Global impact of mobile devices

Facilitated by John Traxler

General highlights (provided on demand of participants):

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Group on the Global Impact of mobile devices (John Traxler):

Resources, webinar and contact information is provided at the end of this page.

My aim is to provide a variety of resources, frameworks and positions that might assist the formation of informed and critical views about the past, present and future of learning with mobile devices around the globe. I think that the perceptions, achievements and perspectives of the mobile learning community around the globe have often been partial, incomplete and misunderstood. This discussion cannot, by definition, put that right, only raise questions and introduce a note of scepticism and perhaps rigour.

I hope everyone involved will not only contribute opinions and examples but more importantly, counter-examples and contrary opinions. I think that too often the history of mobile learning has been dominated by research accounts derived from a handful of personalities and paradigms from the early heartlands of mobile learning in perhaps Western Europe and from uncritical accounts of programmes addressing infrastructure deficiencies from developing regions or disadvantaged communities, frequently South Africa and some of its neighbours.

Disadvantage in the developed world; technology and education in the developed world generally; the political environment that embraces them - these are all subject to specific discourses and disciplines, to specific arguments and analyses that seem different from those used in the developing worlds. Can these be broadened and connected? That is one of my aims, to see if we can look at learning with mobiles through the same intellectual lenses and with the same methods, theories and values irrespective of location or context, not letting conceptions about 'developed' vs 'developing' prejudice how we think and act, or the dichotomy of mature and emergent economies or East and West.

I’d welcome reactions – how convincing are these dichotomies, how useful are they when we think about our own experiences of learning with mobiles? Do they make any difference?

In relation to other MobiMOOC topics, I don't want to see development as a subset of global, not in the sense of saying global is merely the sum of developed and developing, or global as free of theory, at least not in the sense of seeing theory as universal and independent of history and culture, or that mobiles are universally understood so we do not need a theory, so there will be overlap and friction with other parts of the programme.

I'm interested in the global history and global future for sure, and see us at a tipping point (this paper from a conference later in the year, puts the phrase tipping point in a different perspective) in many respects and would like to develop that theme, perhaps in terms of the previous small-scale theory-driven history and the future large-scale theory-free future, maybe as the dynamic - or absence of it - between activists and researchers on the one hand and policymakers, managers and officials on the other.

I want to focus on what has been reported and documented in order to ask what went un-reported and un-documented or maybe just didn't happen or happen the way we now remember it, and to focus on what we thought we learnt and understood in order to explore what we should have learnt and might have misunderstood.

A topic I would like to move onto is pedagogy, specifically how little we know about what it means within different societies to learn, to teach, to know.... how different cultures and communities decide or accept what they would need or like to know, how they would like to come to it, who they would like to learn it from, how they would demonstrate they had learnt it, who they would pass it onto? Also in different societies, what arte the differences between pedagogy in formal settings

Another topic that I've worked over the last few years has been the ethics of mobile (learning) interventions into different and/or distant communities. This might sound like a purely development issue but often education is a process of acculturation whereby learners gain a new identity (and lose their earlier one?). These learners may be remote and indigenous tribes, they may be in rural ares of the the South (or North), they may be working class folk coming into middle class universities, they may be San, Tuva, Roma, Maasai, travellers or circus folk enabled to access the global knowledge economy (and risk their own culture?) but wherever on the global it happens it is not ethically straightforward; the balance is permanently tipped in favour of our duty to educate and away from our right to. MIn this respect mobiles present that desktops never do. In a recent book, Linking Research to Practice on ICTD and research practices one of my chapters touches some of this.

And another is evaluation! A recent Guardian piece mentions some of the issues related to language in developing contexts but they may have a wider relevance.

Some resources and webinar information
I am concerned to interrogate the accepted or dominant interpretation of our work, history and achievements but cannot do that without revisiting and reviewing accounts of that work, history and achievements. The achievements of the (self-defined) mobile learning research community can be found quintessentially in the archives of the mLearn conference series - first and best since 2002, available

Similar accounts can found at IADIS with a better Spanish-speaking representation, try and WMUTE, Wireless, Mobile and Ubiquitous Technology in Education/WMTE, Wireless, Mobile and Technology in Education, try

Also the online research journal, also those conferences that deal with e-learning/technology enhancement learning/edtech (revealing something of our parentage and provenance) and human-computer interaction (HCI) (ditto), open and distance learning (ODL) and latterly mobiles-for-development (m4d, search for 'm4d proceedings').

A bibliography can be found at, and, also keep an eye on .

A different, overlapping and derivative narrative comes from the recent burst of reports and reviews from global agencies such as UNESCO ICT in Education section, World Bank, World Economic Forum, USAID mEducation Alliance, and GSMA Development Fund. I will start by asking everyone to look at some of all these and to report back.

Once you have had a chance to look at the sources, see if you agree with my overview. I feel that these sources

  • miss examples and experiences from the commercial and corporate world (see Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler 2005, there's only one),
  • miss, or perhaps skew, corporate social responsibility projects, that they miss agency funded programmes (MoLeNET, for example, was a big UK programmme spending maybe 12m gbp supporting the TVET sector but the various accounts of MoLeNET came largely from within MoLeNET itself or from its staff or projects),
  • miss the work of consultants, for whom publication was not a priority, an expectation, a duty or a right;
  • there is little or no literature in Arabic or Chinese, not much in French, not literature from Latin America; North American perspectives are recent and Russia and the old Soviet Union are unrepresented;
  • projects that define themselves as 'mobile learning' show up but others that use mobiles for learning pass un-noticed, and accounts of failures are massively out-numbered by accounts of successes.

Are these accurate generalisations? Is there more to report?

I'd welcome any more sources and observations that give us a richer and more complex picture.

I'd argue that we are at a global tipping point. I'd argue that over the last two or three years
  • agency & corporate interest and activity has increased massively, for example the mEducation Alliance
  • the US has woken to the commercial and educaional possibilities
  • learning with mobiles has become a widespread retail and informal phenomenon

and that these factors have transformed the nature and scale of learning with mobiles, that they represent a paradigm shift (exactly in the sense that Kuhn would have used the phrase) This account is however subjective and impressionistic. What is the evidence that might corroborate, complicate or refute it? What is the evidence away from the old mobile learning hotspots and the new mobile learning hotspots?

Any attempt to review mobile learning globally clearly needs to look at learning with mobiles wherever and whenever it has happened, and preferably get as near to the raw data and the actual experiences as possible. This would however ignore the wider, changing social context of how mobiles are transforming the societies in which learning happens. This was what we tackled in the previous MobiMOOC so go back at look at some of those earlier resources and discussions.

Webinar on the global impact of mobile devices is planned for Wednesday 19 September 2012 at 8.00 AM, GMT (look here for a list of YOUR local times organized per country/city)
This webinar can be entered at this URL (make sure you have a headset for optimal listening/speaking quality):

Here is a recording of a seminar given by John Traxler at the University of Kwazulu Natal, the original recording can be viewed at This presentation sheds some light on the philosophical implications and impacts of mobile devices. There is also a complementary video that addresses similar issues from a more developed countries perspective, from a seminar at the university of Leicester. Taken together these make some of the global points but not from a global perspective.

Here is the shared YouTube version

Contact details

University website:
Twitter: @johntraxler
Skype: johntraxler