Mobile Learning Generated from Field Activity: Pedagogy of Simultaneity to Support Learning in the Open

 (NLC Abstract) Abstract

Field activities are presented in this paper as a mechanism for enacting mobile learning in the ‘open’, either in response to formal disciplinary learning activities or to support those moored in informal learning practices. Field activity represents a disciplinary model found across the (field) sciences and throughout the humanities. It has traditionally involved using disciplinary process (observation, data collection, analysis, dissemination) to research social or biological phenomena. Mobile technology has accelerated the process and potential for “coming to know” in the field by allowing the learner to engage multiple layers of meaning, social presence, time, and space simultaneously. These mobile learning field activities represent an authentic application of both informal and formal learning. Examples include learning walks and urban exploration.

However, the context, content, and social permutations of this learning can be incredibly complex. This complexity requires a pedagogical response that acknowledges this complexity, identifies the layers of engagement and activity taking place, and proposes strategies that maximizes the potential of learning in the open (or in the field).  These strategies for open activity are named in this paper as existing in three continuums: the serendipity-intentionality of learner orientation, the informal-formal activity structure and the initiative-seduction-sense of intervals continuum of human presence. All three speak to the variety of learner engagements that occur as a result of mobile learning and field activity.

This paper advances the belief that new pedagogical approaches are needed to account and make use of these layers of time, space, social presence, and purpose through these continuums of activity. These layers overlap and are simultaneously engaged in by the learner to generate context and understanding in fluid mobile spaces. The Pedagogy of Simultaneity is proposed to account for these layers of overlap and simultaneity. It advances a pedagogical response to this complexity by emphasizing ‘human’ methods. These learning methods are established through trust, discussion, and collage (or composition). Teachers can generate both field activities and learner engagements that emphasize this layered reality for learning and everyday pedagogical attunements of trust, discussion and collage. This pedagogy has great application not only to mobile learning and field activities, but also to elearning, open learning, and MOOCs, environments of great complexity that require learners with capacity for making use of the volatility of these learning spaces.  


mobile learning, elearning, pedagogy, field activity, open learning


The purpose of this paper is to present a type of mobile learning that engages the learner in field activities, which are defined for the purpose of this paper as activities designed to authentically enact the theoretical and methodological purpose of disciplinary instruction or informal learning engagement. Field activities (and the associated concepts of fieldwork and field methods) are appropriated for this paper as a means of enacting a disciplinary observation, data collection, analysis, and composition process through the medium of mobile technology. The field in question is the ‘lived world’ outside the classroom, which serves as both as the subject of inquiry and the learning context, a model complementary to existing practice in both the field sciences and the humanities. Mobile technology represents a technological tool in this larger process of coming to know in a disciplinary space (Saljo, 1999); mobile learning itself becomes a transformation of habitus, or the learner’s mindset (Kress, Pachler, 2007), representing an intellectual tool with which the field learner constructs meaning. The learning spaces enacted through field activities with mobile technology are highly volatile, requiring a perpetual construction of context on the part of the learner and the teacher.

This paper presents the idea that pedagogy is needed to fully harness the volatility of these spaces. This is learning in the open and it can be chaotic. This paper advances the belief that the mobile learning in the field requires a pedagogy that embraces these simultaneous layers of time, space, and social presence and transforms them into learning layers of trust, discussion, and collage (Gallagher, Ihanainen, 2013).

Field activity generating mobile learning

For this paper, field activity refers to acts, performances and behavior in which people perceive, examine and make meaning for their current and future understanding in their natural environments (disciplinary activity and daily events of living and working). Fieldwork itself has a long and rich history in formalized learning, both as a methodology as well as an object of investigation (Gupta, A., & Ferguson, 1997) as it involves the application of theory to the natural field sciences or the lived world (humanities, anthropology, etc.).

