Epistemological Dissonance as a Barrier to eLearning

While it may appear that mobile adoption is limited and slow, I would argue that, given tablet computing really only took off when the iPad was introduced not quite five years ago, education is embracing mobile technology if not quickly and enthusiastically, then carefully and with some curiosity.


By the third quarter of 2014, Apple sold 13 million tablets worldwide direct to education with another 8 million in 2013 (Cavanagh, 2014). In 2012 there were 4.5 million sold to education within the US alone (Etherington, 2013). While Apple has the dominant market share, the combined presence of other mobile computing vendors is not insignificant. This supports a significant investment from education into mobile technology hardware.


A survey report from Interactive Educational Systems Design, Inc. revealed that just over 20% of responding schools had tablet computers in general use (2012, p. 12) with almost half of respondents indicating that number is expected rise. This seems to support the rapid adoption of a new technology. About three quarters of the respondents also indicated a strong interest in pursuing the use of tablets for teaching and learning. Interestingly, though, three quarters of the almost 90% of respondents with no Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy also indicated a reluctance or unwillingness to pursue BYOD initiatives in the near future (2012, p. 22). This suggests a reluctance in mobile adoption, but likely speaks more to control and management than pedagogy.


So schools are purchasing mobile technology and plan to increase access, but what are they doing with them? This, I believe, is the crux of the perceived problem.


Mobile technology challenges the way we think about teaching and learning, for engaging with content, with others, and, some suggest, for how we think. Initially mobile learning was celebrated for making learning possible “Anytime and anywhere”. Cook (2012) suggests that “all the time and everywhere” better reflects our evolving understanding.


A technology’s affordances emerge over time as humans use, problem solve, explore, and create with the tool as illustrated in Shorkey & Webel’s (2014) examination of technology use in Social Work education. Siemens (2004) proposed connectivist learning theory, a new model for understanding how we learn in an age where access to people and information is ubiquitous. He suggests that learning need no longer be linear developmental steps, rather, learning can be the random assemblage of connections amongst humans and information.


This epistemological rethinking challenges how we design curriculum, how we create learning opportunities, how learning institutions are designed (Leather & Marinho, 2009). Critics of connectivism point to gaps in connectivist learning as a theory (Clarà & Barberà, 2013, 2014) but acknowledge that the educational landscape is changing and such proposals are valuable. Given the deep philosophical change connected with effective use of mobile’s affordances, it is reasonable to expect some level of discomfort and hesitancy amongst educators and administrators.


While educational institutions are taking careful steps, individuals are running ahead fully embracing mobile technology. One survey anticipated by 2014 there would be 1.75 billion smartphone users worldwide with a full 70% of the world using mobile phones (eMarketer, 2014). A Canadian survey revealed that more people are using mobile technology and their level of sophistication in terms of demands of the device is also growing (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, 2012).


The understanding of mobile technology as extensions of our own human capacity is more widely accepted (Siemens, 2004) and individuals are using technology in increasingly sophisticated ways that are integrated with daily life. As extensions of and supplements to our memory, a mobile device is an intensely personal tool. Perhaps, when thinking about mobile in education, we can look at how to capitalise on the new capabilities of their learners to achieve both individual and enterprise goals.

The full embrace of technology by education will happen when our tools, practices, and philosophies align.


“What can we do with the device?” becomes “What can we do with learners who have devices?”


Sources Cited:

Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. (2012). 2012 Consumer Attitudes Study. Retrieved from http://cwta.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/CWTA-2012ConsumerAttitudes1.pdf

Cavanagh, S. (2014). Apple Touts Strong iPad Sales in Global School Market. Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/marketplacek12/2014/07/apple_boasts_of_surge_in_worldwide_sales_of_ipads_for_education.html

Clarà, M., & Barberà, E. (2013). Learning online: massive open online courses (MOOCs), connectivism, and cultural psychology. Distance Education, 34(1), 129–136. doi:10.1080/01587919.2013.770428

Clarà, M., & Barberà, E. (2014). Three problems with the connectivist conception of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 30(3), 197–206. doi:10.1111/jcal.12040

Cook, V. (2012). Learning everywhere, all the time. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 78(3), 48–51. Retrieved from http://proxygw.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=74029564&site=ehost-live

eMarketer. (2014). Smartphone users worldwide will total 1.75 billion in 2014. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Smartphone-Users-Worldwide-Will-Total-175-Billion-2014/1010536

Etherington, D. (2013). Apple has sold over 8M iPads direct to education worldwide, with more than 1B iTunes U downloads. Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/28/apple-has-sold-over-8m-ipads-direct-to-education-worldwide-with-more-than-1b-itunes-u-downloads/

Interactive Educational Systems Design. (2012). 2012 National Survey on STEM Education. Retrieved from http://svsd.schoolwires.net/cms/lib05/WA01919490/Centricity/Domain/457/2012-national-survey-stem-ededition.pdf

Leather, D. J., & Marinho, R. D. (2009). Designing an academic building for 21st century learning: A dean’s guide. Change, (May/June), 42–50.

Shorkey, C. T., & Uebel, M. (2014). History and Development of Instructional Technology and Media in Social Work Education. Journal of Social Work Education, 50, 247–262. doi:10.1080/10437797.2014.885248

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm


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