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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Friday 16 Mar 2012
Growing opportunities that stem from mobile learning

Growing opportunities that stem from mobile learning

Our mobile phones have become an integral part of our existence. Where would we be without one? But they've become far more than a tool to talk or text and are now an adjunct for our work, our research and as a useful aid when it comes to L&D programmes. Advances in mobile technologies and high levels of mobile phone penetration are changing the way that learning can be adopted and accessed in education. It has evolved into more than e-learning with a phone. Mobile learning offers easier access to learning materials so students can be more productive with their time. It can empower executive education providers to serve up learning in multiple formats - audio, visual or text - to suit individual learning styles.

That indeed was apparent in the research we conducted recently on behalf of UNICON (International University Consortium for Executive Education), entitled 'Going mobile in executive education,' which explored the impact of mobile technologies on the executive education learning landscape around the world. In particular, how portable technologies - smartphones, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), tablets and personal media players - can support and extend the reach of teaching and learning.

The report looks at practice beyond the business education market and highlights examples of learning providers embracing mobile learning within business schools, universities and the private sector around the globe. The examples are outlined in case studies that demonstrate innovative applications and new approaches to learning and include Harvard Business School, Seton Hill University, Abilene Christian University in the USA; Ashridge Business School, The Open University, EPIC in the UK; IMD in Switzerland and University of Cape Town in South Africa. Whilst there are some examples from business schools included, the report concludes that executive education providers are yet to exploit the benefits of using mobile devices to support learning, despite them being tools that most senior executives bring with them to the classroom.

Mobile technology can help provide executives with pre- and post-course support, and the latest mobile learning applications can extend their access to a multimedia-rich education. It also provides a means for participants to stay connected with one another as professional resources after a programme ends. Other benefits of mobile learning identified by the report include:

'Just enough' learning - highly applied, easily digestible learning for busy executives.

'Just-in-time' learning - convenient, flexible and relevant learning at the exact moment learning is required.

'Just-for-me' learning - learning can be accessed via mobile devices in many different ways, which means that there are opportunities for it to appeal to many different learning styles.

Mobile devices can facilitate collaboration. SMS texting reminders, knowledge sharing and 'ask a question' forums enable and enhance interaction between participants and tutors.

Interestingly, using mobile devices to network socially or learn collaboratively as part of education is second nature to many undergraduates, which is important because today's undergraduates may well be tomorrow's executive education participants. The future of executive education is about choice and personalisation for all concerned

Tony Sheehan, director of learning services at Ashridge said: "Many executives are time starved, over worked yet under increasing pressure to make the best decisions in an increasingly competitive environment. Mobile learning offers a powerful opportunity to introduce learning 'on demand'. It allows individuals to connect to executive education at a time that suits them and in a way that can support current business challenges. Mobile devices allow learners to connect in times of reflection - a long train journey, a daily commute - where the mind is alert and open to new insights."

In short, business schools must continue to innovate if they are to continue to meet the needs of employers and senior executives. The global nature of businesses and the growing capabilities of powerful mobile devices mean that adopting new technologies in learning is essential to continuing to attract clients in the competitive executive education market.

Carina Paine Schofield, research fellow and Trudi West, research assistant at Ashridge Business School