EXPLORING THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF M-LEARNING WITHIN AN INTERNATIONAL DISTANCE EDUCATION PROGRAMME
MetadataShow full item record
Imagine you are a student, studying as a postgraduate on a distance learning Masters course, offered by a UK institution. You are based in a developing country in Africa, employed full time, and due to the nature of your work in the development sector you often have to make trips to rural areas, and are sometimes away for more than a month at a time. You have a good job, but your disposable income is limited as you have a lot of financial commitments and a young family. You live in a society where livelihoods depend amongst other things on transport, livestock and communication, and where the price of a cell phone is equivalent to a cycle, a cow or three goats. What kind of learning resources and tutorial support would you consider suited your lifestyle and study preferences best ? For many years, answering this type of question has been constrained to consideration of options revolving around printed study resources, and written assignments submitted to tutors who provide feedback. Over the last decade email has transformed communication, and a lot of consideration has also been given to the use of the Internet and Online Learning Environments. However, access to the Internet as a platform for learning, has remained limited in Africa due to lack of infrastructure, together with reliability, affordability and performance issues. The big growth trend, over the last five years, has been the rapid and very widespread diffusion of mobile phones. Admittedly the functionality of the phones currently used revolves around text and voice. However, looking forward to three years time, and considering the powerful range of functions that newer phones with General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and 3rd Generation (3G) functionality possess, we can explore the question raised at the start of this article afresh, as these devices increasingly support use of text, graphics, audio, video and interactive content. This paper provides a description of the experience of the first year of a two year project titled ‘Developing an educational model for delivery and support of postgraduate distance learning in Southern Africa that incorporates M-Learning’. The project is funded through a grant from University of London Centre for Distance Education (CDE), and is being implemented by Imperial College London Distance Learning Programme (DLP) with support from University of Pretoria’s Department of Educational Innovation (EI). The paper focuses on three main aspects of the work done so far: i) Results from a baseline survey carried out with the DLPs students in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. ii) Lessons learned from the first year, relating to the project context and student profile. iii) Preliminary steps taken to design and test practical and educational activities, that aim to make use of mobile phones to add value to the educational experience of the students.