Informal Learning Evidence in Online Communities of Mobile Device Enthusiasts
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This paper describes a study that investigated the informal learning practices of enthusiastic mobile device owners. Informal learning is far more widespread than is often realised. Livingston (2000) pointed out that Canadian adults spend an average of 15 hours per week on informal learning activities, more than they spend on formal learning activities. The motivation for these learning efforts generally comes from the individual, not from some outside force such as a school, university or workplace. Therefore, in the absence of an externally imposed learning framework, informal learners will use whatever techniques, resources and tools best suit their learning needs and personal preferences. As ownership of mobile technologies becomes increasingly widespread in the western world, it is likely that learners who have access to this technology will use it to support their informal learning efforts. This paper presents the findings of a study into the various and innovative ways in which PDA and Smartphone users exploit mobile device functionality in their informal learning activities. Vavoula (2004) highlighted some of the difficulties inherent in researching informal learning; it can be intentional or unintentional and people may even be unaware that any learning has taken place. There is also the practical problem of locating a pool of mobile device users who not only engage in mobile informal learning, but who are also willing to provide information about their activities. PDA and Smartphone enthusiasts were targetted as the community most likely to be using their devices in informal learning and participants were recruited from the active community of web forum users. Web forums are internet-based, asynchronous discussion groups that are aimed at people who share a specific interest; in this case, mobile devices. Messages were posted in the forums inviting members to participate in a web survey on informal learning with mobile devices. This approach was successful, generating over 200 responses of which over 100 described informal learning with mobile devices. The findings suggested that mobile device users deploy the mobile, connective and collaborative capabilities of their devices in a variety of informal learning contexts, in quite innovative ways. Trends emerged, such as the increasing importance of podcasting and audio, which may have implications for future studies. Informal learners identified learning activities that could be enhanced by the involvement of mobile technology, and developed methods and techniques that helped them achieve their learning goals. This paper describes the methods used in the study and discusses the results, locating them in the context of the wider literature on informal learning. It explores key issues, such as participation in collaborative informal learning, that emerged from the findings and outlines research directions arising from the study. with mobile devices. This approach was successful, generating over 200 responses of which over 100 described informal learning with mobile devices.