FrontlineSMS let users send, receive and manage SMS over a mobile network.

Recently I shared some ideas w/Josh & Ken about a potential module for FrontlineSMS that would focus on application in education & training settings. I threw out the name "FrontlineSMS:Learn," inspired by the FrontlineSMS:Medic & FrontlineSMS:Credit monikers. Here is some of the functionality that, based on my experience, I thought might be useful:

Short term:
- Quizzes/Assessments
- Polling w/chart visualization (for real-time use in the classroom)
- Learning reinforcement messages (scheduled or real-time)
- Virtual study groups (think discussion group or bulletin board)
- Event notifications/reminders (exams, holidays, conferences, etc)

Integration w/LMS (e.g. Moodle)

What do folks think? Would this be useful functionality for an education &/or training setting? What would you remove from the list? What would you modify? What would you add?

Tags: education, training

Views: 895

Replies to This Discussion

This is a very exciting thread, James! I'm really looking forward to seeing responses from the community.

I love this vision. I'm currently working on how to use mobile phones to make available our social venture development curriculum to support the ideas of grassroots women change agents. How can we transmit a greater level of content - even short (interactive) lessons over a series of text messages, that would help women step-by-step plan a venture to advance social change in their rural communities? Is instead the best use of such an application reinforcement of learning content delivered in person or disseminated in other ways?

Gretchen Wallace
Global Grassroots
Thanks for the thoughts, Gretchen!

There are obvious challenges to transmitting learning content via SMS. I've included reinforcement in the initial list of functionality only because it's easier to do than deliver new content. That being said, guidelines, checklists, (relatively linear) decision algorithms, etc could easily be delivered in a series of messages assuming there wasn't much need for explanation or elaboration. Once FLSMS gets MMS capabilites (it's coming, right?) then the opportunities would be even greater as long as your learners had phones that were MMS-capable.

BTW, I like how you mentioned content being "disseminated in other ways" (i.e. not necessarily in-person). That opens possibilities for blending the the use of SMS/MMS with printed materials, radio, TV, Talking Books and other media/channels. The trick is to find w/in your context the most appropriate tools & approaches.

What do you think?
Hey James

Great to see some progress on this! I've pointed a couple of people this way, so you'll likely get some interest on/off Forum. Keep us posted on how things develop.

Thanks for spreading the word & connecting us, Ken! :)
Hi Everyone. I guess I'm quite well placed to describe 'mobile learning' globally and could briefly say that it's matured and consolidated over the last seven or eight years (see the reviews by Cobcroft, 2006, and Naismith et al, 2004).

It now has a created peer-reviewed academic journal, the International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning and a professional body, the International Association for Mobile Learning. It also has a vibrant on-line community, much of it logging onto the Handheld Learning forum ( and a critical mass of prestigious international conferences such as IADIS Mobile Learning in Europe, IEEE’s WMTE workshop in Asia Pacific and Handheld Learning in Great Britain. Mobile learning has gained clarity about the significant issues (see for example Sharples 2006, defining the ‘big issues’) and a more sharply defined research agenda (see for example, Arnedillo-Sánchez et al, 2007).

There have been ongoing efforts in this period to conceptualise and define mobile learning (for example, Wali et al, 2008; Traxler, 2008) and relate it to the theorising of ‘conventional’ e-learning (for example, Laurillard, 2007). There are also some key emerging working texts (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2005; Metcalf, 2006; JISC, 2005) and some emerging guidelines (see, for example, Vavoula et al 2004).

Perhaps most importantly however, in this period the mobile learning community has demonstrated that it can:
•Take learning to individuals, communities and countries that were previously too remote, socially or geographically, for other educational initiatives. The m-learning project ( ) in Europe, the MoLeNET programme in England and the MobilED project in South Africa ( are some of the best examples.
•Enhance and enrich the concept and activity of learning, beyond earlier conceptions of learning. The MOBILearn project in Europe ( was a good example of this achievement.

