Open mobile ambient learning: The next generation of mobile learning for mobile-rich but computer-poor contexts

Mr Simon Nyaga Mwendia and Ms Ilona Buchem  | Presentation (PDF)

KCA University in Nairobi Kenya




By the end of year 2011, Africa had over 620 million mobile connections, overtaking Latin America to become second largest mobile market after Asia.

According to Ilona Buchem in 2012, since mobile devices and applications are used every day in order to interact, plan, work, play and orientate, mobile pedagogies in context of HE in Africa should focus more on ambient assisted learning to facilitate greater independence and improve quality of life, which is especially beneficial to learners with special needs (e.g. disabled people and people living in remote locations). 

African universities face challenges in their attempts to offer quality educations, including the lack of access to university educational facilities and scientific information, poor access to computers, scarce availability of qualified teachers and the irrelevance of formal education to African needs, according to research conducted in 2008 and 2009. This removes flexibility that is needed in personalized learning, according to a 2010 study. This calls for innovative learning approaches that facilitate flexible access of open education resources (OER) in settings with high prevalence of mobile devices (such as mobile phones) but poor prevalence of location dependent devices (such as computers) as it is the case in Africa. 

Current forms of mobile learning aim at enabling context-sensitive learning, e.g. interacting with learners by considering learner’s current context (e.g. location, activity, social relations), mixed reality learning, for example, enhancing the meaning of learning content by allowing learners to participate in a media-rich environment, as well as ambient learning, for example, delivering learning content at anytime, anywhere and anyhow by placing digital artefacts within the environment of the learner, according to a 2006 report. However, a number of European projects in this area assume availability of adequate infrastructures, such as location dependent devices, which are hard to implement in setting such as African based universities, given the lack of sophisticated technological infrastructures. 

This presentation focuses on mobile learning as a means for supporting advancement in the quality of education by addressing mobile pedagogies that provide flexible access to learning through consideration of learner’s current context. Based on the Mobile Interface Ambient Learning (MIAL) framework, according to a 2013 report, designed for contexts with high penetration of mobile devices (mobile rich) but low prevalence of location dependent devices (computer poor), we propose Open Mobile Ambient Learning (OMAL) as an approach to enhance adoption of ambient learning by integrating Open Educational Resources (OER) into Personal Learning Environments (PLE), e.g. individual collocations of distributed applications, services and resources, according to a 2011 study, in context of HE in Africa.

OMAL targets to benefit university students with special needs (e.g. disabled, elderly) by improving their learning independence and digital marginalization (e.g. own phones but have poor access to computers) through enhancing access flexibility.

OMAL combines mechanisms of embedding intelligent interface in mobile devices to monitor special learning needs and contexts (Mobile Ambient Intelligence), with mechanism of appropriating adaptable learning tools and services by learner through mobile devices Adaptable Mobile Personal Learning Environment (AMPLE) and mechanisms of dynamically discovering Personal Learning Networks (PLN) in OER driven environments.


Ms Ilona Buchem is professor for Digital Media and Diversity, at Beuth University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, Germany. Her teaching focuses on media didactics, media sociology and digital economy. In her research she explores how to design and apply digital media to support open learning, collaboration, creativity, diversity and inclusion. She specialises in open education, digital diversity, digital identities, online participation, online facilitation, mobile learning, ePortfolios and Personal Learning Environments. Ilona Buchem has an extensive experience in management of research projects and secured funding for a number of national and international R&D projects. Ilona Buchem acts as a member of advisory boards in research projects, as an editor for journals on technology-enhanced learning and as a chair of scientific conferences. She co-authored a competency modelling specification (PAS 1093) at the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) in context of work-based learning and eLearning in the enterprise. 

Mr Simon Nyaga Mwendia is a lecturer in the Faculty of computing and Information Management at KCA University in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2012, he enrolled for PhD in Computer Science at University of Nairobi, which focus on use of mobile computing and ambient intelligence technologies to support learning in the area of mobile learning and ambient learning. Mr Mwendia has authored a paper entitled ‘3-Category Pedagogical Framework for Context Based Ambient Learning’ (2013) and a book chapter entitled ‘Culture Aware mobile learning Classification Framework for African Countries’.



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