Mobile learning technology includes the combination of mobile and electronic devices such as mobile phones, smartphones, iPods, iPads, and tablets that are used by students for learning distantly. In this context, mobile learning is a form of distant learning based on the use of mobile gadgets (Alzaza & Yaakub, 2011, p. 96).
The concept of mobile learning and application of mobile technologies in education became discussed in the 2000s when the first tablet computers and smartphones with 3G Internet and the wireless Internet connection appeared (Sarrab, Al-Shihi, & Rehman, 2013, p. 827).
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the use of mobile learning technology in the classroom increases, as it is in such developed countries as the United States, Canada, and Australia. It is possible to speak about the active integration of this technology in independent student learning (Al-Emran & Shaalan, 2015, p. 77). For instance, students reading textbooks or searching university libraries from their smartphones and tablets can be observed almost at any campus in the UAE.
However, in spite of accepting the variety of benefits associated with mobile learning, there are still debates regarding the challenges of adopting these technologies in education.
It is necessary to discuss the importance of using mobile technology for expanding learning possibilities, improving learning strategies, increasing access to teaching materials, and assess the impact of the technology’s weaknesses on the educational process. The purpose of this proposal is to present the discussion of trends in using mobile learning technology in the UAE with the focus on its advantages and disadvantages for the teaching-learning process.
Mobile Learning in the United Arab Emirates
In the UAE, teachers, and students usually adopt the practices that are typical for the area of mobile learning and discussed as effective and enhancing the educational process. However, these best teaching-learning practices are adapted in different countries, and it is necessary to discuss the best practices in using mobile technologies for learning from international and local perspectives.
Adoption of Mobile Learning Practices Internationally
Educators in such countries as the United States, Canada, and Australia were the first ones who focused on developing mobile learning practices that can be adopted widely. Today, mobile technologies are used for meeting the following goals:
- Improvement of students’ collaboration;
- Active integration of video and audio materials in the learning process (podcasting);
- Distant communication with instructors and peers;
- The immediate access to the learning materials and libraries (Sarrab et al., 2013, p. 827; West, 2013, p. 7).
These practices are discussed as international because they reflect the basic functions of such mobile technologies like smartphones, tablets, and electronic readers for learning (West, 2013, p. 7). Therefore, these practices can be easily adopted in any country.
Adoption of Mobile Learning Practices Locally
In the UAE, the adoption of mobile technologies and the implementation of the best practices in education depend on the location of the institution, its status, and the provided access to the wireless Internet connection. According to the findings by Al-Emran and Shaalan, 99% of the students who participated in the survey have mobile devices that they use for mobile learning (Al-Emran & Shaalan, 2015, p. 78).
The educational authorities’ initiative regarding the use of such mobile devices as iPads in educational settings is actively supported by faculty members and students in most universities of the country (Al-Emran & Shaalan, 2015, p. 76). This initiative allows universities to develop or order educational applications for iPads that are helpful for distant learning, guiding students, and monitoring their successes. Currently, mobile learning technologies are adopted in the UAE and other Arab countries with the focus on the following practices:
- The use of standard applications for learning course materials with the help of iPads;
- The use of mobile devices for accessing libraries and databases from campuses or homes;
- The use of mobile devices for regular assessment and feedback;
- The use of podcasting for working with audio and video materials;
- Making notes and lecture recordings with the help of mobile devices;
- Reading e-books and preparing for seminars;
- Communicating with instructors and peers;
- Combining the study with a part-time job.
These practices are typical for students from the Gulf region countries and the UAE who discuss the learning with the help of mobile devices as a good opportunity to make the learning process interesting and flexible (Al-Emran & Shaalan, 2015, p. 77; Sarrab et al., 2013, p. 827). These practices are also actively supported by instructors because they allow the diversification of the teaching process without depending on the technological base of the concrete educational institution.
