Like It or Not, Students Love Their Mobile Devices for Learning

During the past year, I’ve given many presentations about course design for the Canvas mobile app. I felt the need to share my knowledge on this topic with the Canvas community, because even if instructors aren’t using mobile devices for teaching, their students are using them for learning.

Yes, it’s true that students spend a lot of time on their devices engaging in activities other than learning. Our 2014 UCF Mobile Survey of student mobile personal app usage (n=1181) revealed what keeps their smartphones busy:

  • Social networking – 79 percent
  • Music – 74 percent
  • Social media – 62 percent
  • Photography – 52 percent

We found that mobile apps for education are also used consistently:

  • Reference – 39 percent
  • UCF apps, which includes the Canvas app – 38 percent
  • Book apps – 27 percent

These stats only relate to personal app usage, so you might be wondering why this is important and how it relates to learning. Well, personal usage is important because it tells us what students value most from their mobile devices. This is a good place to meet students if you’re looking to adopt mobile activities in your courses. You don’t necessarily have to friend your students on Facebook or follow them on Instagram, but consider sharing a class hashtag on Twitter, or asking students to do something creative with the camera on their mobile devices. There are endless possibilities that don’t require students to own a top-of-the-line smartphone or tablet.

As for learning, our survey indicated that students used smartphones (77 percent) and tablets (79 percent) for academic reasons. When asked how often their instructors required a mobile device, there was a significant drop-off for smartphones (19 percent) and tablets (13 percent). This reveals a missed opportunity for instructors to engage with students in a way that is familiar to them.

During the spring of 2015, I conducted a survey to find out how often students use the Canvas mobile app. This survey revealed that more than half (56 percent, or 686) of those who responded were using the app. Among those students, 91 percent used the app once a week and 77 percent used it several times a week. I’ve heard many debates about the practicality of the Canvas mobile app during presentations, in the Canvas Community, and at UCF. As you can see from these stats, this debate is irrelevant to students; more than half of them find the app practical enough to use several times a week. Like it or not, the mobile app, not the web, might be the best representation of online courses for students.

You may not have experience with mobile learning, or even be interested in giving it a try, but it’s important to know that your students are. They will continue to engage with your course materials, look for different ways to create content, and do research in innovative ways, even if instructors aren’t leading the way. I encourage every instructor to take a look at their courses through the eyes of a mobile user and to ask themselves this question, “Is this how I want my course represented to more than half of my students?”

Keep learning,

Ryan Seilhamer
Instructional Designer
University of Central Florida