Why should a teacher be prepared to allow or require students to use mobile devices to achieve learning objectives?


Was I prepared?

When I was privately tutoring an ESL student recently, he asked me “what does this word mean?” I read it aloud and then asked if he had a dictionary.  He said, “I do, but can I use my phone to check? It will only take a second”.  A part of me wanted to reject using the mobile phone as this was not something I was not able to use when I was his age.  In a matter of seconds I debated this in my thoughts, “will he be distracted while using it?”  Another second later, I thought “why not?” This is clearly something he’s comfortable using and he would get the information he needs faster and more efficient than looking through a large book with small text.
In the end, I permitted him to find the definition of the word and within a couple minutes he found what he was looking for and put it away.  Since then, I’ve encouraged him to use it more often as a learning tool and started thinking about how I could incorporate his mobile device for learning.    While mobile learning (M-learning) as a concept is not anything new, are teachers prepared to allow students to use mobile phones/devices in order to benefit our 21st-century learners?  After reflecting on this experience, I believe teachers should be prepared to at least allow students to use mobile devices to achieve learning objectives.

Is M-learning good?

There are many advantages to take from M-learning.  Here are a few examples of how it could benefit the students of tomorrow.

  • No computers?
    If computers are not accessible, using something on hand like a mobile phone can be beneficial.  Especially if there isn’t one in the classroom.
  • Encourage creativity, collaboration and communication
    Mobile phones now have great quality cameras and GPS built into them.  Learning is often social, with great opportunities for various types of students such as ESL students to take photos or record videos, tag the date with locations and edit them on their devices.  Students can even send these to each other as there are often connected or shares via messenger, e-mail, cloud technology and other various social media options.
  • It relates to them
    Technology is everywhere, most students tend to have a mobile phone already.  What do they do with it in their free-time with it? Quite often they view social media, play games or watch YouTube videos etc.  Encouraging them to make a v-blog to share their reflections like a YouTube star they know or follow can be beneficial.  They see how other people reflect on their experiences and they can be encouraged to do the same to share their reflections.
  • Accessible and available
    Perhaps students may want to review what was taught in class or perhaps review what may be covered in the next class (flipped classroom).  Using videos and other mobile tools for creating learning aids and materials for students to access them whenever they want, wherever they are, whenever they can.  Students can review what they need to learn before the class, as a result, more class time is dedicated to class discussions, projects or activities.

Great…so why are we not doing this?

Although M-learning seems like a strategy we should be using, it does come with its challenges.  Some of these challenges may come from our fear to use something new.

  • Cost and Data
    To take full advantage of M-learning the students must have a mobile phone/device that can connect to Wi-Fi or have monthly data.  If the student doesn’t have the monthly data packages from their provider they could feel isolated or stigmatized unintentionally.
  • Battery life
    Although in most cases, smartphones typically last the day on general use.  But for research and continual use, you are lucky to get 8/10 hours from it.  Once the battery runs out we need to plug it in.  Are there enough plug sockets for 20-30 students.
  • Lack of training or preparation
    Teachers may not use M-learning because perhaps they are not sure how to or maybe there is a lack of innovation/motivation or how to incorporate it into their classroom practices.
  • Online privacy and safety
    There are risks of viewing potential harmful content or private information mistakenly on display.  Therefore, strategies will need to be put in place to protect learners.  This may include setting up “firewalls as well as filtering, monitoring and virus-control software” (UNESCO, 2012).

What’s the next step?

Prensky (2005) stated, “we need new curricula, new organization, new architecture, new teaching, new student assessments, new parental connections, new administration procedures, and many other elements.”  Without these put into place, I believe it will be hard to implement M-learning as a teaching strategy.  But, why not experiment and try something new?  Of course, it involves a little more preparation on the teachers’ part and as mentioned before, there are many other variables to consider.  Yet, look at how most jobs have changed, adapted or even evolved, why shouldn’t the school or classroom change or adapt to benefit the 21st-century learners for the world of tomorrow?
Based on my experimental experience with M-learning, I’ve created some guiding principles to support the adaptation of using this strategy within the classroom.

Guiding Principles
Here are my guiding principles called K.L.E.A.R.

Do students know the content?
Do students know how to use the tech?

Learning outcomes
Did you consider what you want the students to learn?
What are the students’ objectives?

Effective and Efficient
Is the technology the right choice or is it a distraction?
What are the benefits of using this tech?
Can we get the same outcome without the tech?

Accessible and Achievable
Do students have access?
Is the tech available?
Do students have enough time to complete the task?

Did students have the opportunity to reflect?
Did the students give feedback to aid you with your formative assessments? E.g. getting students to complete reflections using Google forms, survey monkey etc.


Daccord, T. (2012, September 27th). 5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make With iPads (And How To Correct Them). Retrieved from edudemic.com: http://www.edudemic.com/5-critical-mistakes-schools-ipads-and-correct-them/

Fairuq, A. (2013, March 5). Disadvantages of mobile learning. Retrieved from slideshare.net: http://www.slideshare.net/wafaa-aljehani/disadvantages-of-mobile-learning

GILBERT, S. (2016, April 22). “Why Mobile Learning?” May Be the Wrong Question. Retrieved from http://melearningsolutions.com/2016/04/22/why-mobile-learning-may-be-the-wrong-question/

Prensky, M. (2005, December 2nd). Shaping Tech for the Classroom. Retrieved from edutopia.org: http://www.edutopia.org/adopt-and-adapt-shaping-tech-for-classroom

UNESCO. (2012). Mobile Learning and Policies – Key issues to consider. . Retrieved from unesco.org: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002176/217638E.pdf



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