Leveraging mobile technologies for learning: the AVU Mobile Learning Research Network Initiative (AVU MOBILEARN)
By all accounts, Africa has leapfrogged the stage of expansion of landline phones of the 20th Century and fully entered the current technological era of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs); and more specifically that of mobile phones. In terms of penetration, it is estimated that by 2019, 930 million subscriptions will have been reached, representing close to 80% of the African population owning a phone (Ericson, 2014). There is a common agreement among researchers and strategic thinkers that this unparalleled penetration of a technological innovation in Africa holds great promises and opportunities as the phones of today, especially smartphones, are much more sophisticated than the older generations of phones in terms of their capacities. For example, they have come to define entire sectors of African economies and social life interactions as illustrated by the advent of virtual commerce via social media and mobile banking whereby financial transactions are carried out more efficiently and effectively and in real time (e.g. MPESA in Kenya).
However, the potential of mobile phones in supporting educational development in Africa by expanding access to educational opportunities and improving the teaching and learning processes is still at its early stages of exploration and experimentation. In spite of growing evidence on the global stage (Europe, USA, etc.) showing that mobile learning has significant positive effect on teaching and learning, research is still far and in between in Africa, and as a result its impact on informing policy and practice is therefore minimal.
In order to step up the harnessing of mobile devices as educational tools, the African Virtual University, the leading Pan-African institution promoting the application of ICTs and Open and Distance eLearning (ODeL), has launched an Initiative consisting of creating a mobile learning research network (AVU MOBILEARN) whose main objectives are to: (i) undertake research studies on mobile learning; (ii) contribute to and facilitate the development of applications for mobile learning; and (iii) promote partnership-building and collaboration with other mobile learning initiatives.