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Happy Birthday Freidrich Froebel: Three Reasons Mobile is the Right Platform for 21st Century Learning

How many things look exactly the same as they did 10, maybe 20 years ago? What about 50? If you’re struggling for an answer, just turn to the public education system. While most schools remain in an industrial era model, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 65 percent of grade school kids will end up in jobs that haven’t been created yet.[1] To add to that, classroom sizes are continuing to grow as a majority of states are spending less per pupil than they did before the recession.[2]

More than a century (almost two) after Freidrich Froebel coined the term Kindergarten, we are going through another discovery process to better meet the learning requirements of today’s students. Since April 21 was his birthday, I thought it was appropriate to share the birth of a new tool for education: mobile.

Mobile technology has the potential to transform education in ways that no other technology can. What follows are my top three reasons why mobile technology is the right platform for learning in the 21st century:

1. Mobile universalizes access to information and data, creating an always on, always available learning environment.

With an estimated 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions, mobile-cellular penetration rates stand at 96 percent globally; 128 percent in developed countries; and 89 percent in developing countries.[3] Compare this to the 61 million primary-age children who are not attending school and the only 41 percent of the world’s households that are connected to the Internet [4] and it is hard to deny that the solution to improving access is literally in the palm of our hands. If schools provided mobile devices to students with 3G/4G connectivity to ensure they are always on and always connected, then all students would have ubiquitous access to educational content, learning resources as well as the ability to collaborate and connect with peers, tutors and teachers - in and out of the classroom. And for those students living without access to a traditional classroom, mobile devices can even redefine what a classroom actually is.

The good news is we are witnessing a sea change in several countries. China is coupling an investment in mobile broadband infrastructure with a 10-year digital education plan that includes development of an education “cloud” comprising more than 20,000 high-quality lectures and resources accessible by PC, tablet computer and other mobile devices. In addition to recognizing the importance of improvements to education, the EU is also emphasizing cross-country collaboration. Based on this, the EU developed activities and benchmarks to reach by 2020 that address priority areas in each of the different levels of education and training, including expanding opportunities for learning mobility, enhancing partnerships and the adoption of ICT (Information and Communication Technology).

2. Mobile increases student engagement and makes learning more personal.

In Project K-Nect, a U.S. pilot program supported by Qualcomm Wireless Reach™, at-risk students in North Carolina who scored poorly in math and did not have access to the Internet at home received smartphones and Internet connectivity to discover if the 24/7 connected devices could play a role in enhancing student engagement and learning. Among the results: students at one of the participating schools increased their proficiency rates by at least 30 percent on the state’s End of Course exam, compared to classes not in Project K-Nect, but taught by the same teacher.

Mobile broadband in learning benefits students by providing 24/7 access to digital curriculum that is highly personalized with respect to level, pace and learning style. Teachers benefit from digital participation in communities of practice with global reach and from dashboards that actively display real-time data regarding their students’ progress. As wireless education technologies allow learning to expand beyond the four walls of the classroom and the hours of the school day, teachers gain flexibility in how they can use precious classroom minutes. 3G mobile technologies enable teachers to become mentors who provide personalized guidance and to give students the means to take responsibility for their own learning.

Additionally, research shows that mobile makes learning more exciting and engaging for students. Today’s mobile devices present an exciting opportunity to develop innovative applications that engage students in interactive new ways. Contextual awareness, peer-to-peer, gestures, image recognition and augmented reality are some of the new technologies that can be used to make mobile learning richer, more engaging and fun.

3. Mobile prepares students for 21st century jobs.

The U.S. competes in a global, knowledge-based, innovation-centered economy. The trend is toward jobs that require workers to take initiative, think critically and creatively, solve problems, collaborate with colleagues and make decisions as a team. Our children need to be learning these 21st century skills in school, using the same mobile technology that today’s business professionals use.

Third-graders at Nan Chiau Primary School in Singapore are learning to acquire these skills through the Wireless Reach supported, WE Learn mobile education project. WE Learn moves learning from a traditional, teacher-centric model to a student-centric, inquiry-oriented and collaborative framework. In this project, students use Snapdragon™-enabled smartphones equipped with a mobile learning platform, educational applications and 3G wireless connectivity. Having 24/7 access to web-based resources and collaborative learning tools enables the students to take responsibility for their own learning and to acquire and practice the competencies and knowledge they’ll need to thrive in the digital age. 

I’m excited about what is coming in the next few years and what it will mean for the kindergarten class of 2013.


[1] http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680348/mapping-the-future-of-education-technology
[2] http://thinkprogress.org/education/2012/09/04/791981/study-26-states-cut-education/
[3] http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2013.pdf
[4] http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/reaching-oosc.aspx

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