Research results on mobile learning and mobile health interventions were presented at the South African Association of Health Educationalists (SAAHE) Conference by a UKZN expert in emergency healthcare Professor Petra Brysiewicz of the School of Nursing and Public Health. 

The research – originating from advanced midwifery education in KwaZulu-Natal – acknowledged that mobile learning and mobile health interventions fail because they adopt a techno-centric view and ignore the local context.

To address this, Brysiewicz and colleagues investigated the “organic” adoption and educational usage of mobile phones by health workers in rural health settings.  

The study revealed a number of unexpected learning and teaching practices based on the grassroots adoption of mobile phone functions and in particular, social applications (apps). These practices involved a cognitive, teaching and social presence as well as reflective practice, enabling rich educational experiences, according to the Community of Inquiry Theory which was used in the study’s methodolgy.  

Brysiewicz explained that “traditional” communities of inquiry were based on pre-determined online environments. ‘By contrast, learners used bundles of phone-based functions to embed mobile and blended communities and other resources that were fragmented across social, temporal, topical, geographical, digital and “real” spaces in the inquiry process in very dynamic ways.’ 

The study found that in view of future mobile health and mobile learning efforts, mobile phones appeared to be particularly suitable to facilitate competence development in the following ways:

  - problem solving and situated co-construction of local knowledge

  - socio-cultural participation, to alleviate professional isolation

  - connecting learning in workplaces with formal education systems

  - addressing unpredictable opportunities and challenges that are typical for the changing and provisional (health) contexts observed.

Brysiewicz said: ‘Instead of ignoring the revealed practices, health and education institutions are well advised to support learners in media literacy - enabling them to more effectively and critically use existing (mobile) technologies.’

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