Mobile learning adoption grows worldwide

By Xiaoyi Zhang


From K-12 schools to universities and colleges, from language programs to individual language learners, mobile learning is spreading across the country. Its effectiveness has been proven through the feedback from teachers and students, as well as research data.

McGraw-Hill Education’s “2015 Digital Trends in Higher Ed” report shows that from 2013 to 2014, 81 percent of students on college campuses used mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to study, which researchers indicated was a level higher than expected. Among the roughly 1,700 students across the country who were surveyed, 66 percent of them indicated that “it is moderately to extremely important for them to be able to study on a mobile device.”

Though growing adoption to mobile technology in education can be seen in recent years, teachers’ support of mobile technology in class varies. Some of them believe that it’s more acceptable and efficient for students today to study through mobile devices, while some are worried that mobile learning will distract students from important class lessons.

At the American Educational Research Association annual meeting session “Examining the Potential of Mobile Technology” on April 17, Boston College’s Vincent Cho, an assistant professor of education, and Joshua Littenberg-Tobias, a graduate research assistant, presented their results from a new survey measuring teachers’ perspectives on mobile technologies’ effect on students’ non-cognitive skills such as self-control, problem solving, empathy and teamwork. 

Cho and Littenberg-Tobias found that teachers’ concerns can be divided into three types: how mobile technology can be used to improve “whole student” outcomes, the impact of these new technologies on classroom learning, and the impact of “digital distraction.”

“I showed the results from the survey with them (the administrators), and what they are able to do now is to use it for planning purposes, to think about the extent to which teachers are worried about distraction, to think about the extent to which they feel like the technology is really helping kids become better people or become better learners,” said Cho. “It gives them a tool to talk to teachers about is this the way we want our school to look.”

“Teacher attitudes are crucial to the success of high-tech initiatives. Teachers are the people who will revolutionize schools. Technology is just a starting point. We should know what teachers think,” Cho said.

Another education researcher, John McCormick, director of eLearning Design at Lesley University, also noted the expectations on using mobile technology differs between teachers and students. “Students want technology to be used in a purposeful way. So they want the instructor to be skilled with using technology for learning. Not only pressing the buttons in a right way, but integrating it well into the learning,” said McCormick. “From the teachers’ perspective, they think it’s about pressing the buttons. So they think technology is something that’s gonna solve the problem without too much thought. I should say that’s not always true, but too often that’s the case.”

Since teachers’ and educators’ perception to technology in class has a relatively large impact on the application and effectiveness of mobile assisted language learning or MALL, they need to understand the essence of mobile learning and successful ways to use it.

The white paper, “The Power of Mobile Learning in K-12: Success Stories Outside the Classroom“, determined that some U.S. schools benefited from mobile learning. Cary Academy, for example, a North Carolina private prep school, provides convertible mobile tablet PCs that can be operated with a stylus or keyboard to its students in grades 6-12. “School officials say the tablets enable students to learn the way they learn best,” the paper noted.

Examples of success mobile learning come from all over the world:

  • Eneza Education, an organization that works as “a virtual tutor and teachers’ assistant on a low-cost mobile phone,” works at making 50 million children across rural Africa smarter. It provides students with information needed via mobile devices, the most common form of technology in Kenya, and offer schools and parents access to meaningful data and tips to help the students.
  • Nipissing University in Canada has launched an iTeach Mobile Learning Program since 2001. The program aims to “integrate mobile educational technology into the Bachelor of Education degree program experience.”  It has been a model nationwide for other institutions.

Besides schools and programs, some people choose to learn a foreign language on their own, such as international students and immigrants. The “2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange” released by the Institute of International Education, pointed that during the 2013-2014 school year, 886,052 undergraduate and graduate international students were admitted to colleges and universities in the United States. Among them, 31 percent of the students were from China, 12 percent came from India, and 8 percent came from South Korea. Students from these three top countries, where English is not their official language, composed half of the total number of international students. For them, to better adapt to the life in America and finish their studies with high quality, strengthening their English skills through mobile devices and social media could be a reasonable choice.

For those individual language learners who use language learning apps instead of language schools and programs, choosing an app that works best for them is key. Here are some top-ranking language learning apps in iTunes Store and Google Play.

iOS apps
Top 10 language learning apps for iPhone and iPad
Google apps
Top 14 language learning apps in Google Play

However, as the saying goes, every coin has two sides. In spite of increasing spending on mobile learning, “some schools still have a policy against mobile technology,” said Norka Padilla, instructional specialist at Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland.

“The mobile technology piece here seems to be an equity issue,” Padilla said. “Many teachers and principals aren’t free to allow students to use their mobile technology because some students have cell phones, and some students have smartphones, and some students don’t have anything. And then the second thing is security. They don’t want students to use phones, because they are free, and students will text each other, or communicate with each other, or be off-task.”

Padilla believes that is a failure of the teacher training. She noted that if there were proper teacher training provided, then teachers would be more comfortable designing lessons that include mobile technology as a formal interaction.

About Xiaoyi Zhang 4 Articles

Xiaoyi Zhang is a multimedia journalism student at Emerson College, with experience in photography, video producing and data visualization.

She covers a wide range of topics such as social justice, mobile technology, etc. She’s now passionate about technology and art news, and she believes that developments in these fields lead to great progress of our society.