Mobile device use continues to be on the rise, growing exponentially since its introduction. The use of smartphones grew 50% from 2011 to 2012 and there are now four times as many smart phone owners as computer owners in the United States. Not only has the use of mobile devices grown, it has expanded and will continue to do so. Many people now use a combination of devices such as personal computers or laptops, smartphones, and tablets, with each new device gaining popularity and widespread use faster than the last one. With improvements and acceptance of new devices such as Google Glass or smartwatches on the horizon, the use of mobile technology is only increasing.
The first “smart” phone, the Simon Personal Communicator was introduced twenty years ago, but had a short life on the market of only about 6 months. As the idea of mobile devices grew, more “smart” phones were released over the next decade. The Blackberry wasn’t introduced until 2002 as the first phone optimized for wireless email use, and finally the iPhone came out in 2007 with its multi-touch interface that set the stage for smartphones as we know them today. Tablet use has grown rapidly, and even though the iPad was only introduced in 2010, tablets now drive more website traffic than smartphones. According to the 2013 Adode study The State of Mobile Benchmark, tablet users behave more like PC users, so these devices seem to be an ideal combination of the usability of computers, combined with the mobility of smartphones.
Many students own one or more of these mobile devices, and wish to use those they don’t own. The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2013 by the Educause Center for Analysis and Research showed that both student use and importance rating of laptops and smartphones has significantly increased since 2012. Although tablets and e-readers did not change much in their level of importance, they both saw an increase in their use, with more than twice as many students using tablets in 2013 compared to 2012. The results demonstrated that adults significantly own more tablets than undergraduates, which coincides with the 2013 University of Central Florida survey, Exploring Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education by Baiyun Chen and Aimee deNoyelles, which showed that graduate students and older students were more likely to own tablets than undergraduates and younger students. Of those who did have access to a tablet, 82% said they used the device for academic purposes.
As mobile devices continue to change and grow, students face two major hurdles in utilizing these tools to learn. First, students, particularly young undergraduates, need access to these devices, whether they loan them from their university or are given discounts from the manufacturer. Second, students need to be digitally literate and receive training from their instructors on how to properly use mobile technologies for learning. Universities will have to tackle these issues and get on board with digital, or risk being left behind.