Making science work for development

Education-enhancing technologies

Building towards education for all using mobile learning resources 

Universal primary education has been a UN global target for the past fifteen years. Research projects from The Open University have played a significant role in working towards this goal, helping to understand the potential of mobile learning and develop technologies that can be used to enhance education – especially for those living in developing countries. Their work has underpinned a number of new mobile technologies with one now looking to expand internationally to support the education of 10.5 million children by 2017.

At the Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders pledged to deliver children everywhere a complete and full course of primary schooling. To reach this goal, global education systems would have to undergo significant improvements, especially in countries where poor attendance, low quality teaching and a lack of school resources present major challenges.

Research into the use of mobile technologies for learning at The Open University has played an important role in the effort to meet global education goals, with a number of their projects taken up internationally as new teaching approaches.

As technology progresses, mobile phones are becoming more than just communication tools (Image Sean Salmon)

MOBIlearn was the first of these major projects, conducted in collaboration with 24 international partners to investigate how mobile technologies can enhance learning. Researchers explored the relationships and interactions between users and mobile devices in education, using the findings to create a theory of learning for the mobile world. Partnerships with external companies led to MOBIlearn findings reinforcing a number of new mobile learning tools. For example, the project convinced telecommunications giant Nokia to explore mobile learning on their mobile devices, leading to the development of the Nokia Education Delivery platform – built in partnership with UNESCO – which was used widely in developing countries.

Open University researchers were also involved in the EU-funded MOTILL project on mobile lifelong learning, which saw institutional and national policymakers sign 24 formal declarations committing to the development of mobile learning across Europe.

Another strand of research, the Digital Education Enhancement Project (DEEP), focused on methods of mobile learning in low-resource settings. Researchers investigated the use of new mobile technologies within rural classrooms in Egypt and South Africa, looking to determine how different contexts – such as local languages and educational practices – affect the success of mobile learning.

Mobile phones for learning can be a valuable tool in the classroom (Image USAID)

English in Action (EIA), a project funded by the Department for International Development, built on the DEEP research to support English language teaching in Bangladesh. Trials of three low-cost mobile phone packages were carried out in two rural locations, the findings going on to shape a large-scale programme in local schools. EIA has proven to be a huge success: providing a mobile learning package to 4,690 Bangladeshi teachers with preloaded audio and video clips, aligned with local needs, to support their lessons. It has significantly increased pupils’ abilities – with talk in English increasing to over 80% – and also helped teacher education and training – increasing their use of English to 70%.

The success in Bangladesh has led to a national programme, directly modelled on EIA, being established in Nigeria. With this, and an expansion planned in Bangladesh, the EIA project now aims to reach at least 76,500 teachers, and support the education of 10.5 million children by 2017.

Read more about this research in the original impact case study submitted to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. 

Department for International Development