Despite the emergence of digital learning models, most countries around the world still design their educational systems for agrarian and industrial eras rather than modern society, writes Darrell West in a new paper. In “Connected learning: How mobile technology can improve education,” West points out how a lack of education technology access is detrimental to young people entering the labor force as well as teachers and parents who want children to compete in the global economy. As the economy shifts and technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning improve, countries will need to update their curricula in order to train students with new skills for the 21st century.
West focuses specifically on mobile technology and focuses on ways devices with cellular connectivity improve learning and engage students and teachers. He points to the variety of educational benefits mobile technologies have for learning, including the personalization of education, real-time assessment, the increase in innovative practices, and the empowerment of women and those who are disadvantaged.
The paper explains how one of the applications of mobile devices to education is their ability to customize content for individual students. This feature can work well, especially as teachers in many nations deal with classrooms of diverse students with varied backgrounds and interests who learn in unique ways. Technology is a ubiquitous part of young peoples’ lives, and mobile learning is able to transcend the classroom’s bounds. Students can pursue their passions in education and seek answers to their basic questions.
The massive amount of information available at one’s fingertips has the capacity to allow for in-depth exploration of interests and the use of a variety of textual, visual, and auditory learning experiences. As West mentions, studies show that students are quite open to using technology for learning and that they are aware of new learning tools such as online courses, virtual reality, and video games for instructional purposes.
West describes the benefits of embedding assessment within learning tools. These tools can free educators from the mundane task of grading rote items and provide immediate feedback for students. Mobile devices provide detailed metrics and data that can lead to instantaneous assessment and feedback on whether or not students are meeting educational goals.
The efficiencies of technology can ensure that students who are falling behind get a chance to learn important concepts and that students who are ahead do not get bored with material they have already mastered. Using software, teachers can create dashboards to track individual student achievement on his or her learning curve to categorize students and assess what actions should be taken. West argues that under the status quo in education, neither advanced students nor those requiring extra help are having their needs met in traditional classroom settings.
Beyond providing greater classroom efficiencies, the paper discusses how digital technologies increase the variety of classroom models. This flexibility results in more focused learning systems where students have more agency in their education and teachers can emphasize advanced problem-solving and critical thinking skills, creating a more satisfying educational environment for all those involved.
As an example of innovation in the classroom, the paper highlights a study of Turkish classrooms that experimented with blogs and found improvements in student achievement. For instance, comparing undergraduates before and after a computer class demonstrated that those who collaborated through blogs and social media achieved higher scores than those who did not. This led researchers to conclude: “blogs can be used as supplementary mediums to promote achievement and knowledge acquisition.” Mobile and the use of social networks also provide new platforms for reaching the millions of children and adolescents who are currently not enrolled in school.
Empowering women and the disadvantaged
West also outlines the ways that women and the disadvantaged are empowered by access to technology in education. Digital tools help increase connectivity and access to information, along with access to financial and business opportunities. He also suggests that online courses that are available for free, such as Coursera’s “massive open online courses” (MOOCs), help decrease educational disparity. While one can usually enroll in these MOOCs without charge, obtaining a verified certificate typically incurs a fee. West looks again to an example from Turkey. He writes about an innovative program called “Snowdrops” developed by Turkcell and the Association in Support of Contemporary Living has provided thousands of women with new opportunities, some of which are delivered through online learning MOOCs.
West also touches on the impact of the Internet of Things and its increasing influence on contemporary life. Improvements in technology, in conjunction with an investment in education, he explains, will have a major impact on economic growth in the future.
West explains that there already exists a wide array of digital content available to students and teachers. This includes instructional games, augmented reality, interactive websites, and personalized instruction. The virtue of such electronic information is the greater control students have over their curriculum, allowing them to proceed at their own pace and in their own style.
The digital revolution enables real-time assessment of student performance. Finally, mobile technology can transform learning and act as a catalyst for creating impactful change in the current system. West concludes by saying that connected learning through the use of technology is crucial to student development in the areas of critical-thinking and collaborative learning. Those are the skills that young people need in order to secure their place in the globally competitive economy.
Read the full paper, “Mobile learning: How mobile technology can improve education,” by Darrell M. West to learn more about the educational benefits of increased mobile technology.
Kay Link contributed to this post.
 Erkan Tekinarsian, “Reflections on Effects of Blogging on Students’ Achievement and Knowledge Acquisition in Issues of Instructional Technology,” International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning , November, 2010, Volume 7, Number 9, p. 33.
The Brown Center Chalkboard launched in January 2013 as a weekly series of new analyses of policy, research, and practice relevant to U.S. education.
In July 2015, the Chalkboard was re-launched as a Brookings blog in order to offer more frequent, timely, and diverse content. Contributors to both the original paper series and current blog are committed to bringing evidence to bear on the debates around education policy in America.