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Using Mobile Phones to Enhance Small Group Dialogic Learning: A Design Based Approach to Educational Innovation in Rural East Africa



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Martin, Kevin 


This thesis addresses the misalignment of learning with mobiles approaches as they are applied to rural communities of adult learners in East Africa. Most models of learning with mobiles do not work well for rural adult learners: they predominantly focus on the capabilities of the technology and not the available affordances, a crucial oversight in communities where smart phone and internet access is limited. Existing models are also misaligned with dialogic indigenous traditions of learning: they tend to function as derivatives of formal classroom environments and do not account for the pedagogical needs of rural adult learners accustomed to non-formal small group dialogic education rooted in the social sphere. This misalignment frames the key research question at the foundation of this report:

Can learning with mobiles approaches adapt to the technological and pedagogical needs of adult learners in rural East Africa and enhance non-formal dialogic education?

I approach this question through a Design Based Research methodology involving a mixed-method research design. By utilising the subsistence farmer network of my research partner The International Small Group and Tree Planting Program, I worked with 3,216 rural adults to complete a survey and conduct semi-structured interviews to thematically frame the intersecting dimensions of technological affordances, mobile learning pedagogy, and non- formal dialogic learning. This thematic analysis guided the iterative development of a mobile learning platform used by rural learners across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Four iterative design cycles of this platform provided insights as to how mobile technology can support small group-based dialogic education within a rural East African context. Analyses of these insights using a pre-post survey with 136 learners, learner data from the 640 users of the mobile learning platform, and Kearney and Burden’s iPAC framework for mobile pedagogy ultimately demonstrate that it is possible to adapt a learning with mobiles approach to meet the technological and pedagogical needs of rural learners. These findings are generalised into a series of Design Principles and a corresponding Techno-Pedagogical framework which incorporates a technological affordance and pedagogical perspective on learning with mobiles for non-formal small group dialogic education. The Design Principles and accompanying framework address the identified misalignment of mobile learning platforms in rural communities of East Africa and will assist learning with mobiles researchers and practitioners operating in similar contexts throughout the Global South.





Wegerif, Rupert
Major, Louis


Dialogic, Learning with Mobiles, Small Group, Adult Education, mLearning, East Africa, Dialogue, Design Based Research, mobile pedagogy, non-formal learning


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge