The concept of learning that takes place away from the traditional classroom has been with us since the middle of the 19th century when distance learning via the mail – also known as “correspondence courses” – was introduced. Currently, remote learning has seen a resurgence, due to a worldwide pandemic that made it necessary for students to attend school safely from their homes with the use of their laptops.
Electronic learning (e-Learning) is the modern version of distance or remote learning, and can be generally defined as using electronic devices as either a supplement to the traditional classroom or as an add-on to reinforce material taught in person. Some students may find learning easier when they’re able to study at their own pace, and depending on how the instruction is designed, e-Learning may make it easier to retain information.
Where Can People Access e-Learning?
The evolution of distance learning from mail correspondence courses to electronically delivered curriculum has meant that students are now able to learn on a variety of platforms. Webinars, podcasts, blogs, and YouTube videos are popular sources of learning. Universities have made their degree programs accessible with online courses, and a number of other education platforms like Skillshare, LinkedIn Learning, and Udemy offer online training where students can earn certificates when they complete a program.
Recently, mobile app developers have seen an opportunity to offer learning to the 3.8 billion people who use smartphones. Known as m-Learning (short for mobile learning), these apps are available to those who desire business training, exam prep, or to learn a new language. In 2018, we launched a driver’s education course on an app called Zutobi. Our app helps pre-teen and teenage students pass the theory test and offers tips for passing the practical driving test. We’ve seen incredible growth of the app since its launch.
Benefits of m-Learning Apps
While m-Learning is a relatively recent phenomenon, we’ve already seen how instruction delivered on mobile apps can provide advantages compared to classroom learning and traditional online platforms.
Instant Feedback and Detailed Statistics
Students no longer have to wait for their teacher or professor to grade their work. The technology behind m-Learning apps allows learners to get instant feedback. The benefit of immediate feedback is that an individual can use that information while they’re still immersed in a lesson. If they’re having trouble understanding a concept, they can receive an explanation that can help them to better understand the material and retain it. Rather than remaining cloudy on a concept and skipping ahead to the next module, students must first demonstrate their knowledge before they can advance.
Students also have instant access to the statistics that tell them exactly where they are in their progress. They’ll know whether or not they need to revisit a lesson because it’s reflected in their scores. Alternatively, a good score helps students save time by indicating when they have mastered a concept or lesson. They can then expend their energy where it’s most needed.
Mobile Courses Can be Adapted for Individual Users
In addition to getting instant feedback and scores, students also receive instruction that’s adapted to them according to their progress in the course.
Adaptive learning can begin with assessments prior to the start of the course that determine the student’s knowledge and how the first lesson will proceed. With each lesson, the student’s activity is monitored and recorded. Metrics such as how much time is spent on a page, if a video was replayed, or if the student used the search bar are used to identify how instruction should be modified. At the end of each lesson, the student is required to take another assessment that signals whether or not more instruction is needed to advance to the next module.
Adaptive learning recognizes that not all students learn at the same pace. If they’re offered customized instruction based on their progress, students will be better able to absorb and retain the material.
Gamification Motivates Students and Allows them to Learn Using Real-World Scenarios
When learning becomes fun and isn’t seen as a chore, students are more attentive and motivated. Learning gamification introduces rewards systems that allow students to earn badges or achievements, which then reinforces their motivation. Presenting learning as a game can turn a passive student into an active “player.” For example, using our Zutobi app, individuals can earn points and badges while learning how to pass their driving tests.
Learning gamification can also provide the opportunity for students to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios, clearly demonstrating how lack of understanding can result in negative consequences. Being able to see how knowledge and mastery of skills can impact their lives can help students better understand and retain the information.
Leaderboard Competition is Another Way to Motivate Students
Another way m-Learning developers motivate students is by injecting a dose of competition into their platforms. Knowing they can earn a spot on a leaderboard compels students to try harder to fight for that recognition. It’s a concept that’s been used for years in traditional arcade games.
Learning is certainly more fun and entertaining when you’re driven by a concrete goal – even if that goal is to outrank the other users of the app. And once their names appear on the leaderboard, app users are motivated to maintain their rank. The only way they can hold on to their position is to keep studying and making progress in the course.
Bite-Sized Lessons Keep Users Engaged
For all those of a certain generation who worry that mobile phone use is negatively impacting society, there’s some good news to report about the use of apps for learning. Mobile learning may actually be a better way to keep students engaged in their lessons due to the format in which the course material is delivered: bite-sized chunks.
During the 1950s, a Harvard psychology professor noted that there’s only so much room available in our short-term memories, so we need to chunk material together to make sense of it. These chunks cannot be too big or they’ll overwhelm our capacity to retain the information. Mobile apps provide the perfect platform for delivering the bite-sized chunks that students can easily take in and remember.
Other than the ability to better integrate information delivered in small chunks, bite-sized delivery can be presented within a shorter time frame. Instruction specialists have found that our neurons become overwhelmed after a period of 20 minutes. Students do best when they can limit learning to 20-minute sessions and then take a small break before returning.
App Images Help Memory Retention
Research has established that images are more effective for helping people retain information than are lectures or text passages:
- The human brain can access and hold onto visual information more easily than audio information or blocks of text.
- Images like infographics provide visual maps to explain how processes work and the way in which concepts are pieced together. People can more easily comprehend concepts presented visually than when they read a series of paragraphs on the same topic.
- Visual images are more likely to be linked to the creation of emotions, and it’s emotions that, in turn, create long-term memories.
A good m-Learning app will use a variety of methods to encourage learning, but visuals appear to play a dominant role in helping users retain the material they’ve learned.
Why We Shouldn’t be too Quick to Tell People to Put Their Phones Away
Mobile phones may never be acceptable at the dinner table, but they do serve useful functions other than just catching up on social media and texting with friends. Evidence has shown that mobile apps can make a real difference in the way people learn and retain information, and their use is becoming more accepted among those who study educational methods. It’s certainly not anything like a traditional approach to learning, and for a sizable segment of the population, that’s a good thing!
Tim Waldenback is the co-founder of Zutobi Drivers Ed, a gamified e-learning platform focused on online drivers education to help teens get their license. Tim founded Zutobi to make world-class driver’s education fun, affordable, and easily accessible for all.