Learning & Teaching with Mobile Devices

We live in a digital age where our smartphones and other mobile devices not only change how we communicate and collaborate but also how we learn. An ongoing debate in the education space is whether cell phones should be allowed in classrooms, and to what measures.

The Student Pulse Survey from Top Hat found that 94% of students want to use their cell phones in class for academic purposes, with 75% of respondents stating that they believe “using personal devices in the classroom has improved their ability to learn and retain information.”

What’s the benefit of fulfilling this request from students? Teaching with mobile devices can provide flexibility, increased engagement, and accessibility to your students while acknowledging modern trends in learning.


Cell phones are essentially mini-computers that allow students to learn beyond the boundaries of their classroom or the timeframe of a class period. Internet access and app integration allow students to seek answers to their questions, share materials, and access information in real-time.

Some teachers suggest that rather than assigning homework, they instead give students a preview of the topics for their upcoming assignments and request that they do a little pre-research on their devices. This may help students feel more prepared and foster a meaningful discussion later.

Multimedia, such as podcasts and videos, can not only be easily accessed through mobile devices but also help students move at a pace that’s comfortable for them by pausing and rewinding as needed until they fully grasp a concept. Multimedia also makes the learning process more dynamic and attractive to students. For example, one student recently told BBC that he enjoys using educational videos "to learn through listening and watching things rather than copying things down.”

Increased Engagement

According to the Social Science Research Network, 65%of us are visual learners. It’s no surprise that visual and auditory learners prefer multimedia to stay engaged. Active and behavioral learning theories suggest that we learn best by doing, and engagement is key to having a meaningful learning experience. What better way to help students stay engaged then by using the very thing that often distracts them – their cell phone.

Recent reporting from The New York Times about the popular social media app TikTok highlights how high school students are using the interactive platform to generate thousands of views on videos about topics they’re learning in the classroom. Students said that they value the authenticity and creativity of the app, and teachers are capitalizing on its popularity by integrating it into their lesson plans.

Another common use for cell phones in the classroom is as a participation tool. Polling apps with quick multiple-choice questions throughout the lesson can be used to track how well students are keeping up. Twitter, text messaging, and other apps also allow students to submit questions to the teacher during the lesson that they may be too shy to ask out loud.


Most K–12 students are familiar with the features, navigation, and limitations of their cell phones, making it a cost-effective and simple technology to integrate into a classroom. APearson Mobile Device Surveyreported that 41% of all K–12 students say they use a smartphone to do their schoolwork at least twice a week, and 88% use a smartphone to do school work at least once a week. Many students do not have access to computers outside of their school and use their own or their parent’s device for homework.

Moreover, cell phones often feature multi-device support capabilities. Work and progress saved through a handheld device can be accessed moments later through any computer, tablet, or other handheld device. Many digital education technology tools offer apps for smartphones and other mobile devices with streamlined functionality across a variety of devices. This makes it easy for students, teachers, and parents to switch between whichever devices they choose.

Teaching with Mobile Devices

One thing is certain: as mobile devices continue to become more integrated into our daily lives, teachers and administrators may need to consider how they can practically and effectively incorporate these devices into their classroom activities.

How have you used cell phones as a resource for teaching? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!