Flexible and mobile learning

Electronic learning or e-learning, defined as learning and teaching online through engagement with network technologies, could be a powerful adjuvant if used properly and considerately (Swanwick, 2010). There are different types of e-learning, each with pros and cons, serving different functions regarding the learning environment: asynchronous vs. synchronous, and individual vs. group use (Biggs and Tang, 2011). While working synchronously in a group nurtures the sense of learning community and provides direct and instant support to the participants, it lacks the flexibility offered by individually and asynchronous approaching the task (Hrastinski, 2008); this flexibility is about enabling choice and responsiveness in the pace, place, and mode of learning, and it should be regarded as a characteristic of both learners and teachers that is inherent in the institutional ethos (Ryan and Tilbury, 2013). Social learning, occurring through appropriate communication within learning communities, characterizes good educational contexts where participants’ experiences are readily exchanged (Biggs and Tang, 2011). To build up successful e-learning communities, three types of communication come to the surface: content-related communication, planning of tasks, and social support. Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning are not contradicting; rather, they are conceived as complementary to each other. Content-related part is the main type of exchange within the asynchronous communication, whereas other types of communication are better supported by synchronous e-learning. By the same token, asynchronous e-learning better supports cognitive participation with increased reflective ability particularly for complex issues, and synchronous e-learning is better for less complex discussions where it maintains personal participation with enhanced motivation and meaning-making (Hrastinski, 2008).

Mobile learning, sometimes referred to as M-learning or nomadic learning, takes place upon using mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, personal digital assistants, flash-discs, digital cameras, etc. (Swanwick, 2010). Increasing number of companies and higher education institutions are becoming adopting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), also called Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), practice where people bring their own mobile devices and incorporate them into the learning or work system. However, effective implementation of BYOD strategy might be impeded by unaffordability to the latest technologies (NMC Horizon Report, 2015). A more comprehensive approach to conceptualize mobile learning is centred on three components: mobility of technology, mobility of learners, and mobility of learning (El-Hussein and Cronje, 2010). Three distinctive features have emerged as to the mobile learning: personalisation, authenticity, and collaboration (Kearney et al., 2012).

Generally, successive generations are better equipped with a bigger repertoire of digital knowledge and skills. Thus, I believe that making the concepts of flexible pedagogy and e-learning explicitly presented to the education community will positively impact the learning outcome. This might take more time and efforts as to the old-fashioned teachers who still prefer traditional methods; however, this is most likely to be gradually and smoothly improved when new, more technically-advanced generations of teachers replace the existing one. Such an advance might even take longer time in developing countries like Sudan due to the lack of resources and governmental support. Nevertheless, the telecommunication field in Sudan is considered as one of the best models available in the region, and that offers a fertile ground for the technology-assisted education to grow and flourish.

SWANWICK, T. 2010. Understanding medical education: evidence, theory, and practice, Chichester, West Sussex, Blackwell Pub.

BIGGS, J. B. & TANG, C. S.-K. 2011. Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does, Maidenhead, Open University Press.

HRASTINSKI, S. (2008). Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Educause quarterly, 31(4), 51-55.

RYAN, A., & TILBURY, D. (2013). Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas.

NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition.

El-HUSSEIN, M. O. M., & CRONJE, J. C. (2010). Defining Mobile Learning in the Higher Education Landscape.Educational Technology & Society, 13(3), 12-21.

KEARNEY, M., SCHUCK, S., BURDEN, K., & AUBUSSON, P. (2012). Viewing mobile learning from a pedagogical perspective. Research in Learning Technology, 20.


4 thoughts on “Flexible and mobile learning

  1. Thank you Mohammed for a clarifying post. I missed the hangout when you discussed all the different terms in relation to each other, but this really helped. It confused we that e-learning per se should be mobile but they are not synonymous are they?


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