A survey of mobile learners and teachers

For an assignment, “Each learner is to produce three critical findings from the survey and suggest three recommendations in support of/against mobile learning based on the outcome of the survey. Support your comments with the survey results. Post comments on your blogs giving a background of the study to your readers.”

In the late spring 2011, the course participants in Mobile Learning, a class out of the University of Manitoba’s Emerging Technologies for Learning certificate program, created and sent a survey to their networks of friends and colleagues asking their views of the future of mobile learning. Using SurveyMonkey, we received 153 responses to our request. Because this was an opt-in survey, and because the link could be forwarded to anyone outside of these networks, we do not know how many people may have actually received the invitation to participate. Assuming we had an acceptable, roughly 30%, response rate, we might estimate that the reach extended to roughly 450 people or greater.

These folks, of course, as a sample, are not truly representative of the population as a whole. For one thing, they are limited by their inclusion in a network of people that start with adult students enrolled in an online course about mobile technologies in education. I think a good case could be made that this network would already be primed to be thinking about these issues if not actively engaged in them already. For another thing, they are also self-selected: those who took the survey had to take action to get to the survey itself (that is, click a link in a post or email).  That means they may have already been interested in the topic or they may simply know a person who personally asked that they complete the survey. All these caveats are just to say that this is not a random sample but a deliberate one.

Because I am focused on K-12 education, here I’ll look at the responses primarily from that group of people. Out of the 153 respondents, 49% (75 respondents) identified themselves as working in the K-12 sector. This result was surprising to me; I expected most participants to be postsecondary instructors and I also expected that K-12 was severely limited in its ability to embrace mobile technologies. Here in my geographic area, most schools have a strict policy against using cell phones at any time during the school day, for example. Still, the results are pretty interesting.

Finding 1: Respondents are divided over mobile devices’ gaming possibilities for education

Respondents were given a prompt that read “Indicate your level of agreement with each statement on potential or suitable uses of mobile devices in formal education or institutional training settings.” Choices to rank were the following:

  • to conduct polls (clickers)
  • handheld gaming situations
  • access lecture notes
  • conduct searches or research
  • communication device (IM, email)
  • complete forms
  • collaboration (documents, content creation)
  • play audio or video podcasts
  • geolocations

Both K-12 and university respondents were divided on the question of handheld games, with slightly fewer K-12 workers strongly disagreeing that they had a place in education and slightly more strongly agreeing that they did. Summing the two categories “agree” and “strongly agree,” 53.6% of K-12 respondents agreed that handheld gaming had potential, whereas 58.8% of university respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed. Given the recent report Pockets of Potential, which documented that in 2008 more than 50% of children ages 6-9 owned a portable video game, I would have expected many more K-12 associated respondents to see these devices as possibilities for learning (Shuler, 2009, p. 11).  If I had the opportunity to add a question, I would have asked respondents whether they were parents and attempted to correlate these responses. Anyone who is around children should see clearly that gaming is part of their lives. Research company Latitude just issued the results of a worldwide survey of children on the future of technology that found 48% of the children envisioned games as the future of technology.

Games should be incorporated into learning experiences, even if to reinforce and support more traditional learning goals. More than three-quarters (77.18%)  of survey respondents  are between the ages of 31 and 60, so I would be interested in how that answer breaks down in a larger, more diverse group. Perhaps people around my age (I’m 46) think only of the disruptive possibility of games rather than their educational use? In any case, my recommendation that gaming be taken seriously as one tool in the educator’s belt is not supported by the survey results, but I think that in this case the survey respondents were short-sighted.

Finding 2: Respondents in both K-12 and postsecondary accessed online public resources with their mobile devices more than they accessed either proprietary, fee-based, or institutional content

The results of our survey fit well with the general trend for mobile use; a Pew Internet Project study recently found that 25% of adult smartphone owners surveyed used their smartphone as their primary connection to the Internet, so it is not surprising that our survey respondents accessed Internet resources on their mobile devices.

