What do we know about using mobile phones in education? (part 2)


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image courtesy kiwanja.netRecent posts to this blog about the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries have generated a *lot* of page views.  News earlier this year that firms in the United States are beginning to make a pitch for greater use of mobile phones in the education sector highlights the increased attention that this topic is now receiving in OECD member countries as well.

Examples of this increased attention are popping up all over the place.  ISTE recently published Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education (author web site).  Announcements about conferences and events devoted specifically to issues related to 'mobile learning' (m-learning) are becoming more frequent.  Scholars are paying increased attention to the topic (a quick search for 'phones' in the ERIC database yields over 275 articles), building upon over a decade of piloting and research into how various handheld devices (especially PDAs) have and can be used by educators and learners. Even mainstream publications like BusinessWeek are paying attention, as a result of high-profile pilot projects like what Qualcomm has funded in North Carolina (USA) with Project K-nect

Not all of this attention is new, of course: MOBIlearn was a worldwide European-led research and development project earlier this decade exploring informal, problem-based and workplace learning through mobiles. A half-decade ago the UK's Learning and Skills Development Agency published a report on the EU-funded m-learning project (pdf). Starting in 2002, the IEEE convened a series of workshops on wireless, mobile and ubiquitous technology in education.  Given all of this activity, it is perhaps not surprising that there is an International Association for Mobile Learning (IAMLearn)!  In Korea, they are even thinking beyond the moble phone, with a great deal of rhetoric around the concept of 'ubiquitous learning'.  All of this builds on a long history of experimentation and research into the use of a variety of handheld devices like PDAs.  

So: Experimentation has been going on in this area for quite awhile, but might we be reaching a tipping point in some places that could lead to quick, widescale utlization?

While mobile devices will no doubt play an integral role in education practices in some places in the near future, we remain a few steps removed from mass adoption, even in affluent, education-obsessed, technology-saturated societies like Korea and Japan.  At the most recent British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT), billed as the world’s largest trade show of its kind (earlier blog post on BETT), I was surprised at how *little* application development I saw for the mobile phone.  The three great limitations of mobile phone use in education (small screen, battery life and difficulties with input, to which I would add the 'distraction issue')  apparently remain major impediments -- at least in the case of how we currently conceive of traditional educational delivery.

(image at top courtesy of kiwanja.net)

You may wish to check out the online EduTech debate that recently kicked off, sponsored by infoDev and UNESCO, inspired by the Oxford-style exchange between Sir John Daniel and Bob Kozma sponsored by The Economist a few years ago.


Michael Trucano

Global Lead for Innovation in Education, Sr. Education & Technology Policy Specialist

Kevin Donovan
May 14, 2009

Are there good statistics out there for how many developing world youngsters have access to a phone? Do they have their own, or do they borrow their parents? If the latter, is it only at nighttime? Etc.

Ed Gaible
May 16, 2009

Most of the sites you cite (as it were) reference materials, projects and applications in OECD countries. These resources also tend toward student use of mobile phones. I realize that some great resources (MobiLearning's WAP stuff) are being piloted in Africa (Senegal IIRC). But it seems that m-learning projects that require students to have their own mobile phones or even frequent access to family members' mobile phones are going to bypass students in "bottom billion" countries until sometime well in the future.

Research on the value of mobile phones in relation to rural economic development (small-holder farming) shows that 1 mobile phone in a village leads to very high (10x, in the study I've seen) increases in productivity. Why aren't we focusing on ways of enabling similar increases in student competencies via programs that involve one phone per classroom? Or a few phones per school?

The obvious pathway to such returns is teacher development, not student-centered SMS-ing. Got any examples? (I believe that John Traxler proposed using SMS for teacher development in relation to the basic-education imfundo project in Kenya, but I haven't seen results past the proposal.)

The equally obvious problem with focusing on teacher development, btw, is that it doesn't promote phone purchases and phone usage on a scale similar to that promoted by student-focused m-learning projects. But still...

