Mobile Learning with Podcasting

Mobile Learning: Why Tech Savvy Educators Are Turning to Podcasts

As our world becomes more connected, podcasts are becoming the driving force behind a shift in the way we learn.

Technological advances are allowing educators to interact with their students with more engaging content than ever before. The best part is that these changes not only increase learning rate, retention, and recall, but are reaching millions of new students every year. This is mobile learning.

Mobile Learning Infographic

Infographic licensing

What is mobile learning?

Mobile learning, or mLearning, is a multifaceted learning experience that utilizes social interactions through mobile devices. In plain english, it’s learning made mobile.

Mobile learning incorporates mobile technology into the learning process for the benefit of the student. It is not just limited to the classroom; mobile learning can take place in your office, living room, or during your commute to work. Considering how easy it is to make a podcast using podcasting hosting it’s easier than ever to become part of the mobile learning movement.

So, why is mobile learning important?

Mobile technology, in the form of cell phones and tablets, is the fastest spreading technology in human history. While only 79% of the world has access to electricity, it is estimated that 75% of the world has a mobile phone. It is estimated that 2.3 billion cell phones have access to internet. This means that mobile technology is becoming the easiest way to reach the world’s population.

While mobile technology is helping some educators reach around the globe, it’s helping others better engage with the students in their classrooms. New applications help instructors track student performance, while podcasts and videos provide supplemental educational materials. The best part is that mobile learning is increasing classroom resources and quality while remaining extremely cost effective.

Children using tablets in a classroom

As educators continue to incorporate mobile technology into the learning process, students are increasingly being asked to bring their cell phones and tablets into the classroom. At some schools mobile technology is so important that owning an iPad or similar tablet is becoming a requirement to admittance, as district and school administrators report an 86% increase of student engagement with the use of mobile learning.

Mobile learning is winning over students, educators, and is starting to attract the attention of big business. With mobile learning on the verge of a dramatic increase in impact and value, this market sector is expected to be worth $32 billion by 2020.

Despite all its benefits, mobile learning faces some hurdles.

The hurdles of mobile learning

As an emergent technology, mobile learning is experiencing some growing pains. There are at least three major challenges that educators have identified with introducing technology into their classrooms: upfront costs, screen time, and student distraction.

Wait a minute - how can mobile learning be cost effective, but also be cost prohibitive? Upfront costs. With iPads costing upwards of $500 and the average US classroom size in the low twenties, it costs over $10,000 dollars to equip a single classroom with tablets. This staggering number does not account for technical support, teacher training, or software.

Mobile learning is cost effective because with double digit increases in student engagement and memory retention, more students are keeping up with the class. Additionally, teachers can cover more material and students are more likely to engage the materials outside of the classroom. After the technology is in place, schools are able to save in other areas of their budgets; check out how Boise State’s mobile learning program is cutting textbook costs.

The problem with the upfront costs is that its hard for schools to determine who should be paying for these phones and tablets. Many economically disadvantaged students can barely afford a school lunch, let alone a $500 tablet. Teachers already dig into their paychecks to provide their students with supplies, and the LA Unified School District has scrapped its plan to buy iPads for each student due to allegations of unfair bidding practices.

So when educators attempt to incorporate mobile technology into the classroom they face the challenge of finding the money to pay for it. That’s the first hurdle.

The second hurdle is screen time. Many educators, and parents, are starting to become more concerned with the effects of prolonged screen time on brain development. Research is starting to indicate that too much screen time can be detrimental to the development of young children; early studies have found a relationship between screen time prior to age 3 and hyperactivity.

The third major hurdle is classroom distraction. In addition to talking, day-dreaming, note-passing, and spit-balls educators are finding themselves competing against Twitter, Instagram, and Angry Birds for their students attention.

To some educators the intentional introduction of additional mobile devices seems naive and counter intuitive. Other teachers have found that if they utilize mobile devices, and encourage their use, they get a different result. Students begin to feel empowered, instead of restricted, and they begin utilizing this technology to further engage with the content.

So how do educators incorporate mobile technology while limiting distractions and possibly harmful screentime? On top of that, who is going to pay for it?

The podcast solution

Tech savvy educators are beginning to see podcasting as an answer to these questions; podcasts are cheap, less distracting, and require minimal screen time.

Unlike mobile applications, podcasts do not require sophisticated hardware or expensive upfront costs. Podcasts are small audio files that can be easily streamed or downloaded by nearly any internet connected mobile device - devices that a majority of students in the US already have access to. While only 46% of American families own a tablet, at least 77% of American families have a smartphone at home. There are mp3 players, cell phones and wearable tech options for nearly every price point. Podcasts drastically reduce the upfront cost of mobile learning.

Podcasts help avoid issues with distraction and excessive screen time as well. Since podcasts are just audio files, they can be played by less sophisticated devices without the distractions of social media and games. Students can also put the screen away while they listen, thereby avoiding too much screen time.

Podcasts are an excellent solution to the major problems that face mobile learning. They have additional benefits.

The podcast advantage

In addition to answering the major problems facing mobile learning, podcasts are actually giving students advantages. Studies suggest (PDF)that humans are more likely to retain information they hear than information they read after a two week period. Combining reading and listening provides a multifaceted approach that caters to both visual and auditory learners.

Podcasts can also help disadvantaged students. Educators are familiar with utilizing audiobooks to engage visually impaired, dyslexic, or EAASL students. Podcast only further enhance the volume of materials that educators can utilize to reach these students.

Student working on school work at her own pace

Finally, many students and parents are already familiar with podcasts. Over 39 million Americans actively listen to podcasts and 63% of all podcasts are consumed using mobile technology. Podcasts provide a simple and familiar way for students to access class materials.

That’s all great, but why would I play a podcast in my classroom?

You don’t.

Podcasts don’t provide much, if any, advantage over a live speaker. Why would you use a recording when you have a live speaker? Remember what we learned at the beginning of this blog post? Mobile learning is learning gone mobile.

Podcasts are allowing some educators to flip their classrooms; students can watch or listen to recorded lectures at home and then do their traditional “homework” in the classroom when their teachers are available. When teachers are available to help their students with their problems sets, labs, and writing assignments they showed a deeper understanding and comprehension of the class material. This also allows students to learn at their own pace; students who have fallen behind can listen to previous lessons, while more advanced students can begin exploring new podcasts.

Students listening to podcasts on the Bus

Using podcasts in education is a win

Students win because they can listen to their lessons at their own pace in nearly any environment; they can listen to their podcast lessons at the gym or during their long commute home. Parents win because they do not have to facilitate hours of homework each night. Finally, educators win because they are able to interact with all of their students during class time. So…technically thats a win-win-win.

Mobile learning is changing the education experience in America and podcasting is leading the charge. Podcasts in education are portable, inexpensive, accessible, and interactive. Teachers are able to send their student home with lesson plans while providing them with more interaction in the classroom.