Book Image

Moodle for Mobile Learning

By : Mark Aberdour
Book Image

Moodle for Mobile Learning

By: Mark Aberdour

Overview of this book

Mobile devices have become ubiquitous and offer many new possibilities for learning. Moodle, when combined with a mobile device, opens up a new world of possibilities to teachers, instructors, and training professionals to develop their courses. The learning experience can be hugely improved by playing to the strengths of mobile devices, and Moodle for Mobile Learning helps you do just that."Moodle for Mobile Learning" is a practical, hands-on guide that provides you with ideas and step-by-step exercises that will help you leverage the features of mobile devices in your Moodle course designs. It also aims at providing you with hands-on knowledge in creating mlearning courses so that you can create your own effective mobile learning interactions.Looking at the underlying theory of mobile learning, "Moodle for Mobile Learning" aims to enable you to apply this to course design using Moodle. Organized into key sectors including schools, further and higher education, and workplace learning, this book will take you through a number of clear, practical recipes that will help you to take advantage of mobile technology in your Moodle course design.You will learn how to develop your mobile learning strategy and whether to use a mobile friendly Moodle theme or a Moodle mobile app to deliver your strategy. There are certain types of learning activities that are perfectly suited to mobile delivery. We look at delivering podcasts, engaging with social media, setting up photo, video and audio assignments, setting up eBook and App libraries, uploading audio assignment feedback, submitting reflective logs, using chat and messaging tools, using web conferencing and much more.Mobile devices already form the backbone of your learners' daily lives. If you want to use Moodle to bring those devices into the learning process, then this is the book for you.
Table of Contents (17 chapters)
Moodle for Mobile Learning
About the Author
About the Reviewers

Mobile usage in your organization

In 2011, the world reached a technology watershed when it was estimated that one third of the world's seven billion people were online. The growth in online users is dominated by the developing world and is fuelled by mobile devices. There are now a staggering six billion mobile phone subscriptions globally. Mobile technology has quite simply become ubiquitous. And as Google showed us, people use mobile devices as the backbone of their daily media consumption, and most people already use them for school, college, or work regardless of whether they are allowed to.

In this section, we will look at how mobiles are used in some of the key sectors in which Moodle is used: in schools, further and higher education, and in the workplace.

Mobile usage in school

Moodle is widely used throughout primary and secondary education, and mobile usage among school pupils is widespread. The two are natural bedfellows in this sector. For example, in the UK half of all 12 to 15 year olds own a smartphone while 70 percent of 8 to 15 year olds have a games console such as a Nintendo DS or PlayStation in their bedroom.

Mobile device use is quite simply rampant among school children. Many primary schools now have policies which allow children to bring mobile phones into school, recognizing that such devices have a role to play in helping pupils feel safe and secure, particularly on the journey to and from school. However, it is a fairly normal practice among this age group for mobiles to be handed in at the start of the school day and collected at the end of the day. For primary pupils, therefore, the use of mobile devices for education will be largely for homework.

In secondary schools, the picture is very different. There is not likely to be a device hand-in policy during school hours and a variety of acceptable use policies will be in use. An acceptable use policy may include a provision for using mobiles in lesson time, with a teacher's agreement, for the purposes of supporting learning. This, of course, opens up valuable learning opportunities.

Mobile learning in education has been the subject of a number of initiatives and research studies which are all excellent sources of information. These include:

  • Learning2Go, who were pioneers in mobile learning for schools in the UK, distributing hundreds of Windows Mobile devices to Wolverhampton schools between 2003 and 2007, introducing smartphones in 2008 under the Computers for Pupils initiative and the national MoLeNET scheme.

  • Learning Untethered, which was not a formal research project but an exploration that gave Android tablets to a class of fifth graders. It was noted that the overall ''feel'' of the classroom shifted as students took a more active role in discovery, exploration and active learning.

  • The Dudley Handhelds initiative, which provided 300 devices to learners in grade five to ten across six primary schools, one secondary special school, and one mainstream secondary school.

These are just a few of the many research studies available, and they are well worth a read to understand how schools have been implementing mobile learning for different age groups.

Mobile usage in further and higher education

College students are heavy users of mobiles, and there is a roughly half and half split between smartphones and feature phones among the student community. Of the smartphone users, over 80 percent use them for college-related tasks. As we saw from Google's research, smartphones are the backbone of your learners' daily media use for those who have them. So if you don't already provide mobile learning opportunities on your Moodle site, then it is likely that your users are already helping themselves to the vast array of mobile learning sites and apps that have sprung up in recent years to meet the high demand for such services.


