Sustainable Distance Education Through Mobile Learning Education Essay

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Abstract

This paper examines the impact of mobile learning on distance education in multicultural environment. The emergence of learning technologies through CD, internet, and mobile is increasingly adopted by distance institutes for quick delivery and cost-effective purposes. Their sustainability is conditioned by the structure of learners as well as the teaching community. The experimental study was conducted among the distant learners of Vinayaka Missions University hailing from multicultural environment in India. The teaching community was divided into three groups over policy issues in adapting mobile learning. This study proved that mobile learning improved the performance of the students. It also confirms sustainable distance education through mobile learning and cost-effective system of instruction. Mobile learning appropriates the self-motivation and play impulse of the young learners.

Keywords: Distance Education, Mobile Learning, Multiculturalism

Mobiles in Distance Learning

Mobile learning is increasingly applied in distance education. It focuses on learning across contexts. It is concerned with portable technologies and mobility of the learner. M-learning is accessible from virtually anywhere, which provides access to all the different learning materials available. It is also collaborative and sharing. It is almost instantaneous among everyone using the same content, which leads to the reception of instant feedbacks. Studies have been conducted mostly in developed countries in this case (Anteboth, 2002; Attewell and Savill-Smith, 2003; Garrison, and Anderston, 2003; Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler 2005; Metcalf, 2005; Ally, 2009). Right from the second generation of mobiles, SMS text messaging became possible initially on GSM networks and eventually on all digital networks. Mobiles are evolving into platforms for collaboration, knowledge access and performance support. Mobile phones deliver learning materials whenever and wherever the learners needs arise. Currently, mobiles have advanced features like e-mail, Internet and e-book reader capabilities, and a built-in full keyboard or external USB keyboard and VGA connector. In other words, it is a computer, communication device and learning device on the hand. However, the main challenges regarding mobile deployment include screen size, battery life and security. Since the internet becomes both personal and portable, learning will move more and more outside of the classroom and into the learner's environments, both real and virtual (Traxler, 2005; Ally, 2009).

Mobile Learning in Developing Countries

The relevance of mobile learning in developing countries is as significant as in developed countries (Pachler and Seipold, 2009). John Traxler says that mobile learning in developing countries is not different from developed countries. The use of wireless technologies can help to increase collaborative learning and communication, as well as independent learning among learners, because of the mobility and capacity of the devices (Becta, 2004). There is an increasing and unprecedented adoption of wireless technologies in developed and developing countries alike (Keegan 2003). Using wireless technologies in education may contribute to combating the digital divide in developing countries, as this technology is generally cheaper than desktop computers, particularly mobile phones and PDAs (Wood, 2003). In developed as well as developing countries of Asia, cell-phone usage for learning has proved to be beneficial for both instructors and learners, not only as a cost-efficient method, but as an effective educational tool (Motlik, 2008). Studies have also been undertaken to reveal the problems in e-learning initiatives. These problems include, lack of proper course monitoring; lack of adequate feedback to students; poor instructional design; poor training for instructors; lack of necessary technology; lack of Internet accessibility; lack of online resources; high costs; and lack of credibility for online degrees (Baggaley and Belawati, 2007; Joshi and Avasthi, 2007).

Technology for Sustainable Distance Learning

Sustainable distance learning can be gradually achieved by expanding mobile learning. Mobile technology greatly influences human interaction in general. It facilitates and carries communication of human voice with ideas, emotion, feeling and knowledge. It binds human beings transcending place. It gives freedom from inter-subjective inhibitions which normally occur during face-to-face in-person communication. It provides an expansion of two different worlds at a time. An individual may plunge into subjective world through the entertainments provided by the mobile device. Or an individual can use it for effective inter-subjective communication. But the latter occupies more space in contemporary civil society. People want to talk or communicate more with fellow beings. The geographical limits do not adversely affect their aspirations. The technology for human interaction also facilitates learning process. The students of open learning and distance education are in this context greatly benefited.