(can provide refs, no problem)

My experience in 'development' contexts has been too much focus on the 'deficit' model implied by the first of those two acheivements and not enough on the second, which is becoming increasingly affordable & sustainable for people and communities at the bottom of various socio-ecomonic pyramids around the world.
Hi all,

John's work in mobile learning is very inspirational, so I'll keep this brief

I am looking at a mini-project which is just looking at connecting SMS with web discussions - doesn't have to be an LMS like Moodle or even Ning, one of the areas where I've recently connected with some people is using open source technologies such as Elgg. They have experimented with integrating SMS into Elgg. Looking at some other options too beyond twitter if possible, seeing what can do with RSS generally.

Would be very happy to post in more detail soon too, but just wanted to say that not necessarily looking at under the 'education' umbrella for this, i.e. outside of schools, colleges, universities etc

thanks Nicola, there's a lot of us our there in mobile learning these day!

In recent conversations with Tim Unwin about my concern to connect the leading activists in e-learning (rather than letting the proponents of institutional/industrial dominate the argument) with activists in m4d, Tim's prescription was that we must listen to Africans.

That is very appealing but I worry that listening isn't neutral - who you listen to, how you listen to them, why you're listening are all complex and socially constructed situations. So I find it very tricky knowing how to help with an 'authentic' way to develop 'appropriate' solutions - but I'm not giving up!
Hi John, I am about as far removed as I can get from 'mobile learning' these days :-) And I'm not an ethnographer :-) More than happy to leave to people who are doing a lot of it all the time.

The way I see it, most of the mobile innovation will evolve from Africa anyway, or maybe that should be continue to - with a whole continent connecting in ways - say like I experienced when I was living in Turkey and mobiles appeared from nowhere and grew explosively, but this is on a much bigger scale. Still with FLSMS all over the planet, it could be multiple sparks of innovation from inspiring people such as the 900+ from all the different countries here in this Ning.

However this is like a final thing for me as I'm moving on - I started to look at SMS as an output of - reflection I guess from connectivism - cck09 and thinking about connections with SMS and internet is what led me to Kiwanja a couple of years ago and I've never had the opportunity to sit down and really think more about it since then. Everything that I have seen about FLSMS is that the technology was there and its up to people to use how they can, anything that can increase the options by developing it in ways that are best for them.

I realised that having blogged a bit then entering this discussion that I was already at prescribing and thought it better to take a step back. I don't know how best to help or even if I can but possibly in small ways even if its just connecting people to this discussion at some point later.

I think there is still some difference between FLSMS:learn and FLSMS: education which is what Moodle 'could' be in that it is a learning management - system so is different conceptually to say something like Elgg, or something else - one thing I was going to look at but haven't been able to yet is Stephen Downes grsshopper - another interesting open source alternative.
Thanks for the input, John! So, how might we begin to use a tool like FrontlineSMS as a basis for a new, mobile-enabled approach to learning? Any thoughts about specific functionality that could help us move in that direction would be greatly appreciated :)
Good question, and I only just noticed it! Will start thinking.

One of the issues is aligning whatever one does with people's own expectations about what they see as learning, how they do their learning.... clearly this is easier for us all when we're working with learners most like ourselves (in terms of social class, educational background, culture, country ... whatever) and progressively more difficult the greater the distance between us and our learners. Sadly tho' formal learning (as represented/determined by ministries, universities, schools) might be no better aligned to learners than as 'educational' developers. Added to which we often start by using a new technology to solve what we perceive to be a short coming with an existing technology and probably modelled on an existing technology (I live near Ironbridge, the world's 1st iron bridge; it's designed just like a wooden bridge but made out of iron!)
I'm clearly looking like I'm coming at this from an overly-academic perspective but I've started so I'll finish!

My earlier remarks present 'mobile learning' as something dropped on top of the status quo (they don't change it they just make it run better) and ignore the fact that our societies are all being transformed as mobility and connectedness become near universal. This is producing what some people have called an epistemological revolution - what we know and how we know it are not what they used to be. So what we need to learn and how we need to learn it must change too.

If 'mobile learning' ignores this then it will be merely an expensive irrelevance or a stop-gap remedy for poor infrastructure (or some other perceived problem) and not the transformative force that some of us know to be possible.


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