We were honored to have been invited to UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week. According to UNESCO, there were “more than 700 participants from over 60 countries” for the third annual conference in Paris. There were hands-on demonstrations of mobile learning content and technology in the Walking Gallery, around 80 breakout presentations and 30+ exhibitions by NGOs, governments and corporations. A fascinating mix of stakeholders.

While I heard some thoughtful speakers both on main stage and in breakout sessions, I found the most value in conversations with delegates from Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, South Korea, China, Egypt, Norway, and many, many other countries. I had naively been considering OpenPath in terms of US audiences, and because of our work with US Ignite / Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund projects in gig cities such as Kansas City and Chattanooga, we have been thinking about the sharing of learning paths through low-latency gigabit-speed networks. In describing our work to UNESCO delegates, though, another possibility emerged. These international representatives responded powerfully to the simplicity and ease of the proposal, its democratizing potential. OpenPath is easily accessible, and it gives learners the power to create and share paths immediately. As result of these conversations, we’re already in discussion with UK and EU partners. I’d like to connect these groups to our partners in Kansas City and Chattanooga. Kansas City shares a path with a Nigerian classroom! Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum shares part of its collection with Egypt.

As one might expect, MLW2014 delegates were focused predominantly on ways to extend learning to populations that have little or no access to opportunities. As the recent UNESCO Global Monitoring Report indicates, “250 million students worldwide cannot read, write or count, even after four years of school. Close to 775 million adults – 64% of whom are women – still lack reading and writing skills, with the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.” In light of this powerful research, we’re forced to reconsider learning. What are the fundamental ways to open access to educational resources to more people? It follows then that at MWL2014 many of the pilots and demonstrations concerned content delivery, skills development and instruction—language acquisition, literacy, numeracy. In many ways, this makes good sense, despite a similarity to old-school student-as-container models. How do we develop the basic literacy skills that are the foundation from which learning grows? While these “fundamentals” are critically important, there is also clearly room for resources like OpenPath to help learners construct and share knowledge in informal contexts in and throughout their own worlds.

Dr. Niall Winters (@nwin)

UNESCO’s Future of Mobile Learning

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