Multiculturalism, Higher Education and Technology in India

India is a nation of great cultural diversity reflecting in different types of social groups and communities. They are defined by language, religion, sect, race or caste. The Indian nation-state is socially and culturally one of the most diverse countries of the world. It has a population of about 1029 million people, currently the second largest - and soon to become the largest - national population in the world. These people speak about 1,632 different languages and dialects (India, 2009). Among them, 21 languages have been officially recognized and placed under the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India (Basu, 2004). In terms of religion, about 80.5 percent of the population are Hindus, who in turn are regionally specific, plural in beliefs and practices, and divided by castes and languages. About 13.4 percent are Muslims, which makes India the world's third largest Muslim country after Indonesia and Pakistan. The other major religious communities are Christians (2.3), Sikhs (1.9), Buddhists (0.8) and Jains (0.4). The Constitution declares the state to be a secular state, but religion, language and other such factors are not banished from the public sphere. In fact these communities have been explicitly recognized by the state. Several studies illuminate the multicultural aspects as well as problems in Indian society (Panniker, 1991; Sheth and Mahajan, 1999; Bhargava, 2005; Brass, 1974). The problem of backward classes and the issue of protective discrimination are also under critical analysis (Galanter, 1984).

Higher education in India is one of the largest in the World. In terms of population, the demand for education at primary, secondary and higher levels is increasing. However, the government alone could not meet the demand. Private institutions do share the responsibility. Number of institutions is increased every year. But the enrollment of students in higher education stands at 6 percent only. This figure is far behind in comparison with the developed countries. Distance education in India had its genesis in the early 1960s. It tries to meet the growing demand for higher education (Agarwal, 2006). Since then it has expanded rapidly and provides higher education to over 2.8 million students. Each year, nearly 1.5 million students register for various courses in distance education. The Consortium for Educational Communication (CEC) and the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) assist in applying ICT in higher education. Radio, Television, and web-technology are adopted for instruction. Mobile learning is getting momentum in Indian universities. This paper provides an experimental study in this regard. The introduction of 3G service is a positive input in this direction.

Study Setting

This experimental study has been conducted among the distant learners of the Vinayaka Missions University located at Salem in India. Distance education in the university was started in 2005 with the objective of widening access to higher education for diversified learners at national levels. The Directorate of Distance Education has seven Schools of Studies. The School of Social Sciences offers courses through its study centres. Self-learning materials are delivered to students in the form of printed books and CDs. An automation system has been developed to facilitate the admission and examinations.

The support for mobile learning showed a mixed trend among the teachers. Among the 10 teachers who taught this program, 4 teachers did not support the application of mobile learning and 2 teachers directly supported the use of mobiles in learning. The remaining 4 teachers supported mobile learning as an additional way of learning. The policy of management is to reduce the cost and to increase the efficiency in instructional method.

Target group

This experimental study has been conducted on the third year students studying HEP (History, Economics and Political Science). The age of group of students ranged from 21 to 26. The experiment was conducted among 120 students who studied this program. They have different linguistic and cultural background. Among the 120 students 12 students were selected for the experiment of mobile learning. These 12 students were selected from different parts of India representing different social and linguistic communities. The duration of experimental study continued for four months prior to the term-end examinations.

Since the distance mode of instruction has no territorial limitations, students were enrolled for this academic program all over India. They hailed from different linguistic and cultural environment. The following table shows the profile of the study group.

Table-1: Profile of the Study Group

S.No

Particulars

Numbers

1

Students selected for experiment

120

2

Male

60

3

Female

60

4

Rural

36

5

Urban

60

6

Hill Area

4

7

Students who speak Hindi in addition to their mother tongue

46

8

Age Group (Below 21)

20

9

Age Group (21 - 26)

90

10

Age Group (Above 26)

10

11

Mobile holders (general)

82

12

Mobile holders (with internet facility)

18

13

SMS sent per day (average)

6

14

SMS received per day (average)

3

Table-2: Linguistic Background

S.No

Language

No of Students

1

Tamil

10

2

Telugu

10

3

Malayalam

10

4

Kannada

10

5

Oriya

10

6

Hindi

10

7

Gujarati

10

8

Marathi

10

9

Bengali

10

10

Punjabi

10

11

Kashmiri

10

12

Urdu

10

Table-3: Religious Background

S.No

Religion

No of Students

1

Hindu

72

2

Muslim

18

3

Christian

16

4

Sikh

6

5

Buddhist

4

6

Jain

4

Table-4: Class/Community Background

S.No

Religion

No of Students

1

Scheduled Caste

12

2

Scheduled Tribe

6

3

Backward Class

72

4

Upper Class

30

Steps in m-Learning

Successive steps are needed in m-Learning. These include, content preparation, delivery mode, reception and study, discussions, answering questions etc.