If you don't provide your students with mobile learning opportunities, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone else is, and it could be of dubious quality or out of date.

Despite the ubiquity of the mobile, many schools and colleges continue to ban them, viewing mobiles as a distraction or a means of bullying. They are fighting a rising tide, however.

Students are living their lives through their mobile devices, and these devices have become their primary means of communication. A study in late 2012 of nearly 295,000 students found that despite e-mail, IM, and text messaging being the dominant peer-communication tools for students, less than half of 14 to 18 year olds and only a quarter of 11 to 14 year olds used them to communicate with their teachers. Over half of high school students said they would use their smartphone to communicate with their teacher if it was allowed.

Unfortunately it rarely is, but this will change. Students want to be able to communicate electronically with their teachers; they want online textbooks with classmate collaboration tools; they want to go online on their mobile to get information.


Go to where your students are and communicate with them in their native environment, which is via their mobile. Be there for them, engage them, and inspire them.

In the years approaching 2010, some higher education institutions started engaging in headline-grabbing "iPad for every student" initiatives. Many institutions adopted a quick-win strategy of making mobile-friendly websites with access to campus information, directories, news and events. It is estimated that in the USA over 90 percent of higher education institutions have mobile-friendly websites. Some of the headline-grabbing initiatives include the following:

  • Seton Hill University was the first to roll out iPads to all full-time students in 2010 and have continued to do so every year since. They are at the forefront of mobile learning in the US University sector and use Moodle as their virtual learning environment (VLE).

  • Abilene Christian University was the first university in the U.S. to provide iPhones or iPod Touches to all new full-time students in 2008, and are regarded as one of the most mobile-friendly campuses in the U.S.

  • The University of Western Sydney in Australia will roll out 11,000 iPads to all faculty and newly-enrolled students in 2013, as well as creating their own mobile apps.

  • Coventry University in the UK is creating a smart campus in which the geographical location of students triggers access to content and experiences through their mobile devices.

  • MoLeNET in the UK was one of the world's largest mobile learning implementations, comprising 115 colleges, 29 schools, 50,000 students, and 4,000 staff from 2007 to 2010. This was a research-led initiative although unfortunately the original website has now been taken down.

While some of these examples are about providing mobile devices to new students, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is strong in further and higher education. We know that mobile devices form the backbone of students' media consumption and in the U.S. alone, 75 percent of students use their phone to access the Internet. Additionally, 40 percent have signed up to online test preparation sites on their mobiles, heavily suggesting that if an institution doesn't provide mobile learning services, students will go and get it elsewhere anyway.

Instead of the glamorous offer of iPads for all, some institutions have chosen to invest heavily in their wireless network infrastructure in support of a BYOD approach. This is a very heavy investment and can be far more expensive than a few thousand iPads. Some BYOD implementations include:

  • King's College London in the UK, which supports 6,000 staff and 23,500 students

  • The University of Tennessee at Knoxville in the U.S., which hosts more than 26,000 students and 5,000 faculty and staff members, with nearly 75,000 smartphones, tablets, and laptops

  • The University of South Florida in the U.S., which supports 40,000 users

  • Sau Paolo State University in Brazil, which has 45,000 students and noted that despite providing desktop machines in the computer labs, half of all students opted to use their own devices instead

There are many challenges to BYOD which are not within the scope of this book, but there are also many resources on how to implement a BYOD policy that minimizes such risks. Use the Internet to seek these out.

Providing campus information websites on mobiles obviously was not the key rationale behind such technology investments. The real interest is in delivering mobile learning, and this remains an area full of experimentation and research. Google Scholar can be used to chart the rise of mobile learning research and it becomes evident how this really takes off in the second half of the decade, when the first major institutions started investing in mobile technology. It indexes scholarly literature, including journal and conference papers, theses and dissertations, academic books, pre-prints, abstracts, and technical reports. A year-by-year search reveals the rise of mobile learning research from just over 100 articles in 2000 to over 6,000 in 2012.

The following chart depicts the rise of mobile learning in academic research:

Mobile usage in apprenticeships

A typical apprenticeship will include a significant amount of college-based learning towards a qualification, alongside a major component based in the workplace under the supervision of an employer while the apprentice learns a particular trade. Due to the movement of the student from college to workplace, and the fact that the apprentice usually has to keep a reflective log and capture evidence of their skills acquisition, mobile devices can play a really useful role in apprenticeships.

