A survey of mobile learners and teachers

For an assignment, “Each learner is to produce three critical findings from the survey and suggest three recommendations in support of/against mobile learning based on the outcome of the survey. Support your comments with the survey results. Post comments on your blogs giving a background of the study to your readers.”

In the late spring 2011, the course participants in Mobile Learning, a class out of the University of Manitoba’s Emerging Technologies for Learning certificate program, created and sent a survey to their networks of friends and colleagues asking their views of the future of mobile learning. Using SurveyMonkey, we received 153 responses to our request. Because this was an opt-in survey, and because the link could be forwarded to anyone outside of these networks, we do not know how many people may have actually received the invitation to participate. Assuming we had an acceptable, roughly 30%, response rate, we might estimate that the reach extended to roughly 450 people or greater.

These folks, of course, as a sample, are not truly representative of the population as a whole. For one thing, they are limited by their inclusion in a network of people that start with adult students enrolled in an online course about mobile technologies in education. I think a good case could be made that this network would already be primed to be thinking about these issues if not actively engaged in them already. For another thing, they are also self-selected: those who took the survey had to take action to get to the survey itself (that is, click a link in a post or email).  That means they may have already been interested in the topic or they may simply know a person who personally asked that they complete the survey. All these caveats are just to say that this is not a random sample but a deliberate one.

Because I am focused on K-12 education, here I’ll look at the responses primarily from that group of people. Out of the 153 respondents, 49% (75 respondents) identified themselves as working in the K-12 sector. This result was surprising to me; I expected most participants to be postsecondary instructors and I also expected that K-12 was severely limited in its ability to embrace mobile technologies. Here in my geographic area, most schools have a strict policy against using cell phones at any time during the school day, for example. Still, the results are pretty interesting.

Finding 1: Respondents are divided over mobile devices’ gaming possibilities for education

Respondents were given a prompt that read “Indicate your level of agreement with each statement on potential or suitable uses of mobile devices in formal education or institutional training settings.” Choices to rank were the following:

  • to conduct polls (clickers)
  • handheld gaming situations
  • access lecture notes
  • conduct searches or research
  • communication device (IM, email)
  • complete forms
  • collaboration (documents, content creation)
  • play audio or video podcasts
  • geolocations

Both K-12 and university respondents were divided on the question of handheld games, with slightly fewer K-12 workers strongly disagreeing that they had a place in education and slightly more strongly agreeing that they did. Summing the two categories “agree” and “strongly agree,” 53.6% of K-12 respondents agreed that handheld gaming had potential, whereas 58.8% of university respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed. Given the recent report Pockets of Potential, which documented that in 2008 more than 50% of children ages 6-9 owned a portable video game, I would have expected many more K-12 associated respondents to see these devices as possibilities for learning (Shuler, 2009, p. 11).  If I had the opportunity to add a question, I would have asked respondents whether they were parents and attempted to correlate these responses. Anyone who is around children should see clearly that gaming is part of their lives. Research company Latitude just issued the results of a worldwide survey of children on the future of technology that found 48% of the children envisioned games as the future of technology.

Games should be incorporated into learning experiences, even if to reinforce and support more traditional learning goals. More than three-quarters (77.18%)  of survey respondents  are between the ages of 31 and 60, so I would be interested in how that answer breaks down in a larger, more diverse group. Perhaps people around my age (I’m 46) think only of the disruptive possibility of games rather than their educational use? In any case, my recommendation that gaming be taken seriously as one tool in the educator’s belt is not supported by the survey results, but I think that in this case the survey respondents were short-sighted.

Finding 2: Respondents in both K-12 and postsecondary accessed online public resources with their mobile devices more than they accessed either proprietary, fee-based, or institutional content

The results of our survey fit well with the general trend for mobile use; a Pew Internet Project study recently found that 25% of adult smartphone owners surveyed used their smartphone as their primary connection to the Internet, so it is not surprising that our survey respondents accessed Internet resources on their mobile devices.

Clearly this finding supports mobile devices as an important connection to Internet resources. YouTube “how to” videos, Wikipedia entries, and Cooks.com recipes are perfectly bite-sized pieces of content to access using a device that is smaller than a laptop or desktop.

What is intriguing about our survey respondents is that their access to public resources that are not specifically “educational” outpaces their access to those that deliberately are (OERs): out of all our survey respondents, 86.1% accessed public resources and less than half that percentage (41.7%) accessed OERs. A clear takeaway from this finding is that if you want to reach the widest audience of learners, using public sites is a key strategy: this obviously brings up the question of how, then, learners could find your resources. Corollaries to this question might be these: if you use public resources for learning, how do you find them? Once you find them, how do you know they’re credible? If you don’t find them at first, what do you do?

Finding 3: Respondents believe that mobile technology use is less likely to grow in elementary school settings

Asked to ” Think about changes in technology and learning coming in the next five years: what do you think might happen?” respondents mostly replied that “Mobile devices will be used…” more frequently in most learning situations. However, nearly one third of all respondents (32.4%) thought that mobile devices would be used about the same or even less frequently in elementary school settings: among K-12 respondents, 32.7% responded similarly; among postsecondary, 32.4% did.  No other setting or group came close to this outcome—college, high school, and other settings all were identified by respondents as frequently or more frequently using mobile devices by a large margin.

In the survey, 69.3% of K-12 respondents identified their role as instructor/teacher/faculty and 18.7% as administrator. I would be curious about the breakdown of the response to this question along teachers and administrators. Likewise, I wonder what the breakdown of respondents is by level taught (K-5, 6-8, 9-12). If the survey were more robust and generalizable, as a marketer in K-8 educational publishing I would have to wonder whether any new digital efforts involving mobile learning would be worthwhile: if the people within those institutions believe that the elementary level is not a site for innovations in using mobile technology, perhaps that is not the area to pursue. At the same time, however, I question whether the students wouldn’t give a different answer. Adults not directly involved with elementary aged children may have different ideas about their capabilities when it comes to technology in general. According to the Pockets of Potential report, children under age 12 in the United States “constitute one of the fastest growing segments of mobile technology users” (p. 4), and mobile technology with its instant-on, instant-gratification seems ideally matched to children. Perhaps one recommendation out of our survey is to persuade educators “in the field” that this is so by showing them successful implementations of mobile technologies for younger people so their pessimism decreases.


Addendum: See other analyses conducted by my colleagues in the course:






Shuler, C. (2009). Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning, New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

4 thoughts on “A survey of mobile learners and teachers

  1. shakboot19 says:

    As always , your writing is professional and to the point. I find it unsettling that mobile use is not

    well embraced as a device for the future. People do not seem to be watching what is

    happening around them. Much work to be accomplished in the K-12 sector, for sure.

  2. Sally Pardue says:

    check out the comparative views of “public” and university presidents regarding on-line learning with some offshoot analysis regarding the devices used to connect. Since we are currently in the process of creating new teachers within this myriad of formal higher ed allowances and expectations, we won’t be able to stay in front of this issue across the board with all educators in the system, so let’s ride the wave. Let’s engage the users of the technology (the students) to determine how best to use “mobility” as a tool in their own learning.

  3. Arlen Wilcock says:

    Would you be willing to share the actual survey you used?

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