Clearly this finding supports mobile devices as an important connection to Internet resources. YouTube “how to” videos, Wikipedia entries, and Cooks.com recipes are perfectly bite-sized pieces of content to access using a device that is smaller than a laptop or desktop.

What is intriguing about our survey respondents is that their access to public resources that are not specifically “educational” outpaces their access to those that deliberately are (OERs): out of all our survey respondents, 86.1% accessed public resources and less than half that percentage (41.7%) accessed OERs. A clear takeaway from this finding is that if you want to reach the widest audience of learners, using public sites is a key strategy: this obviously brings up the question of how, then, learners could find your resources. Corollaries to this question might be these: if you use public resources for learning, how do you find them? Once you find them, how do you know they’re credible? If you don’t find them at first, what do you do?

Finding 3: Respondents believe that mobile technology use is less likely to grow in elementary school settings

Asked to ” Think about changes in technology and learning coming in the next five years: what do you think might happen?” respondents mostly replied that “Mobile devices will be used…” more frequently in most learning situations. However, nearly one third of all respondents (32.4%) thought that mobile devices would be used about the same or even less frequently in elementary school settings: among K-12 respondents, 32.7% responded similarly; among postsecondary, 32.4% did.  No other setting or group came close to this outcome—college, high school, and other settings all were identified by respondents as frequently or more frequently using mobile devices by a large margin.

In the survey, 69.3% of K-12 respondents identified their role as instructor/teacher/faculty and 18.7% as administrator. I would be curious about the breakdown of the response to this question along teachers and administrators. Likewise, I wonder what the breakdown of respondents is by level taught (K-5, 6-8, 9-12). If the survey were more robust and generalizable, as a marketer in K-8 educational publishing I would have to wonder whether any new digital efforts involving mobile learning would be worthwhile: if the people within those institutions believe that the elementary level is not a site for innovations in using mobile technology, perhaps that is not the area to pursue. At the same time, however, I question whether the students wouldn’t give a different answer. Adults not directly involved with elementary aged children may have different ideas about their capabilities when it comes to technology in general. According to the Pockets of Potential report, children under age 12 in the United States “constitute one of the fastest growing segments of mobile technology users” (p. 4), and mobile technology with its instant-on, instant-gratification seems ideally matched to children. Perhaps one recommendation out of our survey is to persuade educators “in the field” that this is so by showing them successful implementations of mobile technologies for younger people so their pessimism decreases.


Addendum: See other analyses conducted by my colleagues in the course:






Shuler, C. (2009). Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning, New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.


ML11: Am I a mobile nomad*?

…post not more than a 200 word reflection in your blog on who you may consider a mobile nomad to be and why designing courses for them might be important, or not. *Nomads are mobile by definition. I prefer “mobile worker” or “mobile learner.”

I need to access learning where I happen to be, on one or more devices at once. I have to fit learning in within small allotments of time, but sometimes I have three hours I can devote to my studies. I must be able to start and stop on any device and come back to the same place using a different tool. Sometimes I need to use two devices at the same time and your system shouldn’t prevent it. As a busy adult, I’m simply not able to carve out 3 hours a week to sit in a class. Know that during my lunch hour at the Day Job, I will religiously hop online to check our assignments or participate in our discussion, but it’s unlikely I can attend even an online meeting with fewer than 72 hours’ notice.  If you want to capture me as a learner, and potentially my tuition dollars, give me something that fits into my time and offer me connections, ideas, and materials I might not stumble upon in my travels. Connect me with other learners that live far away from me. Give me feedback as a real person, too.


Unrelated video of my dog Sparky…or a subtle, intelligent metaphor…?


Mobile Learning ML11: Weeks 4-5

Educational Publishing Must Change 

Even if you aren’t in the business of producing content that will be delivered to K-12 classrooms, you know intuitively that 20-pound textbooks are a vanishing breed of instructional materials in the United States.

