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Mobile phones in the classroom – what does the research say?

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Mobile phones in the classroom – what does the research say?

In a recent Teacher article, two schools discussed their differing policies on mobile phone use during school hours. Here, we look at a range of studies that have explored the positives and negatives of allowing mobile phones to be used in class.

As Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs become more widespread, questions are being raised about the benefits of allowing students to actively use mobile phones as learning devices in school. Over the past decade, several studies have taken a closer look at student and educator perspectives on the issue.

One comparative study was undertaken across two schools in England in 2012, and details how students from each school use their devices during class time. One school allows the use of mobile devices and one doesn’t.

The study titled “I don’t think I would be where I am right now.” Pupil perspectives on using mobile devices for learning conducted student surveys. The results show that 43 per cent of students attending the school where devices are banned are still using them to help with learning despite the ban. Meanwhile, 74 per cent of students at the school which allow them, use the devices to aid learning.

Most respondents in this study say they use their device for Google and calendars during the school day. As for learning at home, most students also rely on their device.

‘A few days ago, my friend didn’t understand one of the questions on the Science homework, so he Facetimed me, and I showed him my answer and I explained how I got that answer to him ...’ one student says.

The research shows that students rely mostly on their devices to keep them organised. The calendar, alarms and camera (usually to take photos of a teacher’s notes) are features constantly used by students, the report notes. ‘One pupil said his device was essential for “remembering things” and without he would “forget to take homework in a lot”.’

Overall, this study proposes that mobile devices are a suitable learning tool for the classroom.

‘There is clear evidence that many pupils feel that they are deriving educational benefit from the use of their devices,’ the report says. ‘They are using many of the features of their devices and often finding creative ways to employ these features in their schoolwork, both at home and at school.’

Students with concerns

A study conducted in the US reveals concerns held by some students about the risks involved with allowing mobile phones to be used freely at school. The research, Hold the phone! High School Students’ Perceptions of Mobile Phone Integration in the Classroom, which was published in 2016, found that although seven out of 10 of students interviewed think mobile phones support learning, serious concerns still exist among 30 per cent of respondents, who feel the negative effects of smartphones justifies a school-wide ban.

Across the 628 students surveyed, worries range from general distraction (for example, phones ringing during class) to fears about other students using smartphones to cheat, sext and cyberbully.

Despite this, the study also found that 90.7 per cent of the students surveyed were using their mobile phones for school-related work.

The authors of this study say that school policy makers should consider these findings and ‘develop clear policies on appropriate classroom mobile phone use as well as consequences for their misuse … expecting schools to completely eliminate the problems associated with mobile phone integration, however, is unrealistic; therefore, school stakeholders must carefully consider the benefits and barriers identified by students in determining policy.’

Mobile phone use – a teacher’s perspective

As for what teachers think about including the use of mobile phones in their lessons, one US study looked at nine teachers’ attempts to incorporate various technology devices in their lessons.

The study, Teaching and learning with mobile computing devices from 2015 details the experiences of one Mathematics teacher, Steven, who uses an iPhone in class. 

‘Steve used his own iPhone to document students’ work and attendance,’ the study says. ‘He uploaded scanned tests, quizzes, assignments, and photographs into a web-based software application called Evernote. Each of his students [primarily 9th and 10th graders] had a file in this program … this was helpful to Steven when conducting formal and informal parent-teacher conferences and also when discussing with other teachers and administration.

‘Steven enjoyed the flexibility of mobile devices by holding class in locations other than his classroom, such as the auditorium and outside … [and] he could use his iPhone to “pull up every document [he’s] ever scanned in and get a much bigger, much more accurate picture” of a student’s progress.’

Although participants in this study say using a mobile device in the classroom involved the need for exploration and a lot of personal research, the authors suggest that with the growing trend of BYOD, schools should consider integrating mobile devices into lesson plans.


Grant, M.M, Tamim, S., Brown, D.B., Sweeney, J.P., Ferguson, F.K., & Jones, L.B (2015). Teaching and learning with mobile computing devices: Case study in K-12 classrooms. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 59(4), 32-45. DOI:

Thomas, K, & Muñoz, MA. (2016) 'Hold the Phone! High School Students' Perceptions of Mobile Phone Integration in the Classroom', American Secondary Education, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 19-37.

Walker, R. (2013) “I don't think I would be where I am right now". Pupil perspectives on using mobile devices for learning', Research in Learning Technology, vol. 21, pp. 1-12. DOI: 10.3402/rlt.v21i2.22116 

Terence Mills 24 April 2018

See also: Louis-Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy 2015, ‘Ill Communication: Technology, Distraction & Student Performance’, < >

Anushua Gorai 07 May 2018

I think the learning institutes should not hold back themselves to embrace mobile devices as learning medium. From Steven’s example, we can clearly see how mobile devices empowered him with flexibility in teaching. As our times have transformed from a mobile-first to a mobile-only world, the benefits of using these devices for learning are numerous. Undoubtedly these devices have fostered faster learning, effective understanding, greater transparency and uninterrupted flow to education.
However, providing unmonitored devices to the students during study hours comes at its own cost. The simplest solution to this challenge which school stakeholders can implement is an Enterprise Mobility Management solution. An EMM solution can selectively lock unproductive non-educational websites and applications so that students do not get distracted. It can apply controls to the student-owned devices in such a way that the learning applications are launched as soon as the students enter the perimeter of the school at pre-defined time.
This will help to check unproductive hours and ensure that devices are turned into single purpose devices.
Some benefits of using mobile devices as a learning aid are:
1. Improves the convenience to study from a vast collection of resources
2. Increases engagement between teacher and students
3. Paperless and quick distribution of study materials

Steven Bailie 22 May 2018

Hi - I am a teacher of 16 year old students, in science. I use teacher tools, electronic and otherwise.
The article above talks about student perceptions, and the teacher’s use of a ‘mini-computer’ themselves, not the teacher’s view of students’ use. I am currently counting teacher time spent on bringing student attention away from the device and towards class. Next I will assess the difference in student performance when teacher regulates device use, and when students self-regulate. I think ‘addiction’ is a pertinent topic to discuss with students.

