Research Shows Mobile Apps Help Students Learn

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – New research from the University of Maryland has found that mobile Apps – and even text messages – enhanced learning and produced a richer learning experience for college students.

Two introductory media courses, open to all majors, are taught in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism by Professor Ronald Yaros. Since 2005, Yaros has been testing how younger audiences engage with, and learn from, digital information.

“Blending technology with learning produced measurable outcomes from mobile tasks, assignments, text messages, and assessments,” says Yaros.

Results from four experiments and surveys appear in the current issue of the International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning.


During the same weeks in spring 2012, 75 undergraduate students from both courses completed identical assignments using the course’s custom app on mobile devices. Forty-four students used a university provided tablet and 31 students used either a provided iPod or their own iPod. A few students used their own smartphone to complete the tasks.

Journalism Professor Ron Yaros. Image credit: University of Maryland

Results from all four studies provided support for the integration of mobile devices to complete independent assignments that are hands-on and interactive and can be completed any time, anywhere. Course performance was measured by the quality of the students, research and their production of course related mobile content (audio, video, social media). Surveys measured students’ perceived value of practicing advanced mobile skills. Interestingly, the students initially rated the practice exercises for producing mobile content as easy, Yaros said. But when they had to apply the same skills to collect data and interviews for the graded assignment in the field, that easiness increased to difficulty. They might take photos or upload video to YouTube, but they suddenly realize the legal, ethical, and production challenges associated with quality media. Students also under estimated the value of rehearsing mobile media skills, expressing later that the rehearsal was key to the best possible assignment grade.

A four-day mobile assignment that concluded with a mobile quiz measured learning. Students were required to view mobile video and read mobile content. In a novel twist, students were offered the option to subscribe to the professor’s text messages for additional guidance in the assignment. Those subscribing to text messages received three text messages daily to guide their thoughts and study. The results showed there was a statistically significant higher quiz scores for those receiving the texts. There were no significant differences in the results, however, between those who used tablets from those who used smaller devices and phones.

The fourth and final study was an end-of-semester survey that compared responses from the two mobile courses with responses from 459 students other “blended” courses on campus that did use mobile devices. Again, results produced a significantly higher ratings in overall course satisfaction, access to course content and the intention to take future blended courses from students in the mobