Last year, the president of my university, Lisa Anderson, requested that we provide English language courses for our security guards. We tested and placed these learners in the appropriate levels in our continuing English program for adults. Recently, I found out that the security guards were not able to attend our regularly scheduled programs because of the nature of their jobs – they work shifts that change periodically. Dr. Anderson asked us to consider another method of delivery of programs such as the use of mobiles. Accordingly, a colleague and I started researching this option and I discovered the world of mobile-assisted language learning (MALL); I was fascinated. I will briefly share with you a little of what I learned and how I see the way forward.
I came across a very interesting report: Ambient Insight Premium 2012 Report titled, “The Worldwide Market for Digital English Language Learning Products and Service: 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis.” (PDF) According to the report, the area of growth in the international English language learning market is in digital products and that gradually the market will move away from classroom and print products. It is predicted that revenues from digital products will be doubled by 2016 and the highest revenues will be generated by mobile English language learning products.
I delved further in my search and I came across an article titled “Mobile-Assisted Language Learning” (PDF) by Miangah & Nezarat (2012), who stated that mobile learning in general is emerging as the “next generation of e-learning” (p.309). I then discovered the term “MALL,” which combines two areas: mobile-learning and CALL. Frankly, I had never really thought about the potential and possibilities of MALL and so I started to ask the opinions of young Egyptians around me. Mobile phones are widespread here in Cairo and particularly in the Gulf in both urban and rural areas, and I believe people all over the world have increasing access to such devices.
I found out that similar to our security guards, people with long working hours and who work shifts face the challenge of not having sufficient time for traditional face-to-face classroom language courses or even online courses and they need greater flexibility in their learning contexts. When I asked them directly, several agreed that they would like to learn using their mobiles in their free time because they do not have the option or time to attend classroom-based programs at set schedules.
Given the very positive reactions of young people and with the advances in mobile technology, I think MALL is the way forward and is key to the next generation of English language teaching. I believe that the coming generations of smart phones will enable us to develop a wide range of interactive content integrating a variety of media providing learners with the ability to interact with other learners. There is still little research on the actual learning outcomes and impact of this new medium on English language learning but I am sure there will soon be more studies all over the world. Finally, I want to thank Lisa Anderson very much for setting me on this path of learning and thinking about the future of ELT.