Bob Harrison on a new report on one of the world's biggest handheld learning projects – MoLeNET
MoLeNET 2Eyebrows were raised when the then Learning Skills Council (LSC) announced it would make £6 million of capital funds available to English further education colleges for shared cost mobile learning projects in 2007/8 for the new MoLeNET project.

Colleges were invited to submit proposals that would assist colleges and partners in implementing mobile learning, providing staff training, building capacity and evaluating impact.

Even more surprising, a further £4 million was made available the following year just as the LSC capital “fiasco” caused the resignation of chief executive Mark Haysom. However, while colleges found the available capital funding attractive it wasn’t “free” money.

The Learning and Skills Network, which was appointed MoLeNET project manager by the LSC, introduced a 20 per cent “match funded” financial contribution in cash or “in kind” for the LSN evaluation and support programme. In other words, if colleges were successful in their application they had to “buy back” services from the LSN.

This new approach to the distribution of capital funds has attracted considerable interest from the Skills Funding Agency which has taken over the strategic management of MoLeNET from the now disbanded LSC.

The main focus for MoLeNet 2 projects has been “partnership” and “sustainability”. Given that this all happened before the change of government it looks like an uncannily astute decision by the LSN managers.

The 30 projects in MoleNet 2 had their own, varied aims and objectives depending on learners, technologies, contexts and subjects and levels involved. And measures of impact included “hard” indicators such as learner retention and achievement.

'Handheld technologies proved very useful for work-based and vocational learners'

The research, now released in the new, second MoLeNET report, Modernising education and training: Mobilising technology for learning, by Jill Attewell, Carol Savill-Smith,Rebecca Douch and Guy Parker, identifies a large number of benefits of mobile learners, teachers and institutions. These include: “increased creativity and Innovation, greater ownership of learning by learners, real world problem solving and the development of complex ideas and knowledge transfer.”

“Handheld technologies proved to be very useful for work-based and vocational learners,” days the report, “and also helped to engage reluctant learners and those who have not previously thrived in educational environments.”

Hastings College used ipods with construction students and hair and beauty learners, Leeds College of Building used netbooks and mobile phones with construction learners, St Helens College used Sony PSP’s with electrical engineering students and Walsall College used Nintendo DS games handhelds with some disaffected and disengaged learners where they reported: ”This programme has seen learners enjoying education again and the number of exclusions is down by 65 per cent.”

Staff in the colleges involved  were positive about the use of mobile technology and the impact of the MoLeNET project. Feedback from Colchester College included: “Teachers have reported improved quality of work, improvements in behaviour and increased motivation.”  While a Trafford College manager enthused: “It has been almost like having a new baby! The most wonderful, exciting journey and, at times, most tiring and frustrating. The afterglow is that we have created something that will continue to grow and become more stable and more embedded within our culture of delivery.”

All MoleNet 2 projects were tasked with considering how mobile learning can be sustained and expanded in future when funding for colleges is likely to be restricted and when the direction of travel must be “encouraging and enabling learners to use their own technologies.”

This theme will be of considerable interest when the MoLeNET project celebrates the success of its work, showcases some of the college projects and disseminates its findings at an event on September 29 in central London.

More information

New MoLeNET 2 report – Modernising education and training: Mobilising technology for learning
Mobile Learning Conference and MoLeNET Awards

Bob HarrisonBob Harrison has been a member of the MoLeNET Advisory Board and will be attending the Mobile Learning Conference and MoLeNET Awards on September 29 and reporting on the day.