Other reasons like bad user experience, less storage capacity, and lack of smooth functioning are also potential barriers for the growth of mobile learning.
However, the benefits outnumber the downsides, especially in terms of ease-of-use and cost. This can be utilized for promotion of m-learning. But the foremost requirement is to develop the technology and bring continuous improvisations in the field of mobile learning in tune with the latest technology. The distractions caused by other unrelated apps can be overcome by providing learning modules which are more interesting, engaging and entertaining than those apps which tempt the users. At the same time, the learning should not be compromised so as to make it a promising media of learning available to anyone anytime.