Sunday, February 1, 2009

Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning

Readers of this blog know my passion for pushing thinking around instructional technology and may remember my post “The Value of Using Cell Phones to Enhance Education and Some Concrete Ways to Do So” and also the hoopla around the class I taught which resulted in some press coverage including, “Despite School Cell Phone Ban, Course Sees Them as Aid.” Following this I was asked to consult on Roland Fryer’s Million Cell Phone program at the NYC DOE which I wrote about at Thinking Outside the Ban Pays Off - NYC DOE’s Million Project Explores and Finds Educational Value of Cell Phones (Then abandons the project).

Now, it looks like the idea of using cell phones to enhance teaching and learning is gaining new momentum in a recent report which highlights five opportunities to seize mobile learning’s unique attributes to improve education. The report Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning, by Cooney Center Industry Fellow Carly Shuler, makes the case that our nation’s leaders should not overlook the role mobile technologies can play, if well deployed, in building human capital and in helping to stimulate valuable innovation. Report highlights include:

Key Opportunities in Mobile Learning

1. Encourage “anywhere, anytime” learning

Mobile devices allow students to gather, access, and process information outside the classroom.

They can encourage learning in a real-world context, and help bridge school, afterschool, and home environments.

2. Reach underserved children

Because of their relatively low cost and accessibility in low-income communities, handheld devices can help advance digital equity, reaching and inspiring populations “at the edges” — children from economically disadvantaged communities and those from developing countries.

3. Improve 21st-century social interactions

Mobile technologies have the power to promote and foster collaboration and communication, which are deemed essential for 21st-century success.

4. Fit with learning environments

Mobile devices can help overcome many of the challenges associated with larger technologies, as they fi t more naturally within various learning environments.

5. Enable a personalized learning experience

Not all children are alike; instruction should be adaptable to individual and diverse learners. There are signifi cant opportunities for genuinely supporting differentiated, autonomous, and individualized learning through mobile devices.

5 Goals for Mobile Learning

The report makes a case for wider experimentation and new investments in the design and deployment of mobile technologies to advance children’s learning in the U.S. and outlines five goals — learn, develop, promote, prepare, and stimulate — and an action plan to transform mobile learning from state of uneven and scattered innovation into a force for dynamic educational impact. Below are some of the reports major goals, strategies, and action items to transform mobile learning from a state of uneven and scattered innovation into a force for dynamic educational impact.

1. Learn: Understand mobile learning as a unique element of education reform

Handheld technologies and their learning applications require a systematic research inquiry to determine how they can become an important driver of technology integration in education. There should be public and private sector support for needed R&D.

2. Develop: Build mobile learning interventions

Mobile devices have features that are distinctive, and developers of applications must leverage unique mobile assets and surmount special challenges. Industry should be given more powerful incentives toward this end.

3. Promote: Engage the public and policymakers in defining the potential of mobile devices for learning

Though numerous studies and a growing number of experts believe that mobile devices have significant potential to transform children’s learning, most parents and teachers do not yet view these devices as educational allies. To promote public understanding and prepare for the effective use of such devices, government, industry, and philanthropic organizations should expand resources.

4. Prepare: Train teachers and learners to incorporate mobile technologies (MY FAVORITE!!!)

Often the bulk of spending in incorporating technology into education is on the technology itself; however, preparing teachers and learners to use these technologies effectively should be a higher priority. Recommendations include:

Modify and gradually eliminate classroom bans – Most school districts limit cell phone use in classrooms and some have banned their use altogether. We recommend the gradual introduction of mobile devices in schools. By devising established norms of behavior, we can build acceptance among teachers, parents, and students themselves to discover mobile devices’ educational value.

Build capacity: Digital teacher corps – Teachers cannot teach what they do not know, and most have not been trained to use new technologies in their classrooms or afterschool settings. It is not just a matter of showing teachers how to use the devices; rather, it is crucial to provide them with methodologies for ways in which they can incorporate technologies within their curriculum. Professional development is essential to the future of mobile learning. To build professional capacity, we recommend the creation of a “digital teacher corps,” which would be established to enable educators to help students learn to transform information for discovery and problem-solving by working with a range of digital media.

Integrate mobile themes in media literacy curricula – State and school leaders should educate students on mobile etiquette and capabilities, expanding media literacy to include a new “mobile literacy.”

5. Stimulate: Generate new leadership support for digital learning

As a new administration that has committed to improving education and rebuilding public infrastructure for economic renewal begins, we recommend that priority be placed on how mobile technologies in particular, and digital media more generally, can advance children’s learning in the global economy.

The report concludes…

“Mobile devices are an integral part of children’s lives and they are here to stay. The social and cultural phenomena, market opportunity, and, most importantly, the “pockets of educational potential” documented in this report must not be dismissed. Our national debate must shift from whether to use these devices to support learning, to understanding how and when they might best be used. Just as Sesame Street introduced generations of children and their families to the potential of television as an educational medium two generations ago, today’s children will benefit if mobile becomes a force for learning and discovery in the next decade.”

A full-text PDF of this document is available for free download from


  1. I'm a french history and geography teacher. I want to use cellphones in my classroom but my first problem is that it is to expensive. How can I use it ? Have you any solutions ?

  2. @Jeff, according to the report 93% of 6-to-9-year-olds are living in a home with a cell phone. I recommend beginning your endeavor by assigning work to students that involves using cell phones at home, or away from school. Doing this doesn't require each student to have their own phone and it could encourage family involvement in homework. This is a terrific way to begin and once family and administration start to notice the benefits the sell for having them in the classroom will become easier. For some ideas on educational uses of cells visit

  3. Thank you Lisa, I have few questions : Do you know a free service to send sms to my students ? (in Europe...)

  4. @Jeff, those that I know who use texting in education generally have plans with unlimited text as part of their plan. I do not believe their are free services per se, but rather it is included in the basic package of most these days. However, that brings up a good point that if using cells in this manner, users should check with their service provider.