It seems that an educational system focused on learning outcomes would pay particularly close attention to research about how the human brain learns best. But John Medina’s book, Brain Rules (2008) — a compilation of decades of brain research — paints a different picture. According to Medina, traditional formalized education environments contradict the very way the human brain is wired to learn. Sitting in a classroom for an hour listening to someone speak is not an effectively brain-enriching experience. And today, educators have an over abundance of dynamic, multisensory, free to low-cost technologies at their fingertips that hold some serious opportunity for reinventing a smart learning environment for college students.
While it’s important to stress that human brains are diverse and bring their own unique preferences to the table, Medina stresses that experiences that stimulate a variety of the brain’s senses are the most likely to result in increased retention. Each time a particular sense is stimulated, a unique area of your brain is activated, and, essentially, when multiple senses are triggered, more relevant, emotional, and meaningful learning occurs. Want to see this idea in action? Check out National Geographic’s Stimulate the Human Brain interactive feature!
Mobile learning offers a particularly unique opportunity for revolutionizing college learning. The innovative flipped classroom model has already questioned the legitimacy of requiring students to come to a physical place to listen to a professor speak for an hour — when mobile video technology can replicate that learning experience from anywhere at any time, with the added benefit of giving each student the ability to learn at his or her own pace and rewind/replay as much as necessary (without the fear of feeling stupid in front of one’s peers). The flipped classroom uses face-to-face time for discussion and personalized instruction, rather than content delivery. But mobile learning offers the brain one more added benefit — the opportunity to move while you’re learning.
If you regularly exercise, you may already be reflecting on the dynamite ideas you get while engaged in cardiovascular activity. Research shows that exercise improves cognition because of the increased oxygen to the brain and simultaneously increases neuron production and survival. In fact, Medina notes, “the best business meeting would have everyone walking at about 1.8 miles per hour.”
When I offer my students to opportunity to listen to mobile lectures, I frequently have students share with me that they listen at the gym, while doing housework like vacuuming, or out for a run. This is natural, as mobile learning opens up opportunities for increasing one’s productivity by listening while completing another non-competing task. This is an intriguing topic for learning researchers to explore.
Augmenting Reality with Mobile Video
Additionally, my curiosity has been piqued by the number of students who have shared with me how much their mobile learning experience was enhanced by the context in which they learned. Pushing exercise aside for a moment, Medina stresses the role that visual stimulation plays in learning, as well. While the research focuses on how images can reinforce one’s learning about a particular topic: ”Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.” But what I think is worthy of exploration is the way mobile learning can set a student within a particular physical environment that can add context to the material being examined.
One semester, while teaching online art appreciation, I had a student comment in our online discussion board about the week’s online lecture. He had listened to the episode about “light and color” while in his car while his wife was driving up the mountain to visit a friend. The ideas from the lecture were laid over his physical context — as he peered out his car window, he was able to observe the shifting interplay of light and color on the grand pine trees as the sun moved closer to the horizon.
This story begins to open our eyes to the way mobile learning can strengthen and enrich a students’ experience by opening opportunities for connecting learning with real world experiences — a far cry from staring at a chalkboard in a lecture hall. Augmented reality (AR) is based on using a mobile device to add additional layers of information about a user’s physical surroundings. As one’s surroundings change, so does the content.
An early and popular example of AR is game-based project called Dow Day. Dow Day is used by middle school students as they tour the campus of University of Wisconsin at Madison. As a student traverses the campus landscape, the game feeds them video footage of historic Vietnam War protests that occurred in the precise location they are standing. Offering a chance to merge the past with the present and infuse the moment with a layer of history, AR offers opportunities to engage students in a “smart” learning environment that engages an array of their senses, including physical activity.
Assessing Learning with Mobile Whiteboard Demonstrations
Demonstrating concepts on whiteboards is a normal step in a professor’s instructional approach. But today there are a variety of free apps that make whiteboards a viable and even fun way to assess student learning. Teaching a concept is an effective way to build confidence in a student, while fostering a mastery of skills at the same time. And writing on a whiteboard with a finger is a terrific way to stimulate learner’s sense of touch, as well as her sight and sound at the same time.
ShowMe is a free iPad app that students (who have iPads, of course) can use to demonstrate their mastery of course concepts. The app records the user’s voice and syncs it to the video which illustrates the visual on the whiteboard itself. A user can draw on the whiteboard with a fingertip or stylus or import an image onto the whiteboard and annotate on it. Once the video is complete, it can be uploaded to ShowMe for free and the link may be shared via email or pasted onto a website.
The app could be woven into a class as a formative assessment, which is a type of assessment that fosters learning and provides students and the instructor with an opportunity to check in on their level of mastery at a particular point in the learning process.
I imagine a group of students in a classroom creating ShowMe videos and pasting their links to a collaborative Google Doc. The instructor can present each video to the class and have the group of students discuss its accuracy, and even refer back to them later to grade them. Throughout a term, each student could be required to create a collection of whiteboard demonstrates with the app that could be collected into an ePortfolio (or a blog or Google Site/Doc), and presented for a summative assessment at the end of class.
Mobile learning continues to resculpt our learning landscape in and out of the traditional classroom. The opportunities are exciting — and smart!
What do you think? Is mobile learning an opportunity to foster more brain-friendly college learning experiences? Can you share examples of how your college or university is using mobile learning? Share your thoughts via the VoiceThread at the top of this post!