Mobile Apps – Educational Tool, Or Medium Of Distraction?

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A Common Household Phenomenon 

Quite often you’ll overhear parents of teenager students speculating if their child’s mobile phone addiction is the reason their academic performance is significantly below their potential. Is there really a correlation?

Based on close interaction with a large number of students and additional scholarly research, I have come to the conclusion that mobile based education is actually a big distraction rather than a valuable tool.

The Teen-y Weeny Attention Span

Most students simply cannot multitask. If you think a teenager can watch a video lecture on their phone, take notes and also answer prompts, think again. Around 97% coulee students use their phones during class for NON-educational purposes. The number of interruptions they have to face on their Smartphones – whether it be 3G/4G connectivity issues, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, text messages, SnapChat, or games – is unbelievable. The truth is the percentage of students who have enough discipline to tune out all these distractions is miniscule.

Students Can’t Multitask – Research Indicates Mobile Phones Negatively Impact Studying 

According to a research study conducted by Ohio University, Illinois State University and Nebraska University, students who use cell phones score lower results and are less likely to be able to take thorough notes – they are mentally preoccupied with irrelevant information. Still not convinced? Well, London School of Economics also conducted a research study and students who did not have access to cell phones in the classroom scored 6% higher on tests. There is research work that indicates just the presence of a phone (not even actual usage of it!) can result in a drop of attention and hinder cognitive performance in tasks such as completing homework.

More Downloads, Less Learning 

Heavy sales and marketing efforts might increase mobile app downloads of educational resources. However, has it really improved learning? Well, it is yet to be proven. Most students struggle with self-regulation and find it challenging to reap the benefits of technology-driven learning when faced with so many distractions – this is especially true for those students who have a propensity for addiction.

Most teachers admit that retaining student interest and engagement is difficult when students are constantly connected to the outside world on their cell phones.

According to Flurry, consumers spend over five hours a day on mobile devices and adolescents are facing serious repercussions. While everyone is trying to repurpose PC specific content for mobile phones, one shouldn’t ignore that research studies indicate excessive mobile usage can lead to depraved learning capacity, impaired immunological systems, headaches, irritability, fatigue, cardiovascular issues, inability to perform daily activities efficiently, fragmented sleep and mental health problems.

How can a medium of distraction with such adverse impact be touted as a tool for studying, which actually requires substantial sincerity and concentration?

Passive Versus Active Learning 

When Di Xu, en economist at Columbia University’s Teachers College, analyzed data from over 40,000 students who had enrolled in online courses at 34 colleges around the state of Washington, he discovered these students earned lower grades and were less persistent compared to students enrolled in classroom based courses. In another research study administered by Troy University on over 50,000 students taking online and face-to-face courses, students enrolled in online classes had higher failure rates than those attending traditional classroom courses.

However, a meta-analysis conducted by University of Washington, concluded that teaching methods, which turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners, reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams tremendously. In fact, active learning was effective to the extent that it converted the score of students from a B to an A.

In a small classroom environment, where interaction with peers and teachers is encouraged even further, the amount of knowledge gained was fully maximized.

In a nutshell, traditional learning offers more holistic understanding of education than online courses because traditional learning techniques value the connection between a teacher and peers – it is less passive than online learning. When students receive no personal acknowledgment and have no one to hold them accountable, they can drop out the second they are unhappy, frustrated or overwhelmed rather than seek assistance. Teachers double up as dedicated guides who see to it that every student completes a course at a pace suitable to their ability to grasp information. Teachers offer personalized coaching – this is something mobile devices cannot offer. Mobile technology is not curated keeping the needs and requirements of students in mind – it is too generic.

Online Learning’s Actual Target Audience 

Although platforms like Udacity, edX and Khan Academy were built to impart knowledge to individuals who might not have access to such information otherwise – especially those in developing areas – the chief beneficiaries of these MOOCs are actually the ones who least need it.

Students who are currently enrolled in such online courses are ones who come in with prior education and high intellectual starting points. Furthermore, they collaborate outside of class. In fact, data suggests that students who succeed in MOOC environments are those who are already self-motivated, self-directed and independent – they would succeed anywhere.

If technology designed for a particular purpose does not fulfil the same, is it really serving its purpose? Clearly not.

Education Must Be Driven By Tech-Savvy Teachers 

Education that incorporates technology is very different from mobile based education that does away with teachers altogether. Although MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) are becoming popular, let’s get real. The one tablet per child project in Thailand has been scrapped. Similarly, a school in Hoboken, New Jersey decided to do away with all its laptops. The haste with with educational institutions are trying to adapt to technology is actually generating more problems than solving any.

A mobile phone does not have the conscience or the understanding that is required to chart the course of education in a manner that genuinely helps students. Only a tutor can do that. Mobile phones might be the answer for everything in today’s world, but in an educational context, they definitely ask more questions than provide answers.

With the help of Smart educational techniques, where a teacher could guide a student individually and also clear their queries through simple group activities and regular practice, the performance of students improves drastically because learning is reinforced through several tactics. Simply relying on digital media removes the direct involvement of a tutor and all they can bring to the table. The way forward is empowering teachers to incorporate technology assisted learning as an important supplemental tool.

Practicing What We Preach – SpeedLabs 

Taking into account all that technology has to offer within the education sector, as well as its shortcomings, Speedlabs has developed a holistic approach that consists of the following –

1) We identify learning gaps through AI algorithms and accordingly offer suitable interventions

2) We engage our students in the learning process to increase participation and ownership

3) We offer positive reinforcement to all students by finding something positive in their responses

4) Our platform cross-checks how much each student is really learning through regular check points

5) We provide corrective feedback through additional clarification and illustration as and when needed

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