Table of Contents

  • I am pleased to present to you the first issue of a new ITU publication “Capacity Building in a Changing ICT Environment”.

  • The first issue of this publication advocates and explores the increased use of mobile technologies to deliver, enhance and support informal learning and skills development with, for and amongst disenfranchised and disadvantaged people in the developing world. In a rapidly emerging and rapidly changing field, the focus on skills development and lifelong learning is however sometimes only implicit amongst the flurry of other mobile learning activities. The articles of this publication document different aspects of this work and make recommendations. This introduction looks at the bigger picture, the historical and conceptual frameworks.

  • In this article, the importance of lifelong learning will be explored, and in particular, the ways in which hand-held digital communication devices can be used as effective ways for adults to learn. Mobile Learning offers some very significant potential benefits to adult learners. Our challenge is to ensure that, educators, policy makers and learners themselves can all play their parts in ensuring that these new ways of learning really do make a positive difference to people’s personal and professional lives.

  • The mobile learning community has the potential and responsibility to bring informal and community-based learning to the hard-to-reach and those experiencing socio-economic, cultural, and ecological uncertainty. The capabilities of mobile technologies, on their own or blended with other local and sustainable technologies, have opened up avenues for transformational change founded on personal, vocational, cultural, economic, social, and civic improvement of individuals and groups. The exponential growth in mobile penetration and handset ownership across the globe coupled with expanding mobile network coverage, offered by competitive mobile network operators, creates an environment in which the immense potential of mobile learning in overcoming the global learning challenges can be realized.

  • Mobile learning can now be used to take learning to individuals and communities, who for reasons of geography, finance, culture, disability, or infrastructure, were previously unable to access conventional educational opportunities. From its conception, mobile learning has changed the learning landscape over a relatively short period of time. To gain an understanding of those changes, this article provides impressions of mobile learning across the globe since about 2002. This review of recent history presents examples of the achievements and the challenges during those years. It also includes the work of global agencies, such as UNESCO, USAID, and the World Bank and their role in articulating, reviewing, and promoting mobile learning. With stories of success, there are also often many challenges and hurdles to overcome which is illustrated through examples. The article concludes with recommendations.

  • Mobile learning is about people learning while being mobile. People are mobile not the devices they carry. While it is true that the devices are untethered, having no wires connecting them to networks, they still must rely on people to carry them. The technology behind mobile learning allows the learner better access to information, resources, and other people when and where he or she needs or desires it. Danaher defined a mobile learning community as “a group of people who are mobile for sustained periods of the year or their lives and who recognize in themselves and others a common experience of mobility and a shared commitment to learning for themselves and other group members”. This definition of a mobile learning community does not mention technology; the focus is on people that are mobile that have an interest in learning. The goal of life-long learning is to provide access to learning resources while being mobile—which can take on many forms.

  • The 21st century workplace is changing rapidly. Global competition for advanced knowledge and skills development coupled with societal changes are creating new demands in the workplace. In response, business practices and processes are rapidly evolving leading to changes in the places and times of work, increasing workloads, and greater workforce mobility. Furthermore, mobiles have penetrated the business world opening the door to new approaches for workforce development, across various contexts and career paths. This article examines mobiles for enriching work-based learning practices and supporting performance for those already employed in the business sector. The next section introduces the use of mobiles before progressing to a discussion on informal learning in the workplace. The latter sections focus on work-based mobile learning approaches with selected case studies, affordances and constraints, and recommendations for practice.

  • Societies and individuals around the world increasingly recognize that investment in education is an investment in future growth, particularly in economic, social and personal areas. With the growing availability and related infrastructure of low-cost mobile and wireless technologies, massive opportunities are emerging for learners, teachers and institutions in developing countries. In particular, mobile connectivity can facilitate new ways of teaching and learning that are cost-effective and better personalized to the individual’s needs and context. Mobile technologies also offer potentiality for contextual learning, and have unbound learners from classroom walls while also enhancing collaborative processes in informal contexts. These features of mobile learning are particularly relevant to developing country contexts since mobile learning can only take place outside of school as there remains an in-school ban on mobile phone use by learners. Nevertheless, mobile learning still must overcome conceptual, practical, and organizational challenges before people can fully benefit from this learning medium.

  • Those who work to promote the use of mobile tools for teaching and learning do so in a complex environment. There are many different stakeholders who can have a profound influence over the acceptance and support of such innovations. To what extent these stakeholders choose to either promote or constrain mobile learning depends on their own perspectives, driven by financial, political or social considerations. As policy is debated, formulated, applied and interpreted by these stakeholders, their differing perspectives may have positive or negative effects on policy and its progress towards its intended goals.

  • It has been noted how lifelong learning plays a powerful role in enabling individuals and nations to reach their full potential. Without widening and deepening access to lifelong learning it will be increasingly hard to meet the challenges of the Education for All goals and adapt our economies and lifestyles to take account of climate change. The article will discuss the recommendations at the end of each of the earlier articles and articulate the reservations and limitations that come along with such recommendations. It is often tempting to make recommendations for low-hanging-fruit, for quick-easy-wins. This too is understandable since these create early credibility and momentum, and a straightforward account of cause-and-effect, but they should be integrated within a wider, more coherent and consistent framework and direction. This is not straightforward. Our incomplete examples, experiences and evidence will always support a variety of different interpretations and apparently plausible explanations that persuade us to construct the rationale and the narrative and discard the anecdote and the accidental.