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We're Goin' Mobile

Mobile phoneMobile technology plays a key role in the everyday lives of the people we serve. Ask your students how many own laptops or computers. Then ask how many own cell phones. You will likely find more have cell phones. And what about smartphones? Early on we realized the educational potential for smartphones. When we first examined the prospect of integrating mobile technology into instruction, smart phone technology was in its infancy and few students or teachers had them. This has been rapidly changing. We recently completed a survey of some classrooms in Boston. We found that 38% of adult learners surveyed own smartphones. Now add to these ipads and tablets, and it is easy to see that mobile technology is clearly part of our learners’ lives. Why not leverage the tool they use on a regular basis for the purpose of increasing literacy!

Why mobile learning?

If you are not yet convinced of the educational value of mobile technology, consider the following:

Mobile learning applications

  • Increase time on task outside of the classroom, which adds to the limited hours of instruction that typical adult education programs can offer.Eenable busy adult learners, who typically juggle work, family, and school responsibilities, to use spare moments of down time at home, work, or on the go to study.
  • Provide instant feedback to learners and prod them to try again.
  • Deliver content in small increments that are manageable for busy adults, and that can create a sense of accomplishment, which can boost persistence.
  • Allow students to take greater responsibility for the learning process.
  • Enable teachers to gather and analyze student performance data in a timely and efficient way that allows them to adjust and customize teaching based on what individual students need, e.g. more practice or more challenge.

What are we doing?

One of our current projects is to develop and pilot two apps (for use on standard feature phones and smartphones) that accelerate learning of academic and health career-related vocabulary and concepts for adults preparing to enter postsecondary education and technical training.

With funding from Nellie Mae Education Foundation, World Education’s National College Transition Network is recruiting six adult educators in New England to pilot a new mobile phone project, called Words2Learn.

Whether students work in groups or individually, in or out of the class, the core strategies of the apps will include:
  • Introducing learners to the words (listening to the pronunciation, reading the definition, and seeing the word used in a sentence)
  • Engaging learners in higher level thinking activities (students will have the ability to type their reflection/opinion of how they would respond to a given scenario)
  • Checking students’ knowledge (student feedback on objective exercises)
We are planning on adopting a flipped classroom approach. During class time, we expect teachers to work to deepen students’ understanding by giving them any needed support. Using this approach, teachers will also have more time to provide opportunities to extend and apply what students have previously learned from the app. Students are given five words at each session through the apps developed for this project. The apps will be designed to provide students multiple exposures to each word or concept in different formats to optimize learning. Reports of student activity and progress can be accessed by the teachers from a web-based platform. We’ll also investigate if with training teachers can learn to create their own learning activities in the apps.

The pilot ends in December 2013, so we’ll be sure to let you know our findings after that.

World Education has been studying the viability of mobile technology in education for years. Here are some other examples of the work we have been doing:
  • With funding from USAID, World Education, in collaboration with its Cambodian partners is implementing the Total Reading Approach for Children (TRAC) program to support a new reading curriculum. As part of the grant, an android app is being developed to help support learning with smartphones and tablets. The devices will be available for children through libraries.
  • Since 2011, CocoaLink, with support from World Education provides text messages to cocoa farmers with information crucial to improving yield.


Steve Quann is Senior Advisor for Technology in Education at World Education, Inc. In his role as instructional technologist, he designs, develops, and evaluates e-learning projects. He taught English language learners for many years and co-authored books on integrating technology with English language learning.

This article was published in the February 2013 edition of the World Education/U.S. newsletter. Go to our newsletter archive to view the rest of the current newsletter as well as earlier newsletters, or sign up for the newsletter here.