New users say iPhones hinder learning

Study participants responded to the sentence "The iPhone will help/helped me do well on academic tests." Before getting the smartphone, the average answer was 3.88. A year later, the average answer was 1.68. (Credit: peterm2000/Flickr)

After a year with a smartphone, people who hadn’t used one before report that the devices had a negative impact on their learning.

“Smartphone technology is penetrating world markets and becoming abundant in most college settings,” says Philip Kortum, assistant professor of psychology at Rice University and the study’s coauthor. “We were interested to see how students with no prior experience using smartphones thought they impacted their education.”

The research revealed that while users initially believed the mobile devices would improve their ability to perform well with homework and tests and ultimately get better grades, the opposite was reported at the end of the study.

The longitudinal study from 2010 to 2011 focused on 24 first-time smartphone users at a major research university in Texas. Prior to the study, the participants were given no training on smartphone use and were asked to answer several questions about how they thought a smartphone would impact their school-related tasks. The students then received iPhones, and their phone use was monitored during the following year. At the end of the study, the students answered the same questions.

When participants were asked to rate their feelings on the following statements specifically related to learning outcomes, such as homework, test-taking, and grades, they provided the following answers (one represents “strongly disagree” and five represents “strongly agree”):

  • My iPhone will help/helped me get better grades. In 2010 the average answer was 3.71; in 2011 the average answer was 1.54.
  • My iPhone will distract/distracted me from school-related tasks. In 2010 the average answer was 1.91; in 2011 the average answer was 4.03.
  • The iPhone will help/helped me do well on academic tests. In 2010 the average answer was 3.88; in 2011 the average answer was 1.68.
  • The iPhone will help/helped me do well with my homework. In 2010 the average answer was 3.14; in 2011 the average answer was 1.49.

Kortum notes that the study does not address the structured use of smartphones in an educational setting, but, he says, the study’s findings have important implications for the use of technology in education.

“Previous studies have provided ample evidence that when smartphones are used with specific learning objects in mind, they can significantly enhance the learning experience,” Kortum says. “However, our research clearly demonstrates that simply providing access to a smartphone, without specific directed learning activities, may actually be detrimental to the overall learning process.”

Coauthors include researchers from the US Air Force Academy, Rice University, and Broadcom Corp.

The National Science Foundation funded the work, which appears in the British Journal of Educational Technology.

Source: Rice University