U. Dissanayeke1, K.P. Hewagamage1, R. Ramberg2, G.N. Wikramanayake1

1University of Colombo (SRI LANKA)
2Stockholm University (SWEDEN)
Latest technologies related to farming are usually passed down to the recipients through a non-formal education process. Participation in a non-formal class, however involves time and cost for travelling, which restricts learners from regularly attending such classes. Thus it is required to go for alternative methods of teaching and learning. Mobile devices, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly popular even among the poorest communities in the world, including the farmers. Mobile SMS based information dissemination techniques have been used to deliver market prices to the farmers in the recent past; however the use of mobile phones as learning devices has got little attentiofn. It is timely to see how to facilitate mobile based informal learning among the farmer community.

This paper discusses how we initiated a mobile based informal learning approach among a selected community using a design based research approach. A design based research methodology, informed by Activity theory principles, is adopted to define the learning context. The objectives of the study were to i.) Define the key features to study the learning context, and ii) identify the problems and setbacks in the present learning context.

The learning context is defined in relation to activity theory. Key features were then developed for AT based concepts which were later studied during the situation analysis. Data were collected from a purposely selected farmer group, from Ankumbura, Kandy, Sri Lanka and was selected to initiate m-learning research in the future. Participatory methods such as focus groups, interviews and key informant discussions were used to gather information. Secondary data, gathered through a literature survey was used in developing the theoretical framework. These concepts were later studied using a questionnaire survey and follow-up discussions with the participants.

Following Activity theory principles, subjects (farmers), community (non-formal educator, other farmers in the area, and researchers) and tools (mediating artifacts used in the knowledge acquisition process) were studied as major concepts during the situation analysis. Learner characteristics were studied using six variables; education levels, educational goals, familiarity with mobile technology, affordability of mobile learning, attitudes, perceived problems related to present non-formal system. Learner community was studied using knowledge and skills, attitudes on mobile learning, perceived problems and challenges related to the present system of education, control and division of labour related to the present method of education. Learning resources e.g. subject matter, instructional methods and strategies, use of ICT based devices and applications including mobile phones, networks within the learner community were studies under tools. Main problems in the learning context were lack of networking among the participants, time and cost in arranging non formal classes.