Researching Mobile Learning: Understanding the Relationship Between M-Learning and Mobile HCI

Researching Mobile Learning: Understanding the Relationship Between M-Learning and Mobile HCI

Eric Seneca
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1173-2.ch003
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m-Learning (mobile learning) is an exciting research field but few studies address the potential effect of human-computer interactions on users' learning experience. A well-designed mobile learning study should consider the potential confounding variables of user context and usability. The purpose of this chapter is to inform readers of current research in m-learning and mobile HCI (human-computer interactions). The chapter will provide an example of a study that was designed to address the important factors of user context and usability.
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Mobile learning, m-Learning, is an exciting field of educational research. Exploiting personal digital assistants (PDA), smartphones, and ultra-mobile computers, a growing body of evidence supports the assertion that students are learning using mobile devices (Basoglu & Akdemir, 2010; Chen & Li, 2010; Stockwell, 2010; Thornton & Houser, 2005; Wong & Looi, 2010; Zhang, Song, & Burston, 2011). For example, PDAs have been used to enhance vocabulary learning of English in Turkey and China (Basoglu & Akdemir, 2010). In the health professions, mobile devices are helping to educate patients and allow physicians to access vital medical databases (Ranson, Boothby, Mazmanian, & Alvanzo, 2007). Also, mobile devices are being used to teach mathematics in secondary schools in South Africa (Roberts & Vänskä, 2011) and for geo-tagging photographs in student field work in geography (Welsh, France, Whalley, & Park, 2012).

However, in spite of these successes, a review of the literature reveals there is no firm consensus amongst researchers on what constitutes a successful m-Learning environment (Laouris & Eteokleous, 2005; Najmi & Lee, 2009; Traxler, 2007) and a limited number of studies connect to research in the area of Mobile HCI (mobile human-computer interactions) context (Botha, Van Greunen, & Herselman, 2010). It should also be noted that the term mobile device is used to represent a vast array of technology devices from laptop computers, to cell phones, to smartphones (Sahilu, Ahmad, & Haron, 2011). Over the past 20 years, mobile learning has meant the use of everything from a laptop to Palm pilots to a modern smartphone of today. This diversity of technical devices and definitions has complicated research in the area of m-Learning.

To better define the type of devices used for mobile learning, Traxler (2005) proposed that the definition should be narrowed to “hand-held” devices; implying technology that can be held in one’s hand is the predominate technology for mobile learning. This idea of using technology that is handheld and highly mobile defines a certain user context for usage. Although some traditional usability structures may be sufficient for m-Learning, not all will work. Ryan and Gonsalves (2005) recommend designs that would limit the amount of data input and control what is being displayed on the screen to material that fits a mobile application perspective. Traxler (2009) correctly recognizes that context is highly important to the user experience with mobile devices. For example, the ways in which users interface with personal computers differs significantly from that of the modern smartphone. And while smartphone adoption is fueling a growth and interest in m-Learning, its unique features implies that instructional, interface and research designs need to be adjusted to address user context within the mobile space defined by this unique device. What constitutes m-Learning is no longer a luggable form of e-Learning but one that has its own unique user context and requires different approaches for research. To design and conduct research in the area of m-Learning, one has to take time to understand how individuals use mobile devices in their everyday lives.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mobile Learning (m-learning): A digital learning platform where users take advantage of mobile technology, especially smartphones, to learn.

User Context: The situation when, where and how people may use a mobile technology. It can also refer to where they are in their understanding of a subject.

Usability: The level that a user finds a mobile application or website useful, effective, efficient and satisfactory.

Mobile Human-Computer Interaction (Mobile HCI): An academic discipline that deals with how people interface with mobile technology.

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