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Mobile learning and TVET for greater inclusion

In view of the Mobile Learning Week 2017 co-organized by UNESCO and UNHCR around the theme of ‘Education in emergencies and crises’, we ask one of UNESCO’s experts about the implications of the increasing popularity of mobile learning for TVET and how this can advance the agenda of promoting youth, literacy and skills using mobile technology.

While innovation related to the educational use of mobile technology is flourishing, sustainable strategies to promote it at a larger scale remain in short supply. Solutions are only just beginning to come into focus. In this context there is renewed interest how mobile learning can be applied in TVET to ensure all have equal access and opportunities.

Steven Vosloo, Senior Project Officer at UNESCO Youth, Literacy and Skills Section focuses on digital solutions for low-skilled youth and adults. He offers his insights to the following questions.

Steve Vosloo
UNESCO-UNEVOC: From your perspective, how is mobile learning shaping TVET?

Steve Vosloo: In some ways the benefits of mobile learning are felt in TVET as much as in other education settings, for example: improving channels of communication between lecturers and students; enabling easy access to and participation in peer-to-peer learning networks; and immediate assessment and feedback.

However, mobile learning has particular relevance for TVET because the learning is practical and happens in non-traditional settings, such as the workplace. When learning on-the-go, having just-in-time access to the necessary study materials is essential. Further, mobiles can be used to record activities, allowing for remote support from educators – the potential of situated learning, or for review later in a college scenario. The flipped classroom -- studying at home or at work, and undertaking practical exercises at college -- is supported by mobiles that enable learning at any time.

UNESCO-UNEVOC: What are some of the sectors or trades where mobile learning in TVET has proven to be successful? Do you know of any case studies where mobile learning has had a positive impact on access to TVET?

Steve Vosloo: The UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning lists a number of such cases. A major example was the Mobile Learning Network (MoLeNET) programme, which, while it was still active, covered 104 mobile learning projects in the UK, some supporting students undergoing vocational training in a wide range of subject areas, from animal care to art and design. The impact on learning included increased or improved learner motivation, engagement, behaviour, retention and achievement.

The Distance Learning for Apprentices project, active from 2008 to 2010 across a number of European countries, focused on using mobiles to support vocational education teachers by: i) connecting them to the students for communication, information sharing and progress monitoring; ii) providing a framework for how pedagogy might change when using mobile technologies; and iii) offering guidelines for using mobiles in distance education.

UNESCO-UNEVOC: What are some of the steps TVET institutions need to think about when developing and implementing mobile learning? What are challenges and risks that they need to take into account?

Steve Vosloo: Again, many of the same principles apply to any education institution, not just TVET colleges. To successfully implement mobile learning it is essential to take a holistic perspective. The UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning and the ISTE Essential Conditions to effectively leverage technology for learning are useful inputs. They include enablers such as supportive leaders with a shared vision for mobile learning; training and ongoing professional development of lecturers; appropriate content; adequate and ongoing funding; and supportive policies.

Of particular relevance for TVET will be technical infrastructure and support. Much of the TVET material is best presented visually, e.g. practical videos or learning through live video streaming. Having sufficient, quality bandwidth on campus is important, as well as ensuring students have affordable access off-campus. Because devices are taken to practical places of work, technical support and insurance are important.

In my recent experience in South Africa while considering how to help TVET colleges better utilize mobile learning, the two greatest barriers were poor ICT infrastructure on campuses, and the high cost of devices and access for students.

UNESCO-UNEVOC: In an article on the future of education in Africa, you stated that "mobiles already support skills development in a range of fields including agriculture and healthcare". How can mobile also support, for example, entrepreneurs coming from the TVET sector?

Steve Vosloo: I explored this question at TEDx Stellenbosch a few years ago. Two ideas, from well-known authors, are important to understand the potential of mobile for entrepreneurs.

The first idea: Chance favours the connected mind. Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, dispels the notion of the lone inventor. The idea of someone locking themselves up for a number of years in their study or lab, brilliantly and singularly coming up with a groundbreaking invention, is romantic and untrue.

Breakthrough ideas almost never come in an isolated moment of inspiration, in a sudden insight. Smaller ideas, or hunches, begin to collect, percolate, collide, and over a number of years turn into the one big idea. These hunches can, and usually do, come from different people. Johnson points out that over the last 600 years the great driver for scientific and technological innovation has been the increase in connectivity between people and our ability to reach out and exchange ideas. What’s happened in the last 20 years is that the internet has enabled this on a grand scale. And not just connecting professors and scientists, but every day people around the world.

The second idea: Lowering the cost of failure is a necessary enabler of innovation. In his book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky speaks about how the cost of failure impedes innovation. There is a cost attached to forming a company and doing product development, to undertaking entrepreneurial activities. Companies don’t spend money on developing products, or initiating partnerships or investing in new markets, that don’t have a good chance of success. The cost of failure means that risks aren’t taken.

The internet lowers the traditionally high cost of failure because it lowers the cost of forming organisations, of communicating and collaborating and researching online, with anyone else in the world.

So, for entrepreneurs, mobiles and the internet are a way to connect with others and their ideas, and potentially build better enterprises because it’s cheaper to take risks. Affordable connectivity is an essential part of realising these two enablers.

Mobile Learning Week 2017

This year’s Mobile Learning Week takes place from 20 to 24 March in Paris and focuses on ‘Education in emergencies and crises’, highlighting particularly refugees. There are over 21.3 million refugees worldwide, and the UNHCR estimates that refugee children are five times more likely to be out-of-school than non-refugees.

The week will promote discussions through symposiums, workshops, strategy labs, and a policy forum.

The plenary sessions held on Monday 20 March and Tuesday 21 March will be streamed lived here. The Policy Forum held on 24 March will also be streamed live through the same link.

More information

For more information on ICTs related issues in TVET, please read the following:

  • UNESCO-UNEVOC’s activities for ICT in TVET
  • UNESCO-Pearson initiative for literacy
  • UNESCO article on Mobile Learning Week

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