These field activities can be inspired and guided by formal settings such as lessons at school or disciplinary practice, or they can relate to informal or practical learning opportunities, such as professional development, workplace activities, or personal learning activities. There are many instances of mobile learning (or more specifically, mobile technology) supporting fieldwork and field activities (Haapala et al, 2007; Saaskilahti et al, 2010; Hwang et al, 2012; Colley, Gibbs, 2012, in their work on using mobile technology in informal learning, field science, and archaeology). Mobile learning enacted in these activities blurs the traditional fieldwork processes of observation and data collection in the field followed by analysis and composition at ‘home’ or in the classroom. Mobile technology allows for these processes to occur seamlessly and immediately. Learners can observe, collect, compose, and disseminate findings in the context of the activity itself. The field activity generated mobile learning is a context where formal and informal learning meet and nourish each other.

Mobile learning also foregrounds the idea that the learner is constantly moving between states of informal and formal activity. Informal learning takes place outside educational institutes and systems. It can be called everyday learning, which means that learning is present in all natural activities done at the workplace and at home, in hobbies and other leisure activities. Informal learning is not purposefully goal-oriented, but it can happen while working, which itself is targeted activity (building a summer cottage, for example). Research supports the notion that 80% of all learning is informal (Cross, 2007).  Informal learning activity is present in formal settings as well, e.g. during class breaks, extra-curricular activities, and through other informal emerging social settings. Informal learning is not the same as non-formal learning, which can be very formal, but is implemented outside the official educational system (Ihanainen, 2013).

These mobile learning field activities can also refer to facilitated action in authentic work and job environments, i.e. construction worksites, nursing homes, daycare centers, media companies, etc., in which on-the-job learning, internships, practical training, and apprenticeships take place. Additionally, field activities can take place in the environments of learners’ choosing, for instance in cities, suburbs, markets, and cultural events.  These field activities can later be interpreted, drawn together, assessed and produced as learning resources in workshops and learning studios run in between field activities.

The disciplinary, more formal variety of these mobile learning field activities can take place in the humanities as well (Gallagher, 2013a). The example below is focused on a street. It is accessible, personal, and both emotional and intellectual. It has both formal and informal attributes; it has application across several of the disciplines included in the humanities.

The activity is to research and document the history of a street through its architecture. As preparation for the activity, learners research the history of a street and position the street within the larger communities of a neighborhood and a city. Learners engage in research that identifies the material characteristics of the street (location, connecting streets, volume of traffic, building material). Learners them research and reflect on the ethnic, religious, and/or social groups that have called this street home over a certain timeframe. They then engage in a field activity to identify, document evidence, and compose an impression of the groups’ existence through architecture. Architecture is documented through images geolocated at different parts of the street, with metadata provided as to the architectural genre, timeframe, and impact on local movements through the street. Learners collect and assemble a montage, collage, or mosaic as a composition along with their methods of selection as their final project. Optionally, learners geolocate the images on a map and present that as evidence of learning. Reflection can be inserted at all stages of this activity from the tool and media selection to the location and the formation of research questions to the eventual mosaic or montage production (Gallagher, 2013a).

This example was designed to illustrate that mobile learning through field activity moves repeatedly across formal and informal spheres of learning, across disciplinary boundaries, across time and spatial layers, and through media and compositions. A further application of these field activities was conducted in Helsinki (April, 2013) as part of a professional development exercise and an informal support group (Otavan opisto). Formal classroom activity involved an introduction of mobile learning, and a discussion around the methodology and associated activities of fieldwork. Participants were asked to identify several methods for the observation and data collection activities in the fieldwork, which involved using mobile technology to record impressions of Helsinki through a disciplinary lens (architecture, sociology, theology, urban planning, history). Participants collected media through mobile technology, discussed the significance of that media for disciplinary understanding, and then assembled this media into compositions of mobile media that were presented to the other participants at the concluding session the next day. The activity challenged learners to re-examine their understanding of accepted modes of disciplinary interaction, accepted forms of evidence to present that understanding (media), and accepted containers for that presentation (collages, montages, maps, as opposed to strictly textual essays). Compositions included interactive tram maps, videos, collages, and montages (Gallagher, 2013b:  

Further field activities might include learning walks (Robinson & Sebba, 2010) as a means of investigating a place informally, or evoking the ever-referenced concept of flanerie as a learning activity (McFarlane, 2010). These learning walks can be made more interactive socially through the incorporation of geocaches as a means of engaging the learner’s imagination in the investigation and composition of place (Jones et al, 2012). Expanding on the idea of geocaches, learners can embed geopositioned metadata into the compositions generated from these field activities, thereby providing a social and intellectual bridge to the next set of learners engaging in that activity in that place. These learners are essentially perpetuating their learning into the field for future discovery.

