It seems that the learning community – especially the learning technology community – is always ready to define another way of learning and give it a new name. For example, the last ten months or so has seen the growth in popularity and use of ‘t-learning’.
While some people in the UK may think that this is just a Yorkshire dialect word, it really stands for ‘tablet learning’. This is a further technological step along the evolutionary path from e-learning (learning delivered to a desktop or laptop computer) and its newer arrival, m-learning (learning delivered through a mobile device).
It’s often said that m-learning has different parameters to e-learning. In other words, you can’t just take e-learning materials and attempt to deliver them via m-learning. If they’re to be useful, the learning materials have to be adapted for delivery from ‘e’ to ‘m’. The same can be said when it comes to t-learning.
For one thing, a tablet’s screen size is closer to that of a laptop than a mobile phone – so learning materials made for delivery via mobile phones will probably have to be modified for delivery via tablets.
Of course, tablets are different from desk- or laptop computers and from mobile phones. They’re mobile devices but they may not be as ‘personal’ to the user as are mobile phones. This can mean, among other things, that users use them to learn in a different context from the way they would use, say, their mobile phones.
In addition, while tablets are more portable than, say, a desktop computer, they’re less easily portable than mobile phones. Their technology is impressive but it’s difficult to hold one for a long time without some form of support.
Besides the technological aspects, there are philosophical and pedagogical issues regarding the relationship between ‘e’, ‘m’ and ‘t-learning’.
Are tablets ‘mobile devices’? Yes, they are – but are they as ubiquitously mobile as mobile phones? Not really – although the story is told that one hospital in Ottawa, Canada, solved the ‘tablet mobility’ problem by redesigning their workers’ lab coats to include pockets large enough to encompass an iPad. People who’re not employed in this Ottawa hospital probably make a conscious decision whether to take their iPad with them when they go out – in a way that they wouldn’t make that decision about their mobile phone. They’d just take that with them as a matter of course.
The ‘tablet/ mobile’ argument seems to hinge on whether the device has a small display screen and, thus, is small enough to be with the user anywhere at any time. Obviously, this has implications – in terms of screen design – for those who design and develop learning materials for these devices.
Furthermore, tablets are more acceptable – to both learners and tutors – in a ‘group learning’ context since, unlike mobile phones, they don’t have a tendency to ring at odd times. Learners using tablets can’t be distracted by, for example, receiving or sending texts on them. In addition, tablet screens have been designed to make it easy to share their displays with others. This helps when it comes to collaborative learning in an office or classroom. Mobile phones, on the other hand, aren’t helpful in this respect.
While screen size may give the tablet more in common with the desktop and laptop computer than with the mobile phone, the touchscreen capabilities of both the tablet and the phone mean that learning materials designers and developers need to do their work differently when producing materials for delivery via tablets and mobile phones compared with ‘traditional’ computers.
So, although simplicity argues for reducing the number of learning technology appellations, ‘t-learning’ probably deserves it’s growing niche in today’s online learning world.