Last month I commented on the growth in the Mobile Internet. More evidence of this was revealed on Monday (24th Nov ’08) when Neilson Online published the first results from Mobile Media View (full press release available here). They are reporting a 25% growth in the use of mobile Internet from 5.8 to 7.3 million users. More shocking is the fact that this surge in uptake occurred in one quarter (Q2 to Q3 2008). It is probably not surprising that just over 50% of mobile Internet users are aged 15-34.
So what is this mobile generation surfing for? Kent Ferguson, Nielsen Senior Analyst comments that:
It’s interesting to see that BBC Weather, Sky Sports and Gmail are amongst the few sites that have a greater reach on the mobile Internet than the PC-based Internet. This highlights the advantage of mobile when it comes to immediacy; people often need fast, instant access to weather or sports news and mobile can obviously satisfy this, wherever they are.
For me ‘immediacy’ will continue to grow increasingly important for 21st century learners. A common system found in probably all institutions is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). VLEs are incredibly cumbersome and largely unusable on a mobile device, an issue which developers like Blackboard seem to continue to ignore. In particular Blackboard cannot be used on the very popular mobile web browsers Opera Mini and Opera Mobile because of the reliance on cookies.
Open source solutions provide a glimmer of hope because they can be customised and styled for mobile browsing. This is not to say there isn’t issues, for example, Moodle will only work with Opera Mini if the installation has cookieless sessions enabled.
There have been some projects which specifically address a mobile VLE. Notably the Mobile Moodle (MOMO) project have gone beyond tweaking style sheets and looked at the fundamental features of a mobile VLE. In particular they have been looking at new scenarios which allow online and offline interaction with Moodle. They have achieved this by developing a small JAVA based application which is run on a students mobile phone. Using this students can login to the institution’s Moodle site download mobile elements, which can include quizzes, use these offline, then resynchronising with the central site.
While I see projects like MOMO as a positive development, at the back of my mind I have the nagging question is the growth in mobile Internet another nail in the institutional VLE. When I look at projects like OU’s SocialLearn (a previous post on SocialLearn is here), you can see the disaggregation of a central system into the integration of a personal system. The fact that many of the existing web applications being used by students in their social life are already optimised for mobile usage can only strengthen this argument.