Ubiquitous Learning

Image from Bates (2011).

What is ubiquitous learning?

Ubiquitous learning is often simply defined as learning anywhere, anytime and is therefore closely associated with mobile technologies. The portability of computers and computing devices has blurred the traditional lines between formal and informal learning. Ubiquitous learning, according to the Ubiquitous Learning Institute home page, is also considered to be learning that is situated and immersive, and thus could take place from the traditional classroom in a virtual environment (for more on virtual learning see the Augmented Reality page of this wiki). Whether the device is in hand or surrounding us, the idea of ubiquity comes from the ease of 1:1 computing brought about by technological advances. In the editorial in The Journal of Educational Technology and Society, guest editors Liu and Milrad (2011) write,
  • "One-to-one learning is based on the belief that people learn differently as a result of owning personal handheld computing devices (Chan et al., 2006). The attributes of these devices, including portability, connectivity and context sensitivity combined with sound pedagogical ideas can transform learning from being a merely productive knowledge acquisition process to an active social interaction activity."

Nicholas C. Burbules (2009), director of the Ubiquitous Learning Institute at the University of Illinois, highlights six aspects of ubiquitous learning.
  1. Spatial ubiquity - We have constant access to the Internet (and conversely, others have constant access to you). The distinction of formal vs. informal learning is blurred - as people can access the Internet (and therefore the knowledge and connections implicit in the Internet) anytime, anywhere. This idea has implications for learning and memory - in the age of Google what is the important knowledge that we need in our heads?
  2. Mobile devices - From mobile phones to computers sewn into clothing, learning is enabled by the mobility of computing devices. We are headed toward a time when being constantly "connected' will be a way of life.
  3. Interconnectedness - With web 2.0 technology, we can be constantly to connected not only to information on the Internet, but to other people who have knowledge and skills that we don't. This creates a web of knowledge that becomes a large part of how we learn - at all times. (This concept is tied closely with the theory of connectivism (Siemens, 2005) which proposes that one's ability to find sources of knowledge are more important than current knowledge itself, and that maintaining connections is key to learning).
  4. Practical ubiquity - There is a blurring of traditional lines in an either/or situation. Burbules (2009) notes that "work/play, learning/entertainment, accessing/creating information, public/private are distinctions that conceptually might never have been as clear-cut as our usage suggested them to be; but for a host of social and cultural reasons they are becoming increasingly untenable as sharp distinctions today." For learning, the implication is that there is a new expectations of how, when why learning takes place - the traditional, factory model is not relevant to the new model of learning. This change is not limited to technology - one example being project-based learning which may or may not have a technology component.
  5. Temporal ubiquity - Instead of one's schedule being created around the opportunities to learn, there is a shift and with mobile and ubiquitous computing, learning can be scheduled around one's habits and preferences. This also denotes a shift in perception of and interaction with time. Rather than "lifelong learning" being something that adults do after traditional school is over, lifelong learning is continual learning - seemless between traditional an non-traditional learning opportunities across time. As Burbules says, "to be is to learn."
  6. Globalized transnational networks - In the flattened world, there are continual flows of people, information and ideas across traditional physical and cultural barriers. We are in an age of fundamental interconnectedness.

The videos below, "Productivity Future Vision" and "Ubiquitous Computing" imagine a world where interaction with the Internet provides constant connection in everyday life, making learning and connecting ubiquitous.

Implications for education

In a society with mandatory free education, as we have pointed out throughout this wiki, it is unlikely that the classrooms and schools we know will cease to exist by the year 2025. However, the advent of mobile technologies and computing anywhere, anytime, the classrooms and schools will not be considered the only or even the major source of learning and knowledge. Burbules (2009) imagines the school as the hub of the wheel, with spokes going out in all directions to learning opportunities and experiences not in the control or direction of the school or teacher at all. In such a system, the educator becomes important as the guide for learning, helping the students analyze and assess sources of information, make connections they might not think of, and mitigating factors that block access and connections for some students.

Next: Gesture-Based Computing