The compositions that can result from such a diversity of field activities, locales, disciplinary practices, generated media, and research focus are staggeringly diverse. They can include the traditional text-based essay or scientific dataset, as well as multimodal compositions that employ any number of media towards presenting understanding. They can include collages, mosaics, montages, maps, and models, anything that reveals the meaning and relevance of the learner’s understanding. Yet it is most important to foreground the idea that these compositions are never complete; in these activities, learners are “engaged in an iterative, evolutionary process aimed at the gradual improvement of a community’s shared content” (Bruns, 2007). These compositions are active constructions of meaning in a shifting community; the learners are “discovering” meaning through the creation of their compositions (Gallagher, 2013a). This process is not unlike a writer not fully knowing the outcome of a story until they have written it; purpose can often emerge as one progresses through the composition. The focus on the field, on life and understanding in the open, further complicates (or emboldens) this iterative effort: the learners change, the location changes, the research questions, social interactions, and disciplinary contexts will all change, each and every time the learner engages with the location.

This complexity forces an examination of existing pedagogy to support such learning, the kind of learning that can encompass the majority of time where the learner is not actively engaged in formalized learning (ie, attending school). In the following section, we present a pedagogy that accounts for many of the attributes of this learning activity taking place in the field through mobile technology.

Characteristics of mobile learning for creating a pedagogical model

Mobile learning generated through field activity is both a learning and pedagogical context, which can be characterized by movement through the following ranges of activity:

Serendipity-Intentionality Continuum

Serendipity means that learning encounters are filled with possibility. Some of these encounters or possibilities become consciously visible, yet many if not most remain at the subconscious level to be revealed as a potential learning activity at a later date, if at all. A serendipitous learning orientation refers to a trust in the potential for serendipity to reveal itself and its learning potential, as well as an open mind for registering this serendipity.

Intentionality means that we as learners and teachers try to proceed within and execute purposeful encounters to learn, to benefit from and enjoy this learning and the people they include. This intentionality can be manifested through teaching or learning settings, professional meetings and all kinds of mutual and multilateral entertainment gatherings. An intentional orientation is a conscious and goal-oriented readiness to act to realize learning potential. The serendipitous & intentionality continuum points to an emergence of a learning orientation that moves back and forth between these states of serendipity and intentionality.  

It is assumed for the purposes of this paper that learning, especially mobile learning enacted through field activity, is a shifting process of learning by intention and learning by serendipity. Intentionality is codified in much of our activity-based pedagogy, such as experiential learning (Kolb, 1984), while serendipitous learning has been investigated extensively in elearning and mobile learning scenarios (Buchem, 2011; Vavoula, Sharples, 2002). Orienting the learner towards both sides of this continuum is valuable for maximizing the benefit of mobile learning field activities.

Informal-Formal Continuum

The informal and formal structures are presented as the artifacts of a learning context; these are combined into learning structure in an endless variety of permutations. Informal structures are those everyday settings, activities, places, and people, which are present in workplaces and at home, in hobbies and other leisure activities, that are not enacted purposefully.

Formal structures include goal-oriented physical and virtual working environments, school and corresponding layouts, curriculum-based content, and methods used in teaching and study resources made available for learning activities. The complexity of these structures across the formal and information continuum suggests a dynamic of simultaneous engagements and attendance. Learners can and often engage in many of these informal and formal structures simultaneously to make meaning, consciously or otherwise.

Initiative-Seduction-Sense of Intervals Continuum

Initiative and seduction are presented to account for the learner’s engagement with their learning, whether it is through a deliberate initiative (learner autonomy) or through a seduction (a contextualization of learning more often presented to them by a teacher). Initiative is an open and public conscious performance in a social environment, while the seduction is an indirect and tacit activity. The sense of intervals is connected to the understanding and respect of the existence of tacit occurrence and knowledge, a phase of ‘quiet water’ inside human activity.

