The present article considers mobile learning in terms of the use of mobile devices potential for EFL acquisition. It also reviews the definition of m-learning and its difference from e-learning, provides information about the principles, advantages and disadvantages of incorporation m-learning into mainstream education, and presents the list of widespread mobile applications used by the learners nowadays.
Key words: mobile learning, English as a foreign language, principles of mobile learning, mobile applications
The era of modern human development is characterized by extensive integration of the political, economic, social, educational and scientific spheres which are closely interconnected to globalization processes. Due to this fact, the importance of foreign language learning is constantly growing and now it has already become, to a certain extent, a guarantee of professional success and gives a competitive advantage in the professional field of action.
In this regard, technical universities which are responsible for training of qualified engineers, work on implementing new and innovative approaches and initiatives to improve the quality of higher education on the whole, and in the field of EFL teaching (English as a foreign language) which is the focus of the present article. It is carried out via implementation of innovative methods of language training, updating the EFL learning content in order to minimize the discrepancy between the requirements of real labor market and knowledge, skills that are formed and developed among the learners. In the situation when the EFL instructors have to imitate the language environment in search for ways to increase students’ motivation to self-study and to make the process of EFL acquisition significant for the learners, we address to mobile learning (m-learning) as an effective tool to involve the learners in EFL context providing favorable opportunities to learn English.
Examining m-learning perspectives
Life is busy today and the students have to live in a furious pace doing the things quickly and studying fast. Taking into consideration that the use of mobile technology is constantly growing why not to offer the learners to study at any time, in any place they want via their mobile devices?
In fact, nowadays there are numerous researches in the field of applying gadgets in the English learning process in view of this concept is attracting attention of the wide audience in Russia and abroad, among them are: T. Elias (2011), S. Hoober (2013), D. Keegan (2005), M. Koole (2009), Y. Park (2011), C. Quinn (2011), G. Woodill (2010), V. Kuklev (2010), I. Golitsina and N. Polovnikova (2009), S. Titova and ect.
To our knowledge, despite the imposing corpus of researches in the field today, e-learning and m-learning concepts are still confused. In this regard it is essential to introduce the opinion of Yury Dukhnich, the author and the editor-in-chief of the Smart Education Project, who indicated the main differences: «First of all, mobile training is usually characterized by bigger autonomy. Mobile training usually is informal. Teachers and tutors, as a rule, don't participate in this process in general. All this very strongly distinguishes it from more or less typical electronic training» . So the process of EFL acquisition becomes more independent and individualized, as the idea of mobile learning is primarily based on the fact of taking advantage of opportunities offered by mobile technologies such as mobile phones, personal audio devices (MP3/mp4 players), easy figurative personal computers and small laptops to reach, to facilitate and to support education via the instructor-free way. From the technological point of view the m-learning may be defined as “the transfer of educational information with use of the WAP or GPRS technologies on any portable mobile device by means of which it is possible to go on-line, to receive or find materials, to participate in forums. It allows the learners to become more productive in acquiring or creating the information” .
Despite the fact that there are hundreds of available mobile applications (apps) operating on the market today for free, there is a wide array of apps which has “a hidden payment policy” after the user starts using them. The most widespread and usable applications among the young learners are:
- British Council apps offer a huge choice for smart phones. One can download the apps on Google Play, Apple's App Store or using a QR code Opens in a new tab or window, e.g. 'Johnny Grammar's Word Challenge' — it's a fun way to improve grammar.
- Duolingo opens new opportunities for the users. The app has just won the 'Best education start-up award'. It's very exciting app designed like a game and keeps the users involved. The important advantage is that it contains no adverts and it is free of charge.
- Two min English is free of charge and has no adverts, it contains more than two hundred two-minute video lessons on a variety of topics, such as social English, business English, travel English, common mistakes in English, idioms and phrases.
- Game to learn English powowbox is a multi-level game, once downloaded it appears as English tracker. The first three levels are free and then the user has to pay. One of the advantages of the app is that it provides the user with constructive feedback in case of mistakes, besides it has friendly interface.
- Real English is free of charge, however it contains much advertisement. The apps offer a variety of different language levels: Business and conversation apps for beginners, intermediate level learners and advanced learners. Every app contains up to twenty lessons that focus on specific grammar or/and vocabulary areas.
Above all, it is important to take into consideration the fact that the use of the aforementioned apps requires from EFL learners more than ability to handle with advanced technologies and apps but incorporation m-learning into mainstream process of education should correlate with the principles of learning. Therefore, if the EFL instructor decides to blend instructor-led-training and m-learning it is essential, when teaching, to stick to the principles of a distant learning, such as: a) learners’ autonomy; b) learning flexibility; c) interactive way of learning; d) feasibility; e) correlation of m-learning to mainstream EFL training programs.
In addition, the following characteristics are recommended for integration of mobile learning into EFL context and the learning environment in general: the application of mobile learning in authentic contexts; the use of mobile learning in contexts where learners are mobile; to provide time for exploration of mobile technologies; blend mobile and non mobile technologies; to use m-learning in nontraditional learning spaces; to orient learners to employ mobile learning both individually and collaboratively; to focus learners’ attention on the production and consumption of knowledge when using mobile devices for studying [1, p.134].
As any pedagogical innovation m-learning occupies the “project status” and needs more researches to be done in the field of incorporation this progressive technology into mainstream education. Despite the troubles that one may face when using mobile apps for EFL learning, such as random and irregular use of mobile apps by the learners, dependence on technical feasibility of the mobile device used (e.g. technical incompatibility), unavailability of free resources (some apps provide a limited number of free of charge units, in other words, when the user finishes one unit and want to continue on the next level, the program might require some fee), it is hard to overemphasize the benefits of mobile learning. The training takes place when it is needed — at any time and at any place, implementation of a learner-centered content, opportunity to train on student’s own pace, the material is structured and divided into theory and practice or grammar and vocabulary units, so the user may choose one that needs to be improved, some apps provide training in the form of the game that is engaging and ect.
Also, one important issue needs to be addressed by the instructors who incorporate m-learning or design m-learning courses. The students, who choose learning on-the-go, want to be able to log onto the learning management system anywhere and at anytime. In this sense mobile training courses should offer the information that the students need quickly, conveniently, and without wasting time on irrelevant course content.
In fact, nowadays students are technically and psychologically prepared for the use of mobile technology in education, for this reason incorporation of m-learning will have a positive effect on EFL acquisition. It extends the learning process beyond the walls of the institution and does not require any personal computers or textbooks because educational materials are distributed easily among the users due to modern wireless technologies. So, in the future EFL instructors and learners should no longer be limited by the opportunity to teach and learn in a certain place and at any time.
1. Herrington A., Herrington J, Matnei, J (2009). Design principles for mobile learning. Facultu of Education. University of Wollongong. Retrieved on May 08, 2015 from http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1089&context=edupapers.
2. S. V. Titova (2012). Mobile learning today: strategies and perspectives // Moscow university bulletin. Linguistics and Cross-cultural communication. 19 (1). Retrieved on April 19, 2015 from http://www.smart-edu.com/mobile-learning.html).
3. Elias, T. (2011). Universal Instructional Design Principles for Mobile Learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 12(2). Retrieved on on April 11, 2015 from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/965/1675