If you’re in educational publishing here, however, you are doing everything you can to delay the funeral, including packaging those textbooks with “digital resources” that augment what’s in that big book and providing online games and smartboard accessories. You are highlighting studies of the “digital divide” to show that books are more accessible than computers for swaths of students, especially those who are disadvantaged in other ways. If you’re smart, your sales force is well-versed in their territories’ computer usage and ownership statistics, both in schools and in communities they service.

And there are some quite legitimate reasons that online resources would leave some students out of the learning process, a condition that you can’t accept if you’re a firm believer in the value of public education for all in a democracy, as I am.

All of that has been and continues to be debated in blogs and commentary online and in the administrations of school districts across the country. Here I want to provide a little insight into publishing itself, specifically from the point of view of product development, i.e., textbook development and creation.

The flip side to outward-facing sales are internal processes and procedures. I’ve written elsewhere about how textbooks are generally developed. I want to think a bit here about what an embrace of elearning and mlearning could mean for the day-to-day operations of a textbook company or a development house. For instance, I’ve worked, both as a full-time employee and as a contract or freelance worker, for educational publishers in the K–12 market, creating textbooks as well as ancillary materials.

I’ll lay out a situation that I think will highlight what has to change: Let’s say I’m creating a workbook to go along with a science textbook, and that workbook focuses on what you need to know because you live in a particular state (say, for instance, Ohio). The Educational Publisher (EP) wants to create that workbook as an ancillary to its General Science textbook so that its more competitive in the Ohio market, and as the editor I create the content. A decade ago, this is what I would have to do for the project:

  1. Identify all the relevant state standards for that grade’s workbook
  2. Plan out how to incorporate all the relevant state standards in the 6o pages the publisher has planned for
  3. Make sure each lesson complements and augments the relevant part(s) of the student edition textbook
  4. Write and edit the readings and activities (e.g., short answer response) to appear on specific pages (or hire a freelancer to do so)
  5. Identify and/or describe any art or illustration to go on that page with the reading and activity

In a completely print-based textbook context, five general realms of activity will reliably get you an Ohio Workbook to accompany your General Science textbook. (After this comes the page production process that’s standard to any publisher: proof cycles, editing, and any permissions you need for art or content;  I’m just focusing on basic content creation here.)

Fast-forward to now. What would change about this process in a full elearning environment? Leaving aside IT-related matters such as device compatibility, operating systems, and so on (i.e., the really technical stuff), I would still have to do the above, but I would also need to add at least some of the following activities (in no particular order):

  1. Plan and/or produce and/or find related video content, which requires me to think about sound and movement
  2. Plan and produce audio content
  3. Evaluate all text for its fit on a variety of screens, which requires me to adapt some of my writing skills to shorter lengths
  4. Plan and create interactive activities in which students would have immediate feedback on their efforts, which requires that I think about the limits of what students could do (such as not writing essays because they would not get immediate feedback)
  5. Plan and create activities that result in a student-generated product that a student would submit to a teacher for feedback or assessment
  6. Plan and create activities that allow students to work together using their devices, which requires me to have more understanding about what would work in a classroom environment as well as about social media tools
  7. Plan and create activities that would work even without an Internet connection
  8. Plan and create activities that could potentially be used as a whole-class experience via Smartboard technology, if a teacher wishes to use an eworkbook activity in that way
  9. Find and evaluate other web-based resources to provide to students and teachers in links or through portals
  10. Create motivational games/experiences that reward students for going through the activities
  11. Create experiences/activities linked to the student’s location in a particular place (for instance, if the student is in southeastern Ohio, a link or some content about the formation of the Appalachian Mountains)

(These are the examples I could think of—I wonder what younger, more technology-savvy folks would add?) With digital products, too, teachers and students expect updated content at all times, so there are a variety of completely new editorial processes that need to be established to make sure that the econtent is current and relevant (and no broken links). They would also want to know immediately when any update had been made, which means rigorously tracking changes and errata and setting up a communications process.  In addition, teachers would expect functionality such as receiving reports about access and use of the eworkbook and perhaps a way for them to go into a particular student’s eworkbook to provide feedback or help. That functionality also entails thinking about what part(s) of eworkbook activities can be “sent” or monitored.

