March 3, 2015

Embracing Mobile Technology – A Gateway to Learning

by Joanna Yala, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Sinai Hospital 

In an increasingly technological world, teachers and students are being pushed to adapt. Smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers are quickly replacing the conventional blackboard and chalk. I believe that transitioning from traditional note-taking and lectures to incorporating mobile devices and on-line information sharing into our classrooms can positively impact the learner’s experiences.  In this discussion it is helpful to understand what learning and memory entails. Learning is the acquisition of skill, knowledge as well as attitudes, while memory is the expression of what the learner has acquired.1 

As today’s technology constantly develops, we face a dilemma — risking turning away from what is already tried and tested to venturing out into the unknown and untested. As educators, we want to fulfill our duty to prepare our students with the knowledge and skills necessary to equip them for their future endeavors, but we also want to deliver the learning experiences in a controlled, safe environment. Thus, the decision for institutions to shift towards online classrooms and the use of mobile devices in tandem with the face-to-face instruction is critical.

There have been multiple studies that have evaluated the use of the mobile devices (e.g. smartphone, tablet, and computer) as an instructional tool. Social media allows a reflective output for ideas and computer applications have allowed for file-sharing.  These advances have expanded our capabilities and created virtual centers of learning.

An observational study of undergraduate students’ adoption of a mobile note-taking tool was conducted at the University of Chester in the United Kingdom.2  The software tool allowed educators to provide mobile support to students’ learning and provided an array of functions for the gathering and management of information.  The tool allowed students to easily record ideas using voice notes as well as save pictures and handwritten notes. There was positive feedback and recommendations from the test subjects reading the use of this particular platform.  Users felt the tool positively impacted their organizational skills.

In another study conducted by the Center for Teaching Excellence at the United States Military Academy, the best practices for teaching using iPads were explored.3  All the students in this setting had iPads available to them. The participants (teachers and students) deemed the devices beneficial, but the results also revealed concerns with their use such as the need to have access to the Internet, appropriate software applications for peer-to-peer and student-professor interactions, and user competency. Despite these concerns, the student interest in the subject matter seems to be one of the most important factors to consider when selecting the best teaching method. Thus, software developers have continuously tried to design applications that make the learning experience more enticing, convenient, and user-friendly.  Features common to mobile devices include capturing photos, videos of lectures, and hand-written notes as well as accessing electronic documents.

In light of the current capabilities of mobile devices as a tool to enhance instruction, I think they can be effectively used to improve learning. Studies suggest positive behavior changes when students use them for independent study under the guidance of an instructor. Social learning is also cultivated through peer-to-peer interaction with online discussion boards.

The world has evolved so much in the past two decades. Students were once dependent on every word a lecturer said, hurriedly scribbling them down in notebooks. Now we are privileged to access information with just a few taps on a screen – anywhere, anytime. By conditioning ourselves to embrace new methods of presenting and organizing information, educators can provide a gateway to limitless knowledge and possibilities.


1. Kazdin A. Learning and Memory. Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology [Internet]. c2000 [cited 2015 2 Feb]. 4128p.
2. Shepman, A, Rodway P, Beattie C, Lambert J. An Observational Study of Undergraduate Students’ Adoption of (mobile) Note-takingSoftware. Computers in Human Behavior. 2012 ;28 (2): 308-317.
3. Beskow D, Deb A. Increasing Learning with iPads and Social Media [Internet]. Center for Teaching Excellence, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York; 2013 [cited 2015 Feb 2]. 11p.

No comments: