Why Mobile Learning in Schools Makes Cents

Thanks to Evridiki Dakos for the picture :-)
Thanks to Evridiki Dakos for the picture 🙂

This year I am touring various continents and countries with the message why we need mobile learning devices in schools. Funding isn’t the issue. Governments worldwide choose to invest in technologies in schools. They have done this for decades even equipping schools with the chalkboard and slates at one period. Unfortunately, the technologies they invest in mostly promote the traditional model of learning with the teacher at the head of the class sharing knowledge with students. The most recent technology that once again seems to support this traditional style of education have been IWBs. Currently, you can visit schools in the UK, US, China, the UAE, and other countries where the government has funded IWBs in the classroom.
What else will you see?
Many unplugged IWBs that never get used or those that are used only to promote more teacher talk time as the teacher stands in the front and shares information with students who are silent and sit in desks. My argument is that if governments are going to invest funds in technology then they should invest in mobile learning devices instead and equipped schools with smart phones, iPods, iPads, and so forth. What ignited this post is a conversation I had with the incredible e-learning specialist, Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) over my tweet, “Personally, I feel $$ better spent on mobile devices in classrooms vs IWBs.” Thanks Steve for forcing me to flesh my thoughts out.

Why Mobile Learning in Schools?

In Steve Wheeler’s post, Rock and a Hard Place, he also discusses the issue of funding mobile learning devices in schools and brings up a valid point that if teachers were better trained and had the time they could utilize an IWB to provide more authentic learning. He also encouraged me to share my tweeted thoughts in a blog post.
Here are the main reasons why I support mobile learning in schools. You will notice you can’t make these arguments about IWBs and other technologies:
Less training involved
The majority of the populations worldwide have experience using mobile devices. Educators, students, parents, and other stakeholders carry mobile phones in their pockets. Most use them daily. Many are familiar with their basic features and more. Several know how to take pictures, videos, send text messages, access the Internet, and post online. In many developing countries, mobile devices are the way they access the Internet. With such experience, less training is involved by everyone. The leap isn’t that huge. We also already know problems associated with integrating these devices. This is the reason many schools ban them. If we know so much about them, then why not think of solutions and lift bans? Why not invest in technology that requires less training.
Let me tell you a secret, the majority of governments won’t pay for professional development when investing in technologies for schools. This has been the case for years. I’m not saying they shouldn’t but if this is the situation we work with then why wouldn’t we choose a technology to integrate that takes less of a leap. I don’t imagine that mobile devices wouldn’t be used like IWBs.
Have more features that promote autonomy
I would argue that there would be less traditional teaching supported as well. Mobile devices are in the hands of the learner and teachers are forced to relinquish control to the learners. Learners know how to use them better than teachers and I bet a majority of teachers would be willing for their students to teach them how to use the mobile device. Something powerful happens when a technology is placed in the hands of learners. Mobile devices support this type of autonomy while IWBs and other technologies are too huge and stationary to do this. Many mobile devices are also equipped with cameras, video cameras, audio recorders, and even advanced apps. Basic cellphones come with various communication tools including the ability to take pictures and send text messages. These various communication tools promote autonomy as learners are able to collect visual, audio, text, and video records of their surroundings and environment. We can’t argue this about other technologies, especially IWBs.
One of the cheapest technologies to invest in
I have used my iPhone to support learning with my 4 to 80 year-old students in Germany. I was teaching English to various age groups and was fortunate my institute didn’t ban cellphones. I am not provided funding, though, for technology. Instead, I usually supply the technology. For this reason, I began using cellphones for learning.
How do we begin?
Have an edtech workshop for parents and demonstrate what technologies you will use and ask them for their support. I provide snacks they wouldn’t usually get in Germany like my 7 layer dip as an incentive to show up. Then, ask parents if they would be willing to allow their children to bring in their mobile devices for a show and tell day. Basically, the child would show what their cellphone can do. This allows teachers to see what technology is available to nearly every learner in their classes and for parents to feel more comfortable with the students using the devices for learning. In many cases, I have found parents are comforted by their students using the cellphone for learning because a majority of the parents I deal with feel that cellphones damage their children’s intelligence. They let their children have them, though, because cellphones are considered staples in the majority of societies worldwide. I discovered this when working with refugees in Athens. All but one in the class had a cellphone.
When you host your first successful show and tell day of cellphones, how much did this room full of technology cost your school?
It cost nothing!
You can’t say that about the majority of technology that exists today. If this is the case, then why are we still fighting cellphone bans?
They promote health and learning
Children worldwide attend schools 180 to 200 days a year. They spend 6 to 8 hours a day in schools where they are forced to sit in uncomfortable desks for long stretches of time, carry huge backpacks, and stay silent. Sounds like torture to me! With mobile devices students are encouraged to move around. They can go outside, move around the classroom, use them in class field trips, use them in their homes, and even get to use them on their travels home. I believe if schools equipped with mobile devices or even allowed educators to use them for learning then we would see more movement in the classroom. This is the nature of the technology. IWBs and other technologies are still stationary and need other software and training to promote movement. Moreover, children can carry their textbooks, homework, and so forth all in their mobile devices. This eliminates the carrying of heavy books. Did I mention this is more environmentally friendly as well. I know we are a long way from this becoming the norm but if we begin investing in mobile device filled classrooms now this is the potential to be the norm. No matter how much we invest in other technologies this does not have the same potential.
Promote the notion learning takes place everywhere
In schools, students collect evidence and research. They brainstorm and search. These are daily requirements. With mobile devices, students are able to collect this evidence through interaction with their environments. On the way home they can interview friends with the audio features, take pictures of their environment, type notes, or create videos. They can search online and save these searches with free apps like Evernote. They can brainstorm with free mindmapping apps. They can even record their thoughts audibly. The students choose which tool to learn with and what in their surroundings becomes part of their research. The students make the choices and interact with their environment. What better way to demonstrate hands-on that learning actually does take place everywhere?
These are my arguments and if you check out my presentation at ISTE, Sharing Stories: Motivating Young Learners through Mobile Digital Storytelling, we can have a conversation about the possibilities. I have so much more to say on the subject.

Concluding Thoughts and Questions

My intention is not to argue mobile devices versus IWBs. My intention is to get those in charge of funding technology in schools to see the possibilities of equipping our schools with mobile devices and get educators, parents, administrators, businesses, and students to support these measures. At the very least, get schools to lift bans on the use of mobile devices. Mobile learning has the potential to be a real game changer in education.
Here are my questions to you if you care to share in the comments section:

  • So why won’t bans on mobile devices at schools be lifted?
  • Why won’t governments invest in mobile devices in classrooms?
  • What is the best mobile device for schools? Well, that’s still up to you to decide.



Leave a comment about the questions I proposed. Let’s discuss ways schools can begin lifting bans on mobile devices.

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