May 16, 2009

I am all for the use of cell phone in the classroom. I think the students could benefit so much from it. I think the main issue how to "convince" teachers and administrators that there are so many benefits to cell phone use in the classroom. I teach in a school district where many teachers are reluctant to technology. Any suggestions.

Michael Trucano
May 21, 2009

Thanks for your comment, Kevin.

I am not aware of many relaiable sources for comparative statistics on youth use of mobile phones in developing countries. (I am sure that they are availble, I just don't have them.)

A first place that I would look would be the GSM Association. A few months ago the GSMA and NTT Docomo published a short study on children use of mobile phones in Japan, Korea,China, India and Mexico.
--> http://gsmworld.com/documents/Final_report.pdf (please note tat this is a very large PDF file)

Last month Tino Kreutzer released his study on mobile phone use among low-income urban youth in South Africa.
--> http://tinokreutzer.org/mobile/

If anyone has similar studies, please do feel free to send them along!

Michael Trucano
May 21, 2009

Thanks for the very useful comments, Ed!

Indeed, the focus on this post was on OECD experience -- this was meant as a sort of rough complement to earlier posts on mobile phone use in developing countries.

When speaking of the use of mobiles phones to aid teacher professional development in developing countries, you ask: "Got an examples?" I wish I did! What I do have are collections of anecdotes and hearsay and earnest intentions, but nothing concrete that I can cite, beyond what I mentioned in this previous post --. http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/videos/mobiles-0.
(Text2teach is an example of a 'one phone per cassroom' model -- Boying takes this model to task in a comment to the blog posting).

One place I would turn to to find such examples is the mobile application database that Ken Banks keeps on the kiwanja.net site --> http://www.kiwanja.net/database/kiwanja_search.php (http://mobileactive.org would be another resource), but this isn't too helpful on this count.

Another reason why teacher professional development may be a useful area to explore is, of course, because teachers are more likely than students to have their own phones. I find it interesting that, while there are many large scale programs to promote PC ownershp in developing countries (I used to maintain a list of a few of these here --> http://infodev.org/en/Publication.108.html), I am not aware of similar government-sponsored programs to support mobile phone ownership. My hypothesis has always been that governments haven't felt the need to intervene in this area because so many consumers all around the world (even in quite poor communities) see such an immediate value to mobile phone use that no further incentives are required to promote ownership.

With less money needed to fund hardware roll-outs, then, might investment dollars building off the growing infrastructure of increasingly powerful, (almost) always-connected 'computers in your pocket' that mobile phones are becoming bring about tangible results more quickly than those that rely on first buying more expensive PCs and laptops?

One can certainly imagine scenarios where this might be the case. If only I had some concrete examples to cite for you ...

Michael Trucano
May 22, 2009

Actually, here's an example from Bangladesh:
--> http://www.adb.org/Documents/Reports/Consultant/39035-REG/appendix16.pdf
(warning: slow download)

Alan Foo
June 10, 2009

In our field of work (closing the digital divides without broadband), the development and deployment of mobile phones have been given tremendous boost to ICT in mass Educatoin to reach out to the rural areas.

In the past in the absence of mobile signals and land lines, rural areas have been largely deprived of connectivities.

It is much much cheaper to get a mobile phone than to install satellite links in rural areas. Mobile towers serve many other purposes other than education and becomes economically viable to be installed unlike trying to lay out broadband just for Internet access.

Since the standard modules of our AGE platform is very small indeed, using mobile phones to provide good contents to rural schools have become cheap and easily affordable.

Alan Foo
Specialist in closing the digitial divides of rural underserved communities.

cheap computers
July 30, 2009

I think the three great limitations of mobile phone use in education apparently remain major impediments at least in the case of how we currently conceive of traditional educational delivery.

Clare Woodward
August 12, 2009

I hope I can provide you with a concrete example of the use of media players and mobile phones in teacher professional development in Bangladesh.

