Keys, wallet, smartphone … things we can’t leave home without

“Students with smart phones study more often” according to this article  by Study Blue. Amazingly it reveals students are using smart phones to study away from a desk at home or in a classroom. This seems obvious, but fits with my downtime learner theory, in that people are learning in all sorts of places and times that traditionally fall outside of the ‘cells and bells’ notions of where learning takes place. It’s hardly earth moving, but at the same time hints that study is interrupted by personal use – as though learning is one activity and life is another.

Where ever you go in a city like Sydney, people appear to be ‘on the phone‘ but not holding to their ear. Finger swiping and tapping is predicated by learning the new language, new literacies and navigating though new types of media. Using one effectively is a world away from using a computer – and no ones suggesting people need formal training.

A recent Educause report looked at the potential of smartphones. However, if you  scan the questions and bar charts, it appears that the assumption here is that learning-content will in some way be shovelled into a course-app, rather than the course adopting mobile-apps that pre-exist. I can live with Study Blue’s determination that students are often checking email in their study – as that is also the most likely way that an institution is going to connect with them still. It’s the Henry Ford option – any colour you like as long as it’s black.

The problem seems to be the assumption that ‘software’ useful for academic purposes is either an LMS or some form of Microsoft Office generated document, rather than something like Evernote or Edmodo. And why not – there’s vast amounts of literature about such things and millions of dollars and hours invested in it. A recent study by Monash, found students preferred to communicate with lecturers via email (64%) from the options, yet when it comes to Internet use, only 7% of their activity was email use. It also focused on the device for conducting the use of social media (Facebook, MySpace [huh?]) or blogs and wikis (which are a different category) as either on a Mac or a PC.

Where is the correlation between smartphone access and computer access? 41% of students in the sample said they used multiple devices. I wonder what percentage of course content was designed for multiple devices and tuned into the way that people on smart phones use them? I suspect a tiny amount if any. This, to me, highlights the fact that study materials are overwhelming designed for print format (A4) and to a lesser extent laptop/desktop browsing. What about smart-phone applications or connectivist approaches to student-teacher culture participation? Why, after all we know, is it okay to preference PDFs, PPTs and Word Docs rather than find ways to allow teachers to develop this content, rather than buy it from Pearson?

Despite the clear changes in technology an social use of that technology – the paper orientated cognitive apprenticeship is still king. Content is treated as it is scarce enough that only a hand few of people can hand it out, focused on print, rather than better ways to tell a story, show people something new (ie showme app) or provide networked conversations – leading and facilitating though the craft of being a teacher first and foremost. It also assumes that what is said on paper, or in the classroom is correct. There’s plenty of studies to show that isn’t a universal truth.

The cost of developing ‘course-apps’ would be an extravagance and fly in the face of what people have learned to do with smart phones. Can you go into a shop and say ‘custom fit me a suite of apps please?’ – No, because that isn’t how smart phones work and everyone knows it. Developing course-apps would be like moving ten years backwards to a time where only a few instructional designers had the skills to make app-courseware. It ignores the fact that learning is now everywhere, in entirely new formats, designs and experiences, despite plenty of resources and plans to help implement mobile learning right now. All content takes time to create and I’m yet to meet a teacher who has time to develop what they see as the wrong type of content.

Downtime learners have figured out  how to create multiple useful processes to help them do an extra-ordinary number of things with smart phones. Very recently, the Independent Magazine reportedthe mobile is the remote control of your life, leaving home without it is as unthinkable as leaving your keys or wallet to most people now – imagine what it will do by 2025.

I think we’re past the point of wondering what smart phones are or how we can shovel courseware into apps. There’s a broad suspicion that eLearning hasn’t been as awesum on the PC as we were promised. Downtime learners don’t expect (or want) a single option-solution or have someone to explain it (training). They expect to be self-supporting via the network of people that it connects them to. Web2.0 was a mere twitch, not even a tremor for education – because it largely happened on a desktop (and was easy to regulate or ban). Learners were reliant on the blue-cable or wifi – and education was adept at controlling that experience.

The smartphone was the real earthquake in terms of radically rethinking software and how we use it. Even more significantly, we can easily tether our laptop slabs to our networks and bypass the often unreliable and locked down institutional networks entirely. Education seems to have totally missed this – or perhaps sees it as something fundamentally further out and of little significance.  A phone is a computer and a computer is a phone, but the way we interact with them are fundamentally different. We are now in a position to create a personal technology plan for students. If we are as people claim – the ‘student centered learning’ generation – then we have to also accept that smart phone centred learning is the preference of millions of people who learn constantly from each other though apps and mobile Internet access – but equally that smart phones and personal Internet connectivity is a luxury many don’t have – just like laptops. The question seems to be, which are they more likely to have, and which will become the predominant device. I seriously doubt it will be ground fibre and wifi to laptops and neither do CISCO.

There will be 788 million mobile-only Internet users by 2015. The mobile-only Internet population will grow 56-fold from 14 million at the end of 2010 to 788 million by the end of 2015.

The trend is this, the current use of smart phone and other mobile devices, provides experiences and usage patterns that didn’t exist a few years ago. They, like their users are not interested in retro-fitting, but working on well agreed growth rates, especially in video and the fact people expect to use multiple devices. Take a conference today – people take keys, wallet, iphone, iPad and Laptop. Why? if they did the same thing, there would be no point. The reality is that they do different things, and the media on them is different. There won’t be an optimal point of conversion, just more fragmentation, more choice and more expectation. What is clear, from industry reports is that video will be the most consumed media – not print or slide-decks – but co-created and distributed socially. But you know this right? It was predicted the 2008  Horizon Report – the same year we all got iPhones outside the US – and this year – mobiles once again are top of the list.

So what are you going to design for next year if not mobiles and video distribution over networks?