JUL 08, 2015 2:44 PM PDT

Smartphones and Learning

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
Are smartphones an impediment to learning, or can the technology be used to enhance education?
While structured use of smartphones and their apps can improve education, simply getting a smartphone can have a negative impact on learning.
According to Philip Kortum, assistant professor of psychology at Rice University, the device has a negative impact on learning for those who have had one for a year and not used one before. As he explains after a study, "Smartphone technology is penetrating world markets and becoming abundant in most college settings. We were interested to see how students with no prior experience using smartphones thought they impacted their education."

The National Science Foundation funded the work, which appears in the British Journal of Educational Technology and is reported in Futurity. The research shows that while users thought the mobile devices would improve their school performance and enhance their grades, they found that the opposite was true (http://www.futurity.org/smartphones-learning-955462/?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=webfeeds).

Focusing on 24 first-time smartphone users, the longitudinal study from 2010 to 2011 gave participants no training on smartphone use. They were asked to answer several questions about how they thought a smartphone would impact their school-related tasks, given iPhones, monitored during the following year and asked several questions about learning outcomes, such as homework, test-taking and grades.

While the study does not address the structured use of smartphones in an educational setting, the study author believes that its findings have important implications for the use of technology in education. According to Kortum, "Previous studies have provided ample evidence that when smartphones are used with specific learning objects in mind, they can significantly enhance the learning experience. However, our research clearly demonstrates that simply providing access to a smartphone, without specific directed learning activities, may actually be detrimental to the overall learning process."

However, the National Education Association shares another view. Instead of fighting the trend, the organization advocates putting it to good use and incorporating it into the curriculum. According to data from the research firm, Nielsen, 58 percent of American children from 13 to 17 years old owned a smartphone as of July 2012, representing an increase of more than 60 percent from the previous year. With more than half of mobile phone users in America now using smartphones, the numbers are growing. According to the NEA website, "With their easy internet access, a multitude of education-friendly apps, and the ability to be used at a moment's notice (after all, what smartphone-owning teenager would go anywhere without their phone?), smartphones have all the tools necessary to boost student learning (http://www.nea.org/tools/56274.htm).


NEA offers long-time social science educator Ken Halla's top tips for using mobile devices effectively in the classroom: ensure that instruction stays academic, use smartphones to stay organized and assess learning, use apps appropriate for the class and let fun foster productivity. Finally, make sure the students know when it is time to get back to work and put away the smartphones.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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