It’s tempting to dismiss these problems and think that educational publishers are just being conservative in lagging behind just-in-time, just-for-you elearning. But they’re really just figuring out what their new jobs will be in a world where everyone with electricity and a device can access realms of information at any time. The short answer, then, is that educational publishers may want to embrace elearning, mlearning, and their new technologies, but that to do so entails nothing short of a superhuman effort coupled with a complete rethinking of what the business actually is in the wake of the embrace.

Mobile Learning: Learning About Mobility

Assignment 1: For discussion purposes, write a brief review of a resource or an organization that has recently changed your understanding of mobile learning.

Perhaps what I should do here is find the coolest, most way-out adventure in mobile learning  in order to impress my instructor and coursemates with how trendy and tuned-in I am. But what persuaded me that mobility actually had something to add to learning was owning my Droid. I purchased it almost two years ago when my cell phone needed replaced. Because I rarely make actual calls, I was attracted to the PDA-like opportunities that Droid offered as well as increased access to the Internet. I was thinking more about using it to help organize my life, not for learning.

Simple book reader apps, Kindle and nook, allowed me to find books almost instantly that were referred to by blogs, news sites, and so on. The fact that my reading place is always saved across devices pleases me to no end. To those static sources of information and learning, I added RSS feeds so that I collect what I need to know, especially crucial when state governors are trying to destroy public education as well as kill democracy. And having podcasts right at my fingers through Google Listen means I can hear Best of the Left or All in the Mind whenever I want! For my CCK11 course this winter, I signed up for the first time on Twitter, which gave me not only instant access to what Tim O’Reilly or Stephen Downes is finding interesting right now but also immediate information about, say, ad hoc protests or the latest blog to mention Ohio’s sociopathic governor. Viewing Evan Roth’s presentation  about graffiti got me interested in augmented reality, so now I have Layar and Airpainter—which seem to me to best take advantage of the mobility of my Droid: it can move (so far, at least, only when I move), and as a result of that movement can access different kinds of information.

But is accessing information in this way learning? It is if we take seriously the ideas of connectivism, a theory of learning by George Siemens and Stephen Downes that was the subject of my first course in the Emerging Technologies for Learning program, learning, “(defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing” (Siemens 2005). Learning is the “creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns” (Siemens 2008). A most important element in this theory is context; Siemens says that context “brings as much to a space of knowledge connection/exchange as do the parties involved in the exchange” (Siemens 2008). What finally struck me, after I saw Evan Roth and downloaded Airpainter and Layar, was that I could take my Droid anywhere and what was there to learn was accessible to me because of all the intricate, forward-looking programming people are engaging in. When my husband and I ate at a fabulous cafe last month, I used Airpainter to put a virtual tag right “on” my table to say (to anyone who has the app) how wonderful the Sweet Chili Shrimp tasted on April 5, 2011.

My Droid has changed my understanding of mobile learning because not only can I access information anywhere but also I can access information about the “where,” knowledge that is directly situated where I’m located.  Although I do not think that this aspect of mobile learning is one that is fully exploited (yet), it is the aspect that is most interesting to me and, I think, one that is applicable to both formal and informal learning. Institutions like museums already have headsets for guided tours and are venturing into augmented reality for more formal learning; Layar and Airpainter provide informal learning opportunities like finding the right restaurant in a strange town.

Because I work in educational publishing, I also think about the huge blended (formal/informal) potential: what if you took, say, a U.S. history textbook that came along with a Layar for that text, and you could access information about, for instance, World War II events in your county or state while you’re reading about the national events? Even better, what if that Layar allowed you to add information? Supposed your great-great grandmother kept all the letters her brother wrote to her from North Africa that could be scanned and offered as historical artifacts in the Layar? Without my Droid, I could not have imagined the possibilities for learning that is not only constantly accessible through networks but is so situated that it changes when you move about.