In the blended learning environment, two separate learning platforms, face-to-face and online components, are merged together in the hope to benefit diverse learners. Traditional face-to-face learning provides students with significant social benefits and immediate feedback while an online format offers flexibility and individualization. However, just as blended learning addresses the positive sides of both worlds, it may suffer from the negative sides of both worlds. A smooth transition from one learning environment to another is the most central aspect of a successful convergence. Advanced technological innovations may be the answer to a seamless union.
Mobile learning refers to learning that is delivered or accompanied by any handheld or individual device that contributes to increasing knowledge or skills. As the name suggests, the most apparent yet also the most critical feature of mobile learning is its mobility. It allows each mobile user to carry the learning across time, locations, topics, engagement, and any other boundaries which may potentially hinder the flow and continuity of educational activities. In the context of mobile learning, active processing of knowledge can exceed the traditional brick-and-mortar settings and extend to virtual space. It can easily be adapted in an online or blended learning model, as a vessel to meet both synchronous and asynchronous environments. Such practice is particularly beneficial for those in disadvantaged communities with scarce resources. Equal access is possible through a portable and affordable mobile technology.
Therefore, if every student has a handheld device that can be used inside or outside of the classroom to complete assignments and/or participate in educational activities, mobile learning is plausible and even preferable. Recently, mobile learning that utilizes individual tablets has become extremely popular. Due to this popularity, many colleges develop initiatives to promote learning in a 1-to-1 environment. A 1-to-1 environment refers to every student having access to a mobile device, whether it is a laptop, phone, or tablet. At the beginning of the mobile learning environment, laptop carts and iPod touch devices that offered computational applications were seen most in classrooms. In the more recent years, tablets such as the iPad have become more prominent in 1-to-1 classrooms.
Launching in 2010, Apple’s iPad sold millions of tablets within the first several months and has become one of the most popular tablets to be promoted for teaching and learning purposes. Although other mobile devices are available, the iPad seems to be the most prevalent. Similar to laptop computers, an iPad device is also equipped with the ability to do simple office operations. Given the availability of wireless technology, such as Wi-Fi connection, it can easily access the Internet and browse most websites. In addition, it comes with choices of self-fulfilled software programs, known as applications or apps, which allows users to perform a variety of functions, such as education, entertainment, music and videos, or other life style specifics. These mobile applications are developed independent of Internet access and often can operate on their own.
Given the abundance of applications on the market that are associated with the iPad, many students have already been exposed to the usage of such a device outside of the classroom. Many teachers and administrators have actively sought to bring the iPad into districts for educational usage and to increase student motivation and performances. As a result, the contemporary iPad usage in college classrooms is continuously growing; however, because this educational trend is very recent, the availability of strong experimental research is somewhat limited to providing quantitative evidences supporting the benefits of the iPad for classroom use. Standard stated “since research is somewhat scarce at this time, we [educators] are the pioneers of discovering the most effective ways to utilize new technology in the classroom”. Although the research community must continuously carry on this mission and fully examine the educational aspects of iPad usage, educators can also refer to the scientific method and conduct their own action research. Among this flourishing iPad market, teachers can and must explore various applications and websites before purposeful selections and adaptations can be made to benefit student learning. In addition, teachers must reflect on their own willingness and styles to embrace iPad usage in their classrooms. Learning from many iPad pilot studies, teachers can evaluate the value of such initiative and use data to reshape the technology-rich instruction.