The time has come for mobile learning. This is the year: 2007. If you are an optimist you can say that the stars are aligned. If you are more the tempest type, you can join Todd Richmond in saying: the educational sector will be dragged into the future kicking and screaming by the next perfect storm.
Genuine engagement of students with the knowledge available online has been put off for a decade. Wired schools usually have firewalls, making what the kids can look at online selective from the central office. Wired schools put computers in labs or just have one or two in a classroom, so that youngsters have their hands off of keyboards for most of the day. Even online classes tend to be repositioned versions of classrooms from the old analog education system of the 20th century. Although there are bountiful good intentions and elaborate efforts that have accomplished these things, learning is still far from a direct engagement of the school age generation with the new location of and new interaction with what is known by humankind online.
Now it is obvious how 21s century students will engage that knowledge: they will study it directly, interacting with it individually — they will hold it in their hands and interface it with their minds. They will do that with their mobiles, with the portable computers they already have in their pockets.
These are the aligned stars of 2007—the elements of the perfect storm: the kids have the mobiles (cell phones), open education resources online abound, mobile technology is roaring toward broadband with all the bells and whistles of interaction and video and the like, the W3C Mobile Initiative has set a course toward mobile browsing of the internet which will open more and more online knowledge content for learning from mobiles.
The tens of thousands of mobilists gathered last month in Barcelona will have a role in bringing mobile learning forward this year, and if you are one of them I urge you to get to work on mobile learning and be part of the next big thing. Universities, museums, laboratories, individual experts and other keepers of analog knowledge can, should — and I believe will — open their knowledge increasingly to mobile learning in coming months. Gamers will move into mobiles for learning. Teachers will ask students to take their mobiles out of their pockets for integration into the learning process.
And the kids? The first students born in the 21st century are finishing the first grade of school this spring. Teenagers around the planet already have made the mobile basic to their way of life. As Howard Rheingold has written: The tools for cultural production and distribution are now in the pockets of 14 year olds. If we do not morph learning into the mobile venue, the young generation will do it themselves. They are doing that with their music, their pictures, their friendships and (especially in developing countries) with new businesses and services. The day is upon education for: no more pencils, no print books, no more analog backward looks.