TH 10 September 2018

Smartphones SHOULD be able to be used for all the positive educational outcomes spouted by “experts”, (and we would expect that young people themselves would desperately point to positive uses if they feel that they are under threat) but the reality is that, at very least, they are a very significant distraction. Teachers aim to make lessons more fun and interesting than the latest game or a student’s best friend’s latest ‘insta’ post, but this is a tall order.

Dmitry 17 October 2018

What if we look at it slightly different?

There should be a place for technology in kids lives but in classroom attention should be on the teacher not technology that might reduce attention.
On the other hand emergency contact should be allowed just for that. Something like KISA Phone should be suitable for that.

foolkiller 04 December 2018

fools technology has already ascended teachers do you really think you can stop kids from using their phones in class pshh no you just dont understand what technology does for us and you still take it for granted.

KP 11 December 2018

Students tend to tell half truths.
Reality is far different. Students can take photos etc and go on social media sites.
Some students do use the phones as mentioned but it is a minority.
The question is do we put up with students publishing fights and photos on the internet. Playing games and texting. This takes away time from learning.
I agree that mobiles are an addiction. I have seen an ex student lose jobs because of the use.
Parents start it.

J 22 January 2019

While it’s true that electronic devices such as laptops and mobile phones can be a benefit to the educational experience, I find that the monitoring the usage of such devices is usually more hassle than they’re worth.

In a typical class of students, I find that most of them will NOT have the discipline to only use the devices as intended, and many instead will be busy either going through random posts, grams, snaps, or what have you - either that, or they’re thinking about doing said activities, which obviously reduces their attention span and thus, their capacity to learn.

Perhaps I could manage the classroom better to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but after 7 years of teaching, I certainly do not agree with the notion that these devices are beneficial to most students in the classroom.

Nat 28 January 2019

I agree with some of the comments above..“Smartphones SHOULD be able to be used for all the positive educational outcomes spouted by “experts”,  but the reality is that, at very least, they are a very significant distraction.”  Students tend to tell half truths.
Reality is far different. Students can take photos and go on social media sites.” Perhaps I could manage the classroom better to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but after 7/ 20 years of teaching, I certainly do not agree with the notion that these devices are beneficial to most students in the classroom. and this ”

This kind of mobile phone use in class is escalating and I spend many hrs of lesson time every week trying to find a fair and reasonable way forward.  Simple matter is, not all kids are not mature enough to switch off phones and due to addiction like behaviours cannot ignore temptations to look at messages and tweets. Lessons are disrupted and learning outcomes are being threatened. Phones are causing an increase risk of mental health related issues and they also inflame social issues at schools and pose a threat to all school members when they are used to film fights, organise fights and can generally destroy the reputation of a school to due to the rapid spread of photos, texts and video data.
This is not supportive of the role of education or student health and welfare. We need to look at a new phone policy seriously in our schools and find one that supports the use of devices and technology but also protects the welfare of our youth.

Scalefusion MDM 10 May 2019

Thanks for sharing this interesting post, Dominique! using mobile phones in the classroom is a debatable topic with varied views and notion among educational body stakeholders. BYOD, if managed and secured stringently with proper BYOD Management Solution, can provide significant benefits to both educational institutions and as well as learners. The trend shows that educational bodies are increasingly adopting BYOD policies as it provides advantages of 360-degree learning, improved agility and productivity among students as they use their own personal devices to learn and reduce huge recurring IT cost fo the education enterprises.

Philip Roach 06 November 2019

There is a time and proper place for everything, including mobile phones for educational purposes. But this is a separate question to their use in classrooms. There can be good use but there is a lot of very poor use also. I don’t know of any student who keeps their mobile phone on their person when playing competitive sport or engaging in water activities. Don’t we find it absurd when people are on the phone in a restaurant? Don’t we see messages in cinemas telling us to turn our phones off? Mobile phones don’t have to be constantly accessible. Where they are an impediment in the workplace, and this includes workplaces known to students, they are restricted. The classroom should follow suit. I am supportive of government moves to regulate phone use in schools.

Marc 19 November 2019

I’m just not sure how relevant research conducted 6, 7 or even 8 years ago actually is to this argument today. The potential of this tech changes so rappidly, it is different this year than it was even 2 years ago.

William 27 December 2019

I am sorry to sound quite harsh on this article, but it has scant evidence for its claims.

First, the argument that students use smartphones for learning in schools that banned them is not an argument that smartphones are effective for learning. Nor do the differentiate if those students used them in class. It sidesteps the argument that allowing smartphone use in class distracts students.

Second, the anecdotal evidence of Steve is just that, anecdotal. It is not a controlled experiment, and the anecdotal case study (especially one based on the opinion of the teacher) of one person is hardly evidence that smartphone use for students is effective.

Lastly, there is a wealth of literature showing that allowed use of smartphones and other devices is highly distracting from the content, leading to poor academic performance. They never address this problem throughout the article.

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