Attitudes Toward Mobile Learning Split Down Socioeconomic Lines

By Henry Kronk
December 22, 2017

When it comes to online education, developers are constantly looking for ways to engage students and provide for an easier, more seamless learning experience. Online learning can be isolating, and research shows that students learn more effectively and perform better when they do so in a social and interesting manner.

In 2017, educators and startups have tried a variety of new ways to educate their learners. Med schools, K-12 classes, and Kentucky Fried Chicken have implemented virtual reality (VR), others have sought to gamify their learning modules, and MSU has mounted live streaming computers on self-balancing robots to bring remote students into some graduate education classes.

But there’s one strategy that has been a constant source of debate: the use of mobile phones and social media in the learning process.

A Large Body of Research Supports Mobile Learning

In 2012, the learning management system (LMS) giant, Blackboard, released a report detailing how the use of mobile learning and social media can create a personalized learning experience. BYOD (bring your own device) education was becoming viable, and parent/teacher support is changing in its favor, the report stated. “The prospect of a wireless device in every student’s hand with real-time assessment and feedback presents the potential for a sweeping paradigm shift to learner-centered education,” it said.

A study conducted by a team of Taiwanese researchers published this year titled “Exploring the Effects of Online Academic Help-Seeking and Flipped Learning on Improving Students’ Learning,” came to similar conclusions.

Mobile Learning“The researchers in this study measured the effects of innovative adoption of mobile technology and help-seeking on improving students’ learning psychology, such as their involvement, self-efficacy, and self-directed learning, in this online computing course. Therefore, the integration and implementation of [online academic help-seeking] and [flipped learning] could provide comprehensive implications for educators to design their future online or blended courses and help their students to involve themselves in the course,” the report found.

These are just two examples of a vast body of research that finds, primarily one of two main conclusions:

1) The use of mobile devices will play an instrumental role in education in the future, if not today.

2) Both the use and the model of social media creates an engaging setting in which students tend to perform better.

By and large, most arguments that support mobile learning and social media are still controversial. As a result, many who voice these arguments heavily ground their views in research.

Dissenting Voices

But despite this body of academic and professional research, many teachers, parents, administrators, and learners themselves seek to avoid or forbid both these tools in the educational process.

This month, the French government declared that teens addicted to mobile devices had become a public health concern and that, in 2018, mobile phones will be outright banned on primary, junior, and middle school grounds. “I think it’s a sensible proposal to completely ban mobile phones in schools,” said Pia d’Iribarne of Accel Partners, a venture capital firm according to the Financial Times. “Time that children spend playing on their phones is time not spent learning or interacting with their peers.”

An editorial published this fall in the Guardian begins, “One of the best actions to protect young people’s mental health is to ban mobile phones in school. Progressive schools have already done so, recognizing the relentless impact that social media and screen time have on the emotional and mental health of their students.”

And then, of course, Facebook’s former VP recently argued that the social media platform is “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

Socioeconomic and Geographic Realities

A certain trend has emerged with these diverging opinions: they generally follow geographic, and more importantly, socioeconomic lines.

Both educators and students in developing countries and less-affluent communities generally support mobile learning, whereas affluent members of the developed world deride it.

The influence of mobile devices in all aspects of life in developing countries cannot be denied. And it is no less true in the field of education.

In the words of Chris Haroun, CEO of Haroun Education Services, in conversation with Forbes, “A single smartphone has more processing power today than every computer in the world that was used to put the first person on the moon.”

“All problems in the world can be solved by education—every single one without exception. I firmly applaud and support edtech startups, governments, and organizations that help to make affordable and accessible technology-enabled education, which is just as much of a right for humankind as water, air, freedom of expression and freedom to co-exist.”

An Australian language learning test-prep app, By Degrees, has created a mobile-only software that replicates a social media environment to prepare Indian students for the Pearson Test of English.

mobile learning
Source: White House Archives

In India, “almost no-one has a desktop/laptop and everything is being done by mobile,” said CEO Danny Bielik. Providing educational resources via other media isn’t just the best option to reach as many learners as possible, it’s the only one.

India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is currently in the middle of the “Digital India” initiative. This year alone, the government has unrolled four eLearning initiatives, of which, three are heavily based in mobile use.

The government of Rwanda is currently seeking to drive education via internet access and hopes to digitize all educational content by 2020.

The list of countries and companies seeking to enhance and increase education in developing communities could go on and on.

Students in developed countries, however, do not need much help to access some of the best educational resources currently available. They can do so in many different ways. They probably have a broadband internet connection and a personal computer along with a mobile device. They have well-funded libraries. They live in countries that can generate a substantial amount of tax revenue to divert to education.

Learners elsewhere do not have this option. Schools in many developing countries and less-affluent communities cannot afford to ban mobile devices; it might be a student’s only means of access to necessary educational material.