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How Smartphones Help Study

Teachers should be more tolerant of the fact that children check their phones and tablets during classes. Moreover, these devices should be more actively used in the learning process.


Most schools ban the use of gadgets during classes. Teachers believe that children should play games, listen to music, and chat online after classes. However, smartphones and tablets can be useful assistants in the learning process. Almost 75% of Moscow teenagers aged 16 to 18 use mobile devices during classes to access educational resources, Katerina Polivanova and Diana Koroleva discovered during a survey of 3,195 individuals. The results of the study were presented in the paper ‘Social Networks as New Practice of City Teenagers' Development’.

Why gadgets are useful

85% of respondents told the researchers that they are not allowed to use mobile devices at school classes. The researchers think that the teaching community should review their attitude towards gadgets for several reasons.

First, smartphones and tablets are an integral part of young people’s lives. Children live in two parallel words, the real world and the virtual one, even during classes. Teachers can prohibit it all they like, their pupils will still check their devices.

Second, effective teaching and learning methods that involve these gadgets have already been developed and trialed.

Such methods, for example, include:

  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Students are able to use their gadget during classes to search for information or watch relevant videos.

Advantages: School-children get information in a familiar form (videos, posts, chats) and are more willing to learn. They are more confident in managing their studies outside the classroom.

  • Flipped classroom. Materials are studied and tasks are completed in the opposite sequence to a standard lesson. Students study theory online at home, often in a multimedia format and then in the classroom they perform practical tasks.

Advantages: This helps allocate more time for communication between teacher and student in the classroom, and also for team-work. Students find it easier to get back into their studies after sick leave, since the video lectures contain all the necessary information on the topic. In addition, they can always review it before exams.

  • E-learning. This is not a separate technology, but an integrated environment that involves mobile learning, or m-learning, and web-based training, WBT.

Advantages: Students can study remotely, get advice and be graded. Self-study is also possible, for example, via MOOCs, massive open online courses.

Children choose pocket PCs

Teenagers mostly use personal devices to go online, even at home. That’s what 50% of respondents said they do. Another 25% use gadgets and a desktop computer to go online equally often.

School desktops and laptops (often outdated) are falling far behind the brand-new smartphones and tablets that students have access to. This outdated equipment doesn’t offer the opportunities for communication and information search that personal devices have. And school-children often have access to school computers during IT lessons only, while their smartphones are always at hand.

Given this situation, schools shouldn’t miss the chance to utilize children’s pocket PCs, especially since most schoolchildren use smartphones to solve several tasks at the same time. 70% of respondents said that they use their devices to play games during classes, to communicate on social media, and to listen to music. And the same share, 70%, said they use gadgets during classes to look at educational content. (These were two different questions, not one question about what they use their smartphones for).

In fact, children with smartphones simply come to school with a multi-tasking activity they are used to. Today, even preschoolers are able to watch cartoons on a desktop, play games on a smartphone, and listen to music at the same time. Several channels of perception are active at the same time, and life isn’t split into online and offline.

Parallel reality

The researchers believe that young people’s online lives (such as social networks) should not be considered a ‘separate space’. On the contrary, online and offline communication flow from one to another, and children don’t feel any barrier between them.

As part of the study, the schoolchildren were asked to log their online and offline events. The first category included events when they used gadgets or PCs (browsed the internet, communicated on social media etc). The second category involved those events not related to any devices.

‘The children are involved in online activities, including browsing, listening to music, or communicating on social networks, simultaneously with being at school classes, talking to parents, classmates and friends, walking, and on transportation’, the researchers concluded. Here’s one typical example: ‘Usually, when I’m having breakfast, I take my phone and, maybe, play a game and eat at the same time’, a schoolgirl said.

At the same time, there are ‘red zones’, when teenagers avoid escaping into virtual reality, the researchers noted. They are, for example, when something important is happening involving their communication with their friends, or when there is an interesting/complicated lesson at school.

Devices don’t hamper academic progress

Reports in mass media often suggest that gadgets distract children during lessons, which affects their academic progress. And this would, on the face of it, seem logical. But this research did not identify any such correlation between school students’ academic progress and the intensity with which they use their devices during classes.

The researchers investigated the assumption that mobile phones, and particularly entertaining apps are ‘a prerogative of low-performers’, who used to daydream and look out of the window during classes, and who now stare at their gadgets. But no such correlation was detected, Diana Koroleva said. ‘Both high-achievers and under-achievers switch to their smartphones when they are bored’, the researcher noted. ‘They use their devices to find information related to their studies’. This means that all teenagers are ‘mobile and independent’ in these terms, Koroleva concluded.

Participants in school contests are a special category. They check their smartphones more rarely during lessons, since they are preparing for subject contests and are highly involved in studies during their classes.

Banning tablets hampers progress

While gadgets are an integral part of children’s lives, schools hardly notice the opportunities offered by mobile devices. This conservative approach impacts three essential aspects of school life:

  • Relations between students and teachers suffer; children have a worse attitude to the school and are less willing to study. Bans for smartphones, in fact, show that the school is out of touch with reality and unwilling to enter into a dialogue with its students. Children also get used to ignoring school rules and they become increasingly alienated from the school institution.
  • Innovation in education falters. Teachers who use new teaching and learning technologies become outsiders within the teaching team. It’s difficult for them to work.
  • Education develops at a slower pace.

At the same time, some signs that schools are changing are evident. Teachers and students use email for communication more often, and the teachers assign homework that has to be done online or with the use of the internet, the researchers noted.

February 20, 2017