As a visitor (or stand owner, it wasn’t too clear) at BETT I was emailed a link to a web survey this morning which at the end promised me exclusive access to a NERP report (National Education Research Panel) concerning the “new technology outlook (for schools) in 2008” driven by data gathered from “422 primary and 272 secondary schools cross the UK” in Dec ’07.

Amongst the usual bar charts and stat heavy paragraphs I soon noticed that mobile learning was taking a real hammering and schools were instead focusing heavily on front of class ICT.

In Primary Schools “…mobile devices continue being of little value or not utilised by the majority of Primary schools.

In Secondary Schools “…little or no investment is planned for mobile devices“.

This contrasted massively against the move towards more teacher-centric (or should that be static?) ICT utilities:

“Broadly, it can be determined that primary schools are more likely to value teacher-facing technologies such as IWBs, while secondary schools are more likely to value the core ICT infrastructure.”

“Secondary schools are mostly likely to make large investments in learning platforms (22%), and IWBs (23%).”

Again and again mobile ICT learning came out badly and teacher led ICT learning came out strongly.

Initially this led me to wonder if the fault lies with the mobile device manufacturers for making their products too expensive when compared to the (perceived) benefit it brings to the learning (“Secondary schools are…most likely to identify mobile devices as offering poor value-for-money“) . Or does the emphasis lie with mobile content publishers for not producing assets that capture teachers imaginations?

“Registration systems and mobile devices are more likely to be perceived as offering poor value-for-money.”

You could simply read into all this that teachers think the cost to benefit ratio is too high. But when you see this data alongside the drive to IWBs and VLEs it starts to look more than a cold financial decision: are schools afraid to move from a teacher controlled, front of class model (the interactive whiteboard) to a distributed, more student controlled model (the mobile device)?

Is it fear of letting go some of that control that is pushing mobile learning further and further from their minds? ICT has exploded into classrooms since the late 90’s and I can imagine schools are only now starting to get a true handle on it all. So is m-learning just a technology too far right now?

Or is it the perhaps unspoken idea that somehow the outside world of ipods, mobile/smart phones, Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, Palm Pilots and so on are intrusive, chaotic and blur too obviously the boundaries between study (work) and non-study (play)?

Or is it something more practical? The small size of these devices could be an issue – after all a teacher can at least physically monitor a laptop screen or a Whiteboard – who can tell what’s going on on 30 small mobile devices in the classroom?

I don’t know – I’m not a teacher. But it’s obvious something fundamental has to shift and I think it’s a mindset, from LA level to Classroom teacher.

Of course data such as “…more than half of primary schools indicate the best delivery method for curriculum content in 2008 is via websites” and the emphasis on IWBs and VLEs is great for ode in general, it’s still a little disheartening that mobile learning investment is on such a downer.

Perhaps ode could contribute a kick start to m-learning – after all little bits of learning suit little learning devices, right?

The scope for mobile learning is enormous. The Wolverhampton “Learning2go” project has done some incredible work and companies such as m-learning.mobi look really interesting. There’s even a dedicated conference, Handheld Learning, although anyone that promotes a conference by using a quote from a Guardian journalist that says “These are not new technologies, and the speakers weren’t saying anything they hadn’t said several times before” doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.

I am 100% sure that one day someone will crack it and break down the barrier. It may be a generational thing – a mobile savvy 7 year old in a classroom today could be a captain of m-learning industry tomorrow.

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