These emergent, complex, and idiosyncratic human features present in mobile learning through facilitated field activities form the foundation for the Pedagogy of Simultaneity, or PoS model (Ihanainen, Gallagher, 2013). PoS accounts for these intersections of emergence, complexity and humaneness. These intersections are confluent, coexistent and pervasive in the time, space and social presence layers of modern learning and emerging pedagogy.

Pedagogy of Simultaneity Model

Pedagogy of Simultaneity is a narrative of the intersecting time, space and social layers constituting learning in an interplay of layers of trust, discussion and collage. It represents an attempt to capture and make use the simultaneous activities and engagements employed by learners to make meaning in the complex and volatile spaces targeted in these mobile learning field activities.

Time Layers

There are many different layers of time the mobile learner engages with to make meaning. It is possible to speak about pointillist and cyclical time along with linear time. Learners sporadically return to discrete moments of learning (pointilist) or engage in a cyclical process of learning through process (cyclical). These types of time often intertwine with one another to produce overlapping time (Ihanainen, Moravec, 2011). In addition, duration can be included in time layers as a means of registering the length of the learning activity (Railly, 2012). Linear time is familiar for all of us: yesterday, today, tomorrow; at twelve, six pm and one am o´clock. The pointillist time becomes understandable in its name. A time exists in separate dots, which are in a way thrown into time-space. For instance, tweets are this kind of produced and experienced time points; they exist in and of themselves in time. Cyclic time means more intensive bursts than bare dots. Traditionally, it was experienced in the seasons of a year. During the industrial era a corresponding cyclic activity can be seen in the rhythms of work and leisure time periods. A burst of activity is visible in online discussion, which includes both strong flows of activity and slower, quieter participation sequences. The content of the conversations proceed in these cycles.

Overlapping time refers to the simultaneous overlaps of linear, pointillist and cyclical time; overlapping time is experienced as friction (the general deterioration of the self experienced over time) and conversely as an empowering time constituent. Duration as a time phenomenon is on one hand arbitrary and meaningless yet can be simultaneously eventful, depending on the context. It can also be neutral with respect to the above-mentioned depending on the context. Linear, pointillist, cyclic and overlapping times fulfill and empty themselves in periods of duration. It is important to foreground that learners engage in these time layers simultaneously and incessantly to establish a context to make meaning.

Multiplicity of Place

Before the Internet a place was almost always a physical-social space. Physical-social places are personal spaces of people although they are also constituted by the actual physical and social context (niche). Shared places of people like cafes, cities, workplaces and cultures understood as contexts are physical-social spaces. ‘Authentic’ nature like forests, seas, and skies are physical places.

Modern physical-social places have appeared in virtual and producible places. We exist in these spaces persistently and more and more of this engagement is generated by mobile technology. Virtual spaces can be like textual narratives, written stories and descriptions. Often they are connected with visual and aural elements and they become multimodal places. Virtual worlds that simulate the physical-social space of our past include Second Life, gaming worlds and simulations. Complex virtual spaces are different kinds of combinations of above described places.

Physical and virtual places are social. The sociability of these places is realized by the fact that people share spatial information with each other. People permeate these places with their presence; in turn, this presence allows for the emergence of hybridized practices and modes of interaction. As mobile technology (however broadly defined) has become a part of humanity, i.e. as people evolve into cyborgs and we search for learning theories to embrace this transformation (Polson, Morgan, 2010), there is no sense to speak any more about separate physical, virtual and social places. There are only places, which are simultaneously physical, virtual and social. They coexist in the places of today.

Social Presence

It is difficult to try and remove people from time and place events. Sociability is a constituent of human phenomena as it is embedded in time, place or some other occurrences. Sociability is a phenomenon that is often experienced simultaneously in groups (multiple people experienced a similar social reality) or individually (a person experiencing multiple social engagements simultaneously). Simultaneity as social presence, this process of engaging with multiple social realities simultaneously, can better be described by pervasiveness. It means that social interaction and responsiveness permeates all the tangled realities that are visible or invisible, understandable or incomprehensible.

