When I was going to school, mobile phones were a rare thing. Not every student had one and however surprising it sounds, it was only 6 years ago. In those days, teachers would get angry if students would look at their phones instead of concentrating on their textbooks. Nowadays almost everybody has a Smartphone, and teachers, who, I assume, were followers of learner-centered approach to teaching. found a way out. They decided that instead of prohibiting students from using their phones, they will actually make the students use their smartphones for learning purposes.
A lot has been written about the usefulness and effectiveness of MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning). There are hundreds of free APPs available on APP stores which can be used in EFL practice plus all the in-built functionalities that phones provide. The research has shown that MALL tools allow the learners to become more autonomous, they create more opportunities for collaboration and cooperation among students. Ali Sorayyaei Azar‘s research on “Learners’ Attitudes toward the Effectiveness of Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) in L2 Listening Comprehension” in Iran, which aimed to investigate Iranian EFL learner’s attitudes toward the effectiveness of Mobile Assisted Language Learning on their Listening comprehension indicated, the experimental group receiving instruction through cell-phone based audiobooks outperformed the control group on their listening comprehension. Such studies are numerous and the reasons for these kinds of results also vary.
One very comprehensive research that summarizes most of the important points about MALL as well as talks about its disadvantages and pitfalls is John Traxler’s study “Mobile Learning for Languages: Can The Past Speak to the Future?”.
The study describes the advantages of MALL as “reaching out”, “enriching”, “learning from one another”, “theorizing and defining”, “enthusing and motivating” and “just in time”. I would highly recommend you to check out the paper if you want a profound literature analysis about MALL.
.As for the limitations and challenges of MALL, the author goes further than just discussing the small screen of the mobile devices and the readability issues. He raises the issues of sustainability, embedding and evidence. In terms of sustainability, Traxler talks about the ability of MALL APPs to “generate revenue or meet their costs and an understanding of their impact on human, economic, and social capital in relation to their various costs.” By embedding, he means how MALL is embedded in other learning systems and how it effects MALL’s efficacy. And the last limitation and challenge is, according to Traxler, the lack of evidence “that demonstrates relevance, significance, and impact.”
These limitations need to be addressed in order for Mobile Assisted Language learning to become absolutely effective for the language learners. But before that I would recommend using what mobile devices have to offer as their usefulness in the learning process is very obvious.