Ally (2009, p.1) presents the utopian vision for m-learning:
Learners will not have to wait for a certain time to learn or go to a certain place to learn. With mobile learning, learners will be empowered since they can learn whenever and wherever they want. Also, learners do not need to learn what is prescribed for them.
Traxler, in the first chapter of the eBook (2009, p.10) continues in a similar vein:
Looking at mobile learning in a wider context, we have to recognize that mobile, personal, and wireless devices are now radically transforming societal notions of discourse and knowledge, and are responsible for new forms of art, employment, language, commerce, deprivation, and crime, as well as learning. With increased popular access to information and knowledge anywhere, anytime, the role of education, perhaps especially formal education, is challenged and the relationships between education, society, and technology are now more dynamic than ever.
Later (p.14) he adds:
Learning that used to be delivered “just-in-case,” can now be delivered “just-in-time, just enough, and just-for-me.” Finding information rather than possessing it or knowing it becomes the defining characteristic of learning generally and of mobile learning especially, and this may take learning back into the community.
(Emphasis added). I think I'm finally able to explain my concern with this sort of thinking. In response to Ally, formal education is not inherently disempowering and neither does it seek to treat a prescribed curriculum as all there is to know. Formal education is a means to a transformed mind; in the words of Montaigne, it seeks to 'make minds not fill them'. And, formal education is not about access to information and knowledge. So, in response to Traxler's first point above, m-learning represents an opportunity to formal education and not a challenge. Further, it is way too simplistic to differentiate learning based on it being 'just-in-case' or 'just-in-time'. This ignores completely the value and mechanisms of formal education. When has anyone ever 'needed' Plato? Seneca? Postman? Rorty? Or, perhaps better relating to e-learning folk, Shirky? Yet these thinkers and their perspectives continue to open minds, to broaden them, to challenge them. Using Laurillard's distinction of everyday and academic knowledge, everyday knowledge should be just-in-time; academic knowledge is just-to-challenge, just-to-open, just-to-blow us out of our own ways of thinking. To criticise formal education for adopting a 'just-in-case' approach to learning is simply nonsense. To further assert that finding information is "the defining characteristic of learning" is very alarming, because it is actually 'knowing it' that helps you to develop a mental filter and include the information in your personal mental framework. Brighouse (pp.23-24) puts it plainly:
the critical thinking skills involved in autonomy can neither be developed nor exercised without the ease of access to a considerable amount of information which is provided only by having learned and internalized it… the idea that [students] might develop the more complex skills of reasoning about information without having a good deal of it instantly available is silly.
So, a Google search is more powerful than an educated mind? What if (as Jeanneney suggests) the question were not, "What is the capital of Venezuela?" but rather "Does democratization favour equality?" Here, it is the ability to evaluate and not merely find knowledge that becomes 'definitional' of having truly learned.
My criticism of Ally's phrase is that it reveals a deficit perspective of formal education, and seems to confuse the advantages of informal learning with formal learning. For Traxler the issue is epistemological, and a likely confusion between what it means to train and what it means to educate (Rosenberg, to whom the contrast between 'just-in-case', 'just-in-time', 'just enough' and 'just for me' is attributed, is involved in e-learning for training purposes). Traxler does acknowledge that a good case can be made for the use of mobile devices in incumbent formal education however his use of the term 'impurist' to describe this is somewhat loaded.
Finally, Traxler (2009, p.10) describes m-learning as "essentially personal, contextual, and situated". The fundamental error here, I think, is that Traxler has mistaken potential attributes for m-learning as essential. There is an unfortunate idealism in place here, as if Traxler is correct any use of a mobile device in educational contexts that is directed, abstract and theoretical cannot be 'real' m-learning. Far from being a pedagogical option, then, m-learning rather becomes a revolutionary slogan.
To finish, I would like to offer a set of theses to to with higher education:
- Formal education seeks to open minds, rather than fill them; however opening cannot be separated from filling, nor vice-versa.
- Formal education does not stop or hinder informal learning.
- Formal education aims to orientate academic apprentices into an ongoing academic conversation; it does not claim to be the conversation itself.
- Formal education seeks to add value through: a) its structuring of knowledge, and b) its insistence that students participate in exercises that force reflection and integration of knowledge.
- Formal education is a deliberately tiered process, gradually immersing academic apprentices in a critical, co-dependent and questioning epistemology. The further the apprentice travels, the clearer the value of the tier becomes to them.
- it is focused on filling minds with irrelevant nonsense;
- it is concerned with memorising facts;
- it is locked into an outdated model of objectives and assessment;
- it considers itself a monopoly on learning;
- or that it is a waste of money and time and a barrier to more natural informal and networked learning.