Social presence emerges from individuals. The presence between people can be listening, empathetic and dialogic or conversational. It can also be non-listening, non-empathic and non-conversational. The latter means in practice a form of social absence in the sense of meeting each other, but it still has a strong impact in an actual social situation. In short, non-participation in a social activity is still a social presence.

A social environment or niche is a state of presence. It can be felt as a smooth, relaxed and approvable room into which one wants to join or it can have a rejecting and excluding status like the non-listening, non-empathic and non-conversational person mentioned earlier. One engages the learner and one excludes the learner, but both are socially present as a social layer. The social presence is an interaction state of a group or whatever gathering of people, which absorbs in or pushes out (Shotter, 2011).

Social presence is still possible to see as a shared cognitive, emotional and intentional mental state or mood. A formal instruction and learning situation is pedagogically designed to stimulate mainly a cognitive social presence, but includes all the other states of social presence as well. Informal and familiar meetings of people are more emotionally-based than cognitive, yet the cognitive layers are present. An intentional social activity is constituted by more or less conscious aims to achieve something, whether a formal or informal event.

Trust, Discussion, and Collage

The Pedagogy of Simultaneity is crystallized in the dynamic of trust, discussion and collage. In a pedagogical sense one has to trust in learning executed in expressions and acts, make possible forums for (re)creation in discussion and collaboration, and recognize the importance of collage (or assembly), to both generate and identify emerging collages of aggregated meaning.

Trust generates individual learning, the discussion mutual understanding and the collage shared resources. The commitment of the Pedagogy of Simultaneity explicitly to trust, discussion and collage enlarges the manifold and multifaceted simultaneous pedagogical acts. The very three terms consist of the core of the pedagogy of simultaneity: through trust, mutual collaboration and creation, mindful learners are developed.

The emergence of time brings to trust, discussion and collage a continual process of momentariness and incompleteness, or perpetual emergence. The complexity of place brings to them spaces of nestedness. The humaneness of social presence makes trust, discussion and collage organic and experiential. The presence itself is both time oriented, local and social and it becomes visible in attunements of individuals and their gatherings. Humans and their environments construct this attunement. Today it is essential to understand this attunement and to determine what these environments and activities afford the learner.


The kind of learning environments being enacted in the mobile learning field activities described in this paper are highly emergent, chaotic, and volatile spaces where meaning is being perpetually constructed and context shifts to create that meaning and evolves as a response to it. This learning is a heady, complex process of the employing intellectual, social, emotional and technological tools towards a process of coming to know (Saljo, 1999). This process of coming to know is accelerated by mobile technology; mobile learning, as a result of this acceleration, is an environment of overlap and simultaneity, where layers of time, social presence, and place are engaged with repeatedly by the learner to generate meaning.

This complexity challenges educators to generate pedagogically appropriate responses and designs for mobile learning in field activities, to cognitively make use of these bewildering overlaps and simultaneous layers of activity. The Pedagogy of Simultaneity (PoS) is one such response that is explicitly designed to account for the simultaneity of purpose, place, social presence, and layers of time present in mobile learning. It acknowledges that the intersections of these simultaneities are fertile learning spaces; in response to this complexity, PoS emphasizes methods that are distinctly human: trust, discussion, and collage. It emphasizes learners that “artfully engage their surrounding to create impromptu sites of learning” (Sharples et al, 2007) through social interaction and creative composition; learners that transform their habitus (Kress, Pachler, 2007) in response to both intentionality and serendipity. It is a pedagogy specifically designed for the complexity of simultaneity being generated in mobile learning.


The learning activities and pedagogical approaches outlined in PoS are not exclusive to mobile learning. Indeed, the authors believe that this pedagogy has great application to elearning, open learning, MOOCs, or learning through an informal, independent mode of study online or offline. The field activities presented in this paper are one such example of where this complexity is enacted, but there are others. This is learning in the open and it requires a pedagogically appropriate response, one that seeks to understand and make use of the complexity of these mobile learning engagements.


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Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning 2014, Edited by:
Bayne S, Jones C, de Laat M, Ryberg T & Sinclair C.

ISBN 978-1-86220-304-4