Advantages of Using Mobile Learning Technologies
The main advantage of using mobile devices in educational settings is the expansion of opportunities for learning from any place and at any time. As a result, students become more flexible in planning their learning process. Discussing the advantages of mobile learning in the UAE, instructors and professors focus on possibilities to share the same content with students with the help of applications for iPads and achieve the goals regarding students’ self-learning.
One more important advantage of using mobile devices in classrooms is their cost-efficiency. Administrators and educators can save financial resources spent on providing students with computers, laptops, visual aids, multimedia, and presentations. The alternative is the podcasting materials shared with the help of the Internet connection (Boyinbode, Bagula, & Ngambi, 2011, p. 12). As a result, students discuss mobile learning as a method that is rather entertaining and based on the availability of resources.
In their turn, educators point at the possibility to provide continuous support for learners when they are online. Students of Zayed University indicate that it is more appropriate to use mobile learning technologies when it is necessary to work with many books or intensively search libraries (Al-Emran & Shaalan, 2015).
As a result, it is possible to access libraries and teaching materials not only on the campus (Nassuora, 2012, p. 25). From this point, the main advantages associated with using mobile technologies in the learning setting are the following ones:
- Expanded opportunities;
- Intensive exchange of learning materials;
- Improved interaction between students and instructors;
- Entertaining character;
- Availability and accessibility.
Disadvantages of Mobile Technologies for Learning
Students and educators identify weaknesses in using mobile learning technologies that are related to technical, social, and educational challenges. Thus, it is noted by students in many surveys that mobile learning is limited in terms of using smartphones and tablets that need to be regularly charged. The users of Android and iOS have no opportunities to use the same applications for studying. Another problem is security because files can be accessed by unauthorized users (Sarrab et al., 2013, p. 829).
Social challenges include costs of tablets and smartphones that lead to social barriers within students’ communities. In addition, many students preferring mobile learning often suffer from disrupting their work and life balance. Moreover, the constant use of electric devices for learning is also harmful to the health of students’ eyes.
Educational challenges include the lack of restrictions regarding the time for learning and the regular absence of the Internet connection (Crow, Santos, LeBaron, McFadden, & Osborne, 2010, p. 269). Thus, in spite of the fact that the use of mobile learning technologies is actively supported by students and instructors, it is also important to pay attention to the obstacles and challenges associated with the practice:
- Connectivity of electronic devices;
- Differences in platforms;
- Financial costs;
- Work and life balance problems;
- Health problems.
Although the mobile learning technology is actively used today in such countries as the United Arab Emirates, the integration of this practice in the teaching-learning process needs to be based on the detailed analysis of advantages and disadvantages. It is possible to determine the almost equal number of advantages and disadvantages associated with mobile learning.
Still, students and educators, as it is stated in the scholarly literature on the topic, begin to refer to this educational method as rather beneficial because it allows improving the whole teaching-learning process. In this context, possible social and technical barriers can be discussed as not as influential as the positive impact of mobile technology on learning in actively developing countries, including the UAE.
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Boyinbode, O., Bagula, A., & Ngambi, D. (2011). An Opencast Mobile learning framework for enhancing learning in higher education. International Journal of u-and e-Service, Science and Technology, 4(3), 11-18. Web.
Crow, R., Santos, I. M., LeBaron, J., McFadden, A. T., & Osborne, C. F. (2010). Switching gears: Moving from e-learning to m-learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1), 268-278. Web.
Nassuora, A. B. (2012). Students acceptance of mobile learning for higher education in Saudi Arabia. American Academic & Scholarly Research Journal, 4(2), 24-30. Web.
Sarrab, M., Al-Shihi, H., & Rehman, O. (2013). Exploring major challenges and benefits of M-learning adoption. British Journal of Applied Science & Technology, 3(4), 826-839. Web.
West, D. M. (2013). Mobile learning: Transforming education, engaging students, and improving outcomes. Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, 9(1), 1-17. Web.