The continuous improvement in technology made by scientists has significantly affected the way people perceive and learn the world. Mobile learning, namely m-learning, is one of the innovative products of the dramatic changing technology which seem to have been permeated all walks of life in various fields. For instance, you can see people, who are reading their electronic books on portable electronic devices such as iPad, smart phones, and tablets in a metro station or a cafe.
Mobile learning, by definition, refers to the way to learn without being confined to a fixed location. That is, learning that take place in any possible location with the help of mobile devices, including smart phones, MP3 players and PDAs (i.e. personal digital assistant) or laptop computers. The earlier definition of mobile learning emphasized the use of mobile technology, which enabled people to “e-learn” through mobile computational devices or any other kind of handheld device (Sharples et al., 2009). Thanks to the development of telecommunication and computing technology, wireless internet connection and improved mobile devices further extend the territory of mobile learning. Therefore, the definition of mobile learning should be widened to include any learning activities that not occur in a pre-determined and fixed location, or learning in which the learners make use of mobile technology (O’Malley, C. et al., 2003).
Compared with traditional location-fixed learning, technology-assisted learning is a timely pedagogy, whose practicability still needs to be identified and tested in the eyes of many researchers, teachers, educators and parents. According to Shaples et al. (2009), mobile learning as pedagogy, provides greater mobility in diverse aspects: Mobility in physical space in which people can learn without being physically constrained in a fixed location; mobility of technology yields a series of portable handheld devices and resources for people to carry around in which they can learn without time-constraint; these mobile devices enable people to perform learning with various social groups in which one can instantly asks for help on learning problem from his colleague, classmates or even teachers; the most distinct affordance of mobile learning is that “learning dispersed over time”, in other words, mobile learning helps people to accumulate knowledge and connect their prior knowledge with their present knowledge in order to reinforce their learning experiences. From the perspective of fostering language skills, m-learning pedagogy allows students to use their mobile devices, such as a internet-connectable application, iPhone, iPad or an Android phone, to share their problems or experience instantly and vividly, which to a certain degree, motivate them to learn under a pressure-free environment in which useful instructions and leaning take place. By using a wide variety of educational applications in smart-phones carefully selected will help develop students’ language skills accordingly.
However, with the help of continuously updated information from portable devices, peoples’ attention thus keeps shifting from one topic or theme to another in which few learning may take place if learners’ attention is not paid constantly. Moreover, mobile learning emphasizes the integration of technology into teaching and learning, which request comprehensive learning skills and computing knowledge from both teachers and learners otherwise not necessary in traditional classroom teaching/learning. In addition, mobile learning heavily depends on mobile technology (i.e. portable handheld devices) and wireless internet connection, which might requires users to pay a relatively expensive bill. According to Shield and Kukulska-Hulme (2008), the m-learning teaching pedagogy provides one-way teacher-to-learner communication in which the teacher uses the mobile devices to deliver the teaching content rather than motivating learners to communicate with each other or with their teachers. And this lack of authentic communication may later discourage learners to use the language, especially in speaking.
As the accessibility to wireless networks expands and ownership of devices increases, using mobile devices to support language learning becomes commonplace in educational setting (Shield et al., 2008). In Sharpless et al. (2009), three exemplars of mobile learning were mentioned and showed how children can be motivated and learn outside traditional settings. AMULETS is one of the three exemplars, in which 55 elementary students performed remote and co-located activities with smart-phones, PDAs, GPS devices and stationery computers during two lesson about the forest and the history of the city square, respectively. The educational scenarios was comprised of different game-like stages and at the end of the learning sessions, all these activities were reconstructed in the classroom using several visualization tools such as digital maps. In the first trial about learning “the forest”, students were either asked to identify different types of trees and measuring the height and age of tress or to record still images and video clips using the smart-phones elaborating how they tackle problem they encountered during their trip to the physical environment. The co-created content were encoded with metadata, including GPS coordinates, time stamp and the phone ID which enriched the contextual information for later use in the classroom. Then in the second trial, students had to work in the museum and in the square in separate groups to solve challenging problems, with the support of various animated characters and video clips providing contextual information for the challenges. The result implied that learners became positive and motivated in using mobile and ubiquitous technologies in everyday learning activities and a playful atmosphere.
From the AMULETS, we can see that the biggest strength of m-learning pedagogy is that it significantly fosters students’ ability to learn independently with the help of various handheld devices in an interactive and fun way. Learning is no longer confined to the traditional learning setting; students are encouraged to learn at any time and at any place. However, mobile devices can be distracted sometimes. Students’ attention may shift from one topic to another quickly with the handheld devices, in which few learning might take place. As a result, teachers’ classroom control and parents’ effective monitor become important to facilitate students to use these mobile devices for educational purposes. In addition, the high charges for internet-connection service and mobile devices for schools and students may also be another weakness which impedes the implementation of mobile learning at present.