Students have made it clear that mobile learning is their preferred learning method

mobile-learnersIt’s no secret that technology is seamlessly integrated into the lives of today’s students. And while students want and use technology in their personal lives, they’re not always able to use technology in classrooms.

But students today want mobile learning opportunities, because mobile technologies enable students to personalize their own learning experiences. The key, then, is showing educators and administrators that today’s mLearners—mobile learners—learn differently from students 50 years ago and have different learning needs.

“Mobile learners are really social—they have no walls and they will ask each other anything,” said Molly Valdez, virtual learning coordinator at the San Antonio Independent School District, during a TCEA 2014 session that focused on how to understand mobile learners.

“This is the first generation that has a digital footprint before they’re even born,” Valdez said, noting that often, children’s first pictures are ultrasound images posted online by their parents. “Parents instinctively push their children toward technology for them to be successful, because it’s been the advancing piece in our own lifetimes.”

(Next page: What do mobile learners want and need?)

By the age of 2, most children are interacting with digital media and have the skills to push buttons and pinch pages of media. By 3 years, most children discard their non-technical and non-digital toys in favor of technology tools.

Statistics from Consumer Reports and Common Sense Media reveal that 90 percent of children have used a computer by the age of 2, 50 percent use a computer or a tablet on a regular basis by age 5, and 80 percent of children ages 0-5 use the internet on the daily basis.

“This child does not have the same brain that his or her teacher does,” Valdez said.

“It’s wired differently. Therefore, they learn differently and they have different expectations.”

So how, exactly, does Generation Z learn? Students in this generation learn with and from friends, with multimedia, through movement, with the internet, and simply by asking adults. One of the biggest traits of a Generation Z mobile learner is that he or she is connected and thrives on social information and sharing. Preferred elements of learning include multimedia, networked learning, and informal and conversational learning opportunities.

“Is it good, is it bad, or is it just an adaptation to the world they have actually been born into,” Valdez asked.

Simply understanding mobile learners isn’t enough, though—educators must put that understanding into action.

“Recognize that your school system may not have your understanding,” Valdez said. Many districts are slow to evaluate or implement mobile initiatives, and many are still against bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) initiatives. “It’s going to be up to you now to take the awareness back and start the preaching.”

A good place to start is by evaluating an acceptable use policy and involving school or district administrators in that process. The language in these policies is often incredibly restrictive and rules often deny mobile learners the one thing they want most—to use school-issued or personal mobile handheld devices to learn.

Using an actual school acceptable use policy, Valdez highlighted some of the most limiting language, which included phrases such as “may not be used,” “devices may be confiscated,” “may not be used during the instructional day,” and “are not to be connected.”

“You have to be the calm, but persistent, voice for BYOT and mobile learning in your area,” Valdez advised. “Research and data will help you prove your case any time.”

Giving up a bit of control is another strategy teachers might want to contemplate. If students do have access to mobile devices in the classroom and/or at home, teachers should feel comfortable letting them explore different learning tools and strategies.

“Work with existing devices—teach the way you teach, but enable all these other learners,” Valdez said. “Does that mean you have to go out and get tons of apps? What they all have in common is they all use the internet. Everything I do now is internet-based. Let your students know it’s OK to, for example, practice vocabulary on their cell phones. If you don’t have time to use a tool, assign it to your students and let your students be the crowdsource.”

Laura Ascione

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