Mobile phones have become an integral part of student life. It allows sharing of text, music, videos, and gives access to the Internet. But can mobile phones be used for learning? M-learning is all about exploring the possibilities of using mobile phones for this purpose.

The world has already seen e-learning through personal computers and the Internet.

M-learning may just be an additional service which enables institutes to use their students' cellphones as a tool to impart education.

Indian students spend around $1.7 billion annually just preparing for tests. Institutes that train students for entrance exams such as IIT-JEE, CAT and the bank exam, conduct a lot of mock tests. The test prepared by these institutes may be loaded on cellphones from a website and could be taken from anywhere.

Non-governmental organisations working to train rural youth in English language may benefit from m-learning. Small audio/video lessons in English that could be loaded on the phones would be of great help to students. It will enable the rural youth to learn the language while travelling or working because many of them cannot afford to learn in a classroom.

A small mobile application may be used to load the test with objective-type questions on the mobile. Once the test is taken, the results may be submitted to a centralised website through an SMS. The institutes can access these results instantly. Evaluation time during campus recruitment can be significantly reduced by this method.

Programming the mobile devices is key to m-learning. Most of the phones from Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson support Java2 Micro Edition platform. A J2ME application written should work on any of these phones. Also, more and more device manufacturers are tuning to Android. Android phones are now available for less than Rs. 5,000. J2ME and Android applications may be developed in Java though they are two different technologies. However, the application for iPhone needs to be developed in a language called Objective C.

Students can be provisioned with the content in multiple ways. Institutes can provision the content through Bluetooth, or by SMS-ing the URL from where the application may be downloaded to the mobile phone using GPRS. The application may be loaded into an SD card sent to the student through courier. The tests may be loaded from the SD card and replaced once taken. Institute will probably have to support all these delivery mechanisms to successfully take up m-learning for their students.

(The author is chief technical officer at MobiSir Technologies.)