Content Preparation

The graduate program of HEP is descriptive and theoretical free from practical courses. The 'HEP' is the abbreviated form of History, Economics and Political Science. The third and final year program consists of five courses, namely, History of Europe, History of China and Japan, Economic Thought, Public Policy, and Local Governments in India. It is popular graduate program for the passed out school students in social studies. Since the HEP is a combination of three major social science disciplines, the students who have completed the course successfully can opt for any one of the subjects in their post-graduate studies. Besides, the HEP is helpful for the students who prepare for the competitive examinations.

Among the five courses, one course, namely, public policy was selected for this experiment. The self-learning material of this course has twelve lessons. The task of each learner is to prepare question-answer format of content for one lesson only. In other words, each learner prepares one lesson and receives eleven lessons from other learners. In this way, all the twelve learners prepare and sent the contents. The teacher facilitated the students in preparing the question-answer format.

Delivery Mechanism

Smartphones and iPhones were used for delivering the content preparation. The prepared contents are sent as SMS and text files format. Discussion forum was encouraged after sending the content preparation. The student who prepared the content also responsible to test the other learners by asking questions and evaluate the answers received from others. It had a double function. The student not only learned but also taught and examined the fellow learners. Official instructions and formal messages were not used in the discussion forum. The discussion and chats were voluntarily initiated by students themselves with an informal mode of approach. Play impulse rather than study anxiety was encouraged in the discussion forum. The interruption of faculties and other official staffs were absent in the discussion. The learners' milieu was completely sustained with play impulse.

Results and Findings

Among the 120 students, 12 students were experimented with mobile learning practice. The remaining 108 students were trained in conventional teaching methods. The average score of the study groups in the previous examination was 62 percent. After the experiment of m-Learning, the score of the experimental group was increased to 72 percent. By the time, the average score of other group who follow the conventional counseling sessions with printed books was increased to 64 percent only. The 12 students were drawn from 12 different linguistic groups. The following table shows the study impact.

Table-5: Impact on Mobile Learners

S.No

Particulars

Numbers

1

Total number of students

120

2

Conventional Learners

108

3

Mobile Learners

12

4

Total lessons

12

5

Content sent by each mobile learner

1

6

Content received by each mobile learner

11

7

Average score of the m-learners before experiment

62

8

Average score of the m-learners after the experiment

72

9

Average score of the control group before experiment

62

10

Average score of the control group after experiment

64

There were failures in the process of preparation of content, delivering the content, discussion forum and answering the questions. The following table explains the scenario.

Table-6: Performance: Success and Failures

S.No.

Exercises

Prepared

Delivered

Failures

1

Content Preparation

12

12

Nil

2

SMS notification

120

102

18 not reached

3

Questions

120

114

6 not reached

4

Answers

104

104

16 not prepared

5

Discussion

3 rounds

10 participated

2 not participated

The failures have both human technological dimensions. In the case of content preparation, the learners fully prepared and delivered to the respective learners. Out of 120 SMS 18 could not be delivered due to network failures. The questions prepared by the learners sent promptly and received in time but 6 could not reached. In the case of sending answers for questions 2 learners did not participate due to personal reasons. Discussions were envisaged in 3 rounds regarding the evaluation of questions and answers. Each time 2 students did not participate due to personal reasons.

Conclusion

This study reveals that mobile learners scored higher than the conventional learners. Mobile device proves to be a technology for sustainable distance learning. It is also a symbol of technology for human interaction. Initiatives and enthusiasm are higher in mobile learners. Divided by place, language and culture, mobile learning is more prompt and convenient than attending the conventional counseling sessions. The options of policy are now clear that efficiency and cost-effectiveness can be appropriated by the system of mobile learning technology. The result of the study has an impact on the traditional views of both teaching and management community. It also opens a way to apply this technique to other academic programs in wider perspective. This study also confirmed that mobile learning is more suitable and fitting for the distance learners who are divided geographically and ethnically. Uniformity in the usage of spelling and grammar seems to be unresolved. Currently, mobile learners are using both American and British spelling inconsistently. The default mode accepts the American spelling. But, in India, students were accustomed with British usage due to colonial heritage.

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