Traditionally, the age group for apprenticeships is 16 to 24 year olds. This is an age group that has never known a world without mobiles and their mobile devices are integrated into the fabric of their daily lives and media consumption. They use social networks, SMS, and instant messaging rather than e-mail, and are more likely to use the mobile internet than any other age group. Statistics from the U.S. reveal that 75 percent of students use their phone to access the Internet.

Reflective logs are an important part of any apprenticeship. There are a number of activities in Moodle that can be used for keeping reflective logs, and these are ideal for mobile learning. Reflective log entries tend to be shorter than traditional assignments and lend themselves well to production on a tablet or even a smartphone. Consumption of reflective logs is perfect for both smartphone and tablet devices, as posts tend to be readable in less than 5 minutes.

Many institutions use Moodle coupled with an ePortfolio tool such as Mahara or Onefile to manage apprenticeship programs. There are additional Packt Publishing books on ePortfolio tools such as Mahara, should you wish to investigate a third-party, open source ePortfolio solution.

Mobile usage in the workplace

BYOD in the workplace is also becoming increasingly common, and, appears to be an unstoppable trend. It may also be discouraged or banned on security, data protection, or distraction grounds, but it is happening regardless. There is an increasing amount of research available on this topic, and some key findings from various studies reveal the scale of the trend:

  • A survey of 600 IT and business leaders revealed that 90 percent of survey respondents had employees using their own devices at work

  • 65 to 75 percent of companies allow some sort of BYOD usage

  • 80 to 90 percent of employees use a personal mobile device for business use

If you are a workplace learning practitioner then you need to sit up and take note of these numbers if you haven't done so already. Even if your organization doesn't officially have a BYOD policy, it is most likely that your employees are already using their own mobile devices for business purposes. It's up to your IT department to manage this safely, and again there are many resources and case studies available online to help with this. But as a learning practitioner, whether it's officially supported or not, it's worth asking yourself whether you should embrace it anyway, and provide learning activities to these users and their devices.

Mobile usage in distance learning

Online distance learning is principally used in higher education (HE), and many institutions have taken to it either as a new stream of revenue or as a way of building their brand globally. Enrolments have rocketed over recent years; the number of U.S. students enrolled in an online course has increased from one to six million in a decade. Online enrolments have also been the greatest source of new enrolments in HE in that time, outperforming general student enrolment dramatically. Indeed, the year 2011 in the US saw a 10 percent growth rate in distance learning enrolment against 2 percent in the overall HE student population. In the 2010 to 2011 academic years, online enrolments accounted for 31 percent of all U.S. HE enrolments.

Against this backdrop of phenomenal growth in HE distance learning courses, we also have a new trend of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) which aim to extend enrolment past traditional student populations to the vast numbers of potential students for whom a formal HE program of study may not be an option.

The convenience and flexibility of distance learning appeal to certain groups of the population. Distance learners are likely to be older students, with more than 30 years of age being the dominant age group. They are also more likely to be in full-time employment and taking the course to help advance their careers, and are highly likely to be married and juggling home and family commitments with their jobs and coursework.

We know that among the 30 to 40 age group mobile device use is very high, particularly among working professionals, who are a major proportion of HE distance learners. However, the MOOC audience is of real interest here as this audience is much more diverse. As many MOOC users find traditional HE programs out of their reach, many of these will be in developing countries, where we already know that users are leapfrogging desktop computing and going straight to mobile devices and wireless connectivity. For these types of courses, mobile support is absolutely crucial.

A wide variety of tools exist to support online distance learning, and these are split between synchronous and asynchronous tools, although typically a blend of the two is used. In synchronous learning, all participants are present at the same time. Courses will therefore be organized to a timetable, and will involve tools such as webinars, video conferences, and real-time chat. In asynchronous learning, courses are self-directed and students work to their own schedules, and tools include e-mail, discussion forums, audio recording, video recordings, and printed material.

Connecting distance learning from traditional institutions to MOOCs is a recognized need to improve course quality and design, faculty training, course assessment, and student retention. There are known barriers, including motivation, feedback, teacher contact, and student isolation. These are major challenges to the effectiveness of distance learning, and later in this book we will demonstrate how mobile devices can be used to address some of these areas.