08/08/2014 05:41 pm ET Updated Oct 08, 2014

Mobile Learning and the Long Tail of Education

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It is an acknowledged fact today that every student learns at his or her own pace. Traditionally, teachers and schools have focused on identifying the common denominator that would sufficiently engage students at all levels. However, differentiated instructions, where a student's education is tailored to the specific attributes of that student, is increasingly making inroads into schools today. Therein lies the challenge for teachers, as they have to cater not only to the students at different levels, but also communicate this to parents effectively.

That is one of the reasons for the rapid adoption of mobile learning in K-12 education. Mobile devices inherently support the notion of differentiation. Ben Johnson, an administrator, author and educator, suggests that "the only thing we have to do in automatic differentiation is to start the process and then let it go." Sounds like magic? Well, Ben cites some examples of automatic differentiation that are already being embraced.

Cooperative learning is done in small groups, and students are forced to interact with other students to complete the learning task. In this setting, students automatically choose the task they are most comfortable doing along with the level of participation that resonates best with them.
Project-based learning is also an example of automatic differentiation. When given the project and the standard of success in a rubric, then it is up to the student to determine how to meet the requirements. The students automatically choose methods and learning strategies that coincide with their needs and interests.
Choice learning is an example of automatic differentiation because students are allowed to choose which assignment they want to complete from a menu containing several equivalent assignments. An example of this is the elementary concept of "centers." Students can wander from center to center, engaging in what ever they are interested in doing.

Mobile learning using tablets is ideally suited for this new paradigm of learning. Why?
  • In typical 1:1 schools, every student has a personal tablet or learning device
  • Students work at their own individual skill levels
  • They automatically follow their own interests and learning styles
The challenge is for teachers to identify or learn the effective use of mobile learning to implement any combination of the automatic differentiation strategies.

Schools that support true mobile learning allow these devices home, and so your role as a parent in supporting or facilitating these strategies also become crucial to their success. In an infinitely customizable world, why should education be any different?