Story-based mLearning in Developing and Threshold Countries

Vienna, November 2010 - Mobile phone technology is the most widespread communication technology worldwide. Today, GSM networks penetrate even most remote areas - and all levels of society. This makes them an ideal tool for the distribution of learning content with the widest possible outreach.

Most existing mobile learning solutions, however, are not very suitable for threshold and developing countries, since they heavily focus on latest 3G technology and require PDAs/smartphones and relatively broad bandwidth, which is not available in all regions - or only at high cost. Some mLearning attempts have utilized SMS technology, but not much content can be transmitted in this format. The lack of literacy and/or media competency in different levels of society further complicate matters.

To use the full potential of mobile phones for learning purposes, a simple and easy to use solution is needed. Such a solution should not only focus on written text and multimedia, but should also make use of audio formats and traditional approaches to learning, like story-telling.

common sense - eLearning & training consultants GmbH based in Vienna are developing I-Call, a mobile training solution to offer a cost-effective, easy to use, highly visible and widely available learning tool, accepted by users of different backgrounds and education levels. This project allows for development of local content and access by target groups even from remote regions and addresses learners on the community level through interactive storytelling via a simple GSM connection.

What does a mobile learning solution for the community level need? First of all it must be relatively low tech on the end-user side (independency of phone models, must work also on old and simple models). Then it should make use of an audio-based, interactive solution rather than focusing heavily on text. Objectives for mLearning solutions on the community level are mostly affective, like change of attitude and behavior or awareness raising.

The learning content is provided in the format of interactive stories which captivate and motivate users. Learners listen to "audio soap operas" and can make decisions in place of the protagonists. The stories continue based on the decision of the learner and show the consequences of their "actions".

Story-based learning has a rich tradition in many societies and relates easily to local culture. Well told stories are attractive for many people, which will help to disseminate knowledge throughout society. I-Call attracts attention by a good combination of entertainment (e.g. roles spoken by well-known local actors) and delivery of useful and important messages. The stories thus can be provided in national and local languages, and will be accessible by dialing a local or free-call phone number.

Since the I-Call solution of common sense offers a high potential for the use within the environment sector, UNEP is drafting a pilot project to test it in several developing countries. The UNEP project is supposed to supplement the MENTOR eLearning platform of UNEP and will be called Mentor mobile. UNEP and common sense will implement MENTOR mobile pilot projects in 2011.