While the physical structure of a classroom with students sitting at desks in rows may look familiar to most, the explosion of Internet-accessible, mobile devices in the hands of those students has definitely changed the way students interact with each other, with their teachers, with the greater education community, and with instructional materials.
This is especially evident over the decade, as schools have increasingly adopted mobile learning as a signature initiative using BYOD and 1:1 programs and investing in tablets to provide their students with access to a wealth of relevant educational content and learning opportunities.
Young students do pretty well in terms of mobile devices ownership. A recent Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey clearly states that the number of students who regularly use a tablet has grown compared to the previous year. 78% of elementary school students, 69% of middle school students, and 49% of high schoolers now use a tablet in their school life. The figures for smartphones are a bit lower, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise, since smartphones are not the most preferred mobile device to support students’ learning anyway.
Tablets are the number one choice for classroom learning, as they are somewhere in the middle ground between the reliability of laptops and the mobility of smartphones. What makes them particularly appealing to students is the fact that they can access learning apps on tablets. Learning apps allow students to go through their online courses without an internet connection. Data from the same Pearson survey says that 50% of high school students use learning apps, and this percentage grows in the case of students in elementary school.
Challenges of adopting mobile learning in the classroom
Students having access to a mobile device to use in and outside of class — their own or a school provided device — is now the norm rather than the exception. However, this frenzied adoption of mobile devices within learning has presented many new challenges for education leaders.
Designing learning materials for mobile devices
Whether we’re talking about creating mobile courses and learning materials from scratch or adapting the already available ones to the restrictions of mobile design, educators have their hands full. They need to keep in mind that any learning materials they create have to conform to different standards, render well on different screen sizes and be compatible with different operating systems.
Preventing security and privacy issues
All the mobile devices within a school inevitably access sensitive data: personal data of students, their parents, academic results and plans, professional data about the faculty body and even managerial information. This data must be protected, no matter the device used to access it. A secured LMS can prevent many unwanted online safety issues through automatic backups, password protection, whitelisted websites, strong settings of different access levels for users, and so on.
Dealing with connectivity and battery life
Education technology may advance at a rapid pace, but the Internet infrastructure in many educational institutions often gets overwhelmed when accessed by so many devices at the same time. That’s why school management needs to ensure its capacity is updated. What’s more, they have to develop a plan B for any user that might encounter some trouble with chargers and shared power outlets.
Avoiding the risk of distraction
Letting aside the physical factors, educators need to make sure the mobile devices in the classroom are not used for other purposes than learning. It’s easy for students to text with friends, play games, watch funny videos, browse social media channels or even answer calls. Smartphones and tablets remain communication devices after all. But this doesn’t mean students will always get distracted; an interesting learning activity will keep them engaged and using their mobile devices to enhance their learning.
Measuring the results
The rapid pace of change in terms of mobile devices adoption in the classroom has sometimes obscured thoughtful evaluation of the efficacy of current mobile learning strategies or the examination of how and why certain types of implementations affected student achievement more than others. Mobile learning is never a stand-alone activity, so it can be really challenging for teachers to pinpoint exactly how the use of mobile devices in the classroom has improved — or not — students’ academic performance.
Finding the value of going mobile
Most notably, school and district administrators are struggling with how to elevate the use of the devices from sporadic, engagement activities to instructionally rich learning experiences. It’s one thing to put mobile devices into students’ hands and a totally different one to use said technology in the most effective way possible. The journey of mobile learning in the classroom has only begun and it’s up to every educator to find the value of it.
Mobile technology has a great potential to enhance the learning experience and contribute to higher academic results for all students. However, the mere existence of mobile technology in the classroom is not enough to achieve this. Teachers need to use it at its full potential. So they need all the support if they are to overcome all the above challenges of mobile learning and to redefine the role mobile devices play in the classroom.