Linking Virtual and Real-life Environments: Scrutinizing Ubiquitous Learning Scenarios

Linking Virtual and Real-life Environments: Scrutinizing Ubiquitous Learning Scenarios

Stephanie Moser (Technical University of Munich, Germany)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1692-7.ch011
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Emerging digital technologies offer various opportunities for ubiquitous and flexible learning, independent from time and location. Especially the proliferation of portable devices such as smartphones or tablets has increased the potential for ubiquitous learning environments in recent years. As a consequence, ubiquitous learning has become a buzzword in the literature on educational technology. However, the ways in which features are interrelated are not always clear. The purpose of this paper is to provide a more profound insight into this matter. The present chapter describes ubiquitous learning as a form of self-regulated learning and differentiates it from other popular forms of technology-based education such as mobile learning. Additionally, opportunities for meaningful ubiquitous learning environments are characterized. Based on a review of recent research, recommendations for the educational use of ubiquitous technologies are provided.
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The demand for lifelong learning has increased dramatically in recent years. Throughout their lifetime, individuals must constantly adapt and improve their skills in order to master new and changing challenges in everyday life. This has led to a significant increase in people’s willingness to learn. In addition, learners are increasingly put in charge of their own ongoing learning progress. Constant exposure to an ever-growing amount of information brings about a permanent need for people to renew and expand their knowledge (de Jong, Specht & Koper, 2008; Gourova, Asenova & Dulev, 2013; Zumbach, 2010). Cope and Kalantzis (2009) even take it to an extreme by stating that “today, everything is changing so rapidly that today’s education easily becomes tomorrow’s irrelevance” (p. 6). In our rapidly changing world, individuals are constantly exposed to new problems requiring a fast and self-regulated search for solutions. This results in a constant demand for current information at any given time, which is predominantly satisfied by the rising number of portable digital devices and compatible software (Thompson, 2013). These technologies offer permanent access to relevant information and learning resources without requiring much effort from learners. Combined with context-aware learning environments, they also take into account learners’ individual situations at different times and in different places. Hence, new technologies offer great potential as they enable new forms of learning by seamlessly combining physical and virtual spaces. As a consequence, so called ubiquitous computing technologies are gaining importance in our daily lives.

Ubiquitous computing is based on the fact that various non-computing devices are becoming more and more computer-like (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). One of the core ideas behind ubiquitous computing is that several everyday objects incorporate computing elements, e.g. mobile phones, cameras, gaming consoles, but also furniture, walls, doors etc. (Specht, Ebner & Löcker, 2013). Very small embedded sensors, chips and processors that transfer information from one device to another form the basis of a networked environment, also known as “Internet of Things” (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2015).

With an increasing number of everyday items becoming computing objects, accessing information without any constraints in terms of time or location is becoming less and less complicated and virtually effortless. Most importantly, most digital devices in ubiquitous computing environments are out of their users’ sight or at least out of their minds (Weiser, 1991). It should be noted that ubiquitous learning (u-learning) systems take advantage of these pervasive computing technologies by integrating and merging the real world and virtual artefacts, thus offering potential for further diminishing the boundaries between formal and informal learning. In educational scenarios, this results in a closer integration of traditionally arranged pedagogical scenarios and natural everyday life environments (Zumbach & Bachleitner, 2007). Such scenarios, also called “hypersituations”, are expected to be on the up over the next decade (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2015). Smartphones or tablets are particularly relevant in this respect as they permit a permanent input of information via wireless Internet access. Combined with cloud services, they enable new self-regulated learning experiences (Moser & Zumbach, 2012). Xu and Feng (2013) remind us in this regard that learners are no longer limited to certain learning environments or particular times. Due to ubiquitous computing, knowledge acquisition can take place at any time and in any place. Within this context, Şad and Göktaş (2014) characterize our present world as a “mobigital virtual space where people can learn and teach digitally anywhere and anytime” (p. 606).

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