5 Benefits of Using Cellphones in School: Smartphones as Learning Tools

Educational Technology Updated January 7, 2016

Are cellphones in the classroom a good idea? Does this device serve as a valid learning tool or just as another distraction contributing to the social disengagement of children?

Smartphone ownership

Cellphones have come a long way since the two-pound, $3,995 Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was first introduced in 1984. Subsequent generations of mobile phones continued to evolve and became more affordable and portable, and offered even more value beyond a means to call others.


The Original DynaTAC 8000X–not exactly our idea of portable.

The advent and widespread adoption of the smartphone — essentially a miniature, portable computer — has shifted the playing field even more dramatically. What was once thought of by parents as a device for children to use “in case of emergencies” is now being used for all aspects of living.

Despite the ongoing discussion surrounding the efficacy of digital devices in the classroom, schools must face the fact that smartphones are already being utilized by students of all ages. According to Neilson Research, smartphone sales in 2012 soared with 55.5 percent of all mobile subscribers using smartphones. The numbers get more impressive the younger the demographic, as nearly 74 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34 owned smartphones.

What is most interesting, however, is the number of teens using these devices: The ownership of smartphones for those 13 to 17 years of age was at 58 percent, up a whopping 22 percent from 2011. Young people are acquiring smartphones at a staggering rate.

App availability

Apple alone reported in 2012 that more than 35 billion apps had been downloaded. That number has grown to over 75 billion in 2015. All in all, there are more than 1.2 million apps available, over 10 percent of which were said to be educational or reference apps. That means there were over 150,000 apps specifically geared toward students, many of which were for very young students.

From colors to ABC’s to “The Little Engine That Could,” what used to be taught through books is now being learned through apps. The “Apples in Education” website features thousands of apps and other resources for digital devices in the classroom. The applications for using smartphones from preschool through college are in place and growing.

Reasons to use smartphones in the classroom

With the widespread use of smartphones by younger and younger students, what are the practical reasons for allowing smartphones as a learning tool in the classroom? Consider these points:

  • Students learn in a way they are comfortable. Smartphones are young-person intuitive. More and more students know how to use them, and they are becoming the most used “tool” by teens.
  • Students can get answers quickly. Smartphones provide the ability to get answers quickly. In some situations, a student may not ask for clarification to a question he or she has in an open classroom. Use of a smartphone in a classroom setting can provide those answers.
  • Audio and video can bring learning to life. Audio and video capabilities of smartphones can put a voice to John F. Kennedy, a dramatic video image to the Hindenburg disaster, and allow students to hear the music of Chopin or Al Jolson. They can even connect with other students from around the globe and expand their learning world.
  • Access to educational apps. Equipping your classroom with handy learning apps takes learning up a notch. There are many educational apps available in a wide range of subjects for all kinds of learners. These game-like exercises encourage playful competition among your students, while enhancing the way they learn new ideas. Plus, students (and teacher) will love the change from regular lecture instruction.
  • Smartphones allow for social learning. Smartphones can allow students to work in groups on projects, sharing information and discoveries. They can move toward a common goal, again, in a format they are comfortable using.

How to, not if to, use smartphones

Many have to come to terms with the continuing advances in technology as well as how we deal with that technology in the actual classroom. It wasn’t that long ago when teachers were faced with the problem of using simple hand-held calculators in the classroom.

Challenges of leveling the playing field, maintaining proper use and control, and preventing abuse with smartphones are similar to problems faced by teachers in the past. Back then, it was passing a note; today it is texting.

We believe the focus of smartphone use in the classroom should shift from not if they should be used, but how to best use them.

While critics will cite the opportunity for cheating, unauthorized socializing and social isolation issues involved, the fact is students are using smartphones every day, and they are using them to learn. Teachers can be a positive force in helping students use them properly in the classroom.

Further your knowledge about the digital classroom

Here are more articles to enhance your understanding of how digital devices can affect learning:

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This section examines how the rapid advancements in technology have impacted the education and teaching landscape. Articles range from the pros and cons of the BYOD (bring your own device) movement to interviews with prolific ed-tech enthusiasts who have successfully integrated technology into the classroom.


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