Trends in Higher Education: The Growing Use of Mobile Learning

June 3, 2014 Kristen Hicks

The days of banning mobile use in the classroom may not be completely over, but they’re on their way out. Faculty and administrators in higher education are increasingly viewing those smartphones and tablets as tools for learning rather than potential distractions.

Apple has sold eight million iPads to educational institutions around the world. That’s only one brand in the competitive smartphone and tablet space, and that number only takes into account the devices that schools purchased directly, not those acquired by the students themselves for use in class. That suggests a much higher total number for mobile device use on college campuses.

An ECAR study on how students use mobile devices backs up this assumption. The findings unsurprisingly show how widespread mobile use is, and how often students are making use of their devices for educational purposes. For example, more than 91% of students report having a small mobile device, 37% of students own a tablet, 27% of students have an e-book reader, and 67% of students with tablets and smartphones report using them for academic purposes.

How Mobile Is Used by Students

There’s a wide range of common and potential uses for mobile devices in higher education. The most obvious is as a conduit for educational content.

By this point, the vast majority of reading assignments in academia can be done via e-books. As a result, a student can opt to tote one iPad from class to class that contains all of his or her reading assignments for the day, along with any notes and highlighting he or she made, in lieu of heavy textbooks.

Any videos, podcasts, images, or PowerPoint presentations assigned are easily viewed on a mobile device as well. Students can more easily access their homework, regardless of format, from any location. Mobile devices make all forms of content consumption more portable.

During class, apps like Evernote make it easy to record a lecture for later listening and to take easily organized notes for each course. Instead of being a distraction, mobile devices may help students pay closer attention and take better notes.

How Mobile Is Used by Professors

Mobile can also make it easier for professors to bring a more interactive element into larger classes. One professor increased class attention and participation by encouraging students to tweet during class with a particular hashtag. Another suggests that tablets are actually better for limiting distractions than laptops, as it’s harder for students to open multiple tabs and windows on them.

Professors can use tablets to increase the interaction that takes place within their courses. For example, they can have students visit relevant links during class to encourage discussions, and they can create class presentations that are available for students to view on mobile devices. In addition, professors can even administer tests to students on iPads without worrying about security.

As more students and educators experiment with mobile use in higher education, ideas for how mobile can add to the learning experience will only grow. At this point, mobile devices are permanent accessories in most people’s lives. It only makes sense to put those accessories to use for better learning.


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