Geolearners: Informal Learning with Mobile and Social Technologies

Clough, Gill (2009). Geolearners: Informal Learning with Mobile and Social Technologies. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis investigates how mobile and social technologies are influencing informal learning in the context of online community membership. The development of mobile technologies that use Global Positioning System (GPS) data to pinpoint geographical location together with the rapidly evolving Web 2.0 applications supporting the creation and consumption of content suggest a potential for cooperative informal learning linked to location. This research explores whether this potential has been realised.

Two pilot studies were conducted, a technology-enhanced Birdwatch (16 participants) and a GPS-guided Nature Trail (11 participants) to evaluate the effects of connected, location aware technology on informal learning and community building. The main study focused on the Geocaching community, a geographically dispersed group who use mobile and Web 2.0 technologies to link the virtual social spaces of the internet with the physical spaces that surround them. This research built on insights from the Mobilearn project that mobile learning is connected to the mobility of the learner moving between different sources of technological and social resources, rather than the technology (Attewell and Savill-Smith, 2004).

Online survey participants were recruited from the Geocaching forums. From the 659 responses, five linked case studies were selected for interviews. This data was supplemented by information collected from the Geocaching website and forums and analysed using qualitative techniques.

The work reported in this thesis reinforces the Preece and Shneiderman (2009) four stage communities model, illustrating that learning opportunities are built into the community membership trajectory. It uncovered novel ways of using mobile and Web 2.0 technologies to create learning activities connected to location. It also revealed a growing undercurrent of cooperative informal learning through distributed networks of connected individuals who made innovative use of both mobile and social technologies to create a persistent digital narrative of location which served as a community resource.

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