The Open University is a major partner in a DFiD project, English in Action, which is using a blended combination of mobile devices, including media players and phones, and face to face support to develop classroom based EFL teacher development in Bangladesh, at both primary and secondary levels http://www.eiabd.com/eia/

We are currently in the 3 year pilot stage which will be followed by a 6 year staggered rollout across the country. The first batch of 400 secondary school teachers are shortly to receive their devices which contain teacher training materials and development testing is about to take place in primary schools using media players to deliver classroom material.

The power of the mobile devices means that the secondary level English language teacher will be able to access training materials including audio and video at all times, while the blended element ensures that they will have contact with trainers and other teachers in monthly cluster meetings supporting their classroom development.

In early 2010 half of these teachers will also receive mobile phones with which they can access the internet. The aim of this is to develop their ability to communicate with their EFL colleagues both within Bangladesh and globally via social networks, and gain access to the web for both professional, personal and classroom use.

At the primary level, where many teachers are lacking in initial training, the mobile devices will ensure that meaningful English language audio penetrates the classroom together with visual aids, and backed up by lesson plans assisting the teachers in their use of the resources.

I'll keep you informed on how the project goes....

Michael Trucano
August 12, 2009

Many thanks for this information, Clare!
This is a very interesting initiative. Please do keep of informed on how this work progresses.

Nokia Cell Phones
August 25, 2009

Cell phone has to make human life easy and beautiful.But we should use it for positive purpose.We can use it in class room to record lectures.We can put the education material.We can use the cell phone to maintain our blog.

David Brett
January 06, 2010

Cell phones are a wonderful convenience and fun gadgets to have. However, there is still debate about whether or not they belong in schools. Consensus needs to be reached between parents, students, and educators regarding the fair use in schools. Certainly to ban them completely is to ignore some of the educational advantages of having a cell phone in the classroom. If students act in a mature manner and present a fair cell phone use agreement to their parents, teachers, and administrators, maybe this cell phone controversy can be settled for the benefit of all.

Atul Pawar
July 06, 2010

Recently, I have completed my research in Mobile Telephony. I am sure the book will help the entire gamut of mobile phone users to understand the telephony in a much better fashion. The uncomplecated and lucid language helps common man understand the benefits of the functions as well as the imposrtance of it. And thats not all, it has a 360 degrees approach about the mobile telephony.

I am quite confident that the book will be of great help to teachers, students, trainees, workers, executives, housewives, housemaids, business peoples or rather nearly people from all walks of life.

My research on mobile telephony is still going on in the field of education. And would love to be a part of the global mission if at all any one interested.

June 27, 2010

Its better using mobile phone in the classroom if the mobile phone must have the filtering feature and that has to be monitored by interseted party like parents or teachhers or else.

June 27, 2010

Country like Sri Lanka can perfectly use Mobile phones for enhance education in connected world.

Like the Facebook page below and see more on mobile learning in Sri Lanka


ayesha khan
December 29, 2010

There's no doubt that cell phone parental control software and downloads can't substitute for educating kids about cell phone etiquette and the risks but like any skill, for many parents it might be best to teach, monitor, correct, and only then turn them loose.

May 28, 2012

Hallo: thank you for your wonderful blog. It really inspires me.

I am a teacher and a researcher at the Faculty of Education, University of Vigo, Spain. My students will be teacher in nursery and primary school. In my subject, ICT in education, I am using the smartphones owned by students during all theory and practical (in real school settings) classes . I made a pilot during the past semester and and the results have encouraged me to continue with the experience. if anyone is interested in the experience you can contact me (mdoval@uvigo.es).
Do you have any statistic data or study about use of smartphone by university students ?
Other topic in which I am interested in is the use of smartphone by students with disabilities. I am very interesested in sharing information about those topcis.

Thank you!

May 24, 2021

In the current situation, mobile phones are playing an important role in education. Where going to school in this pandemic is very unsafe for kids. Mobile phones are helping us with online education. On the other hand, refurbished mobile phones are solving the issue of budget for every student. The only thing which parents need to pay attention to is that the kids should use mobile phones in the right manner. Parental control is a must at this time because the use of mobile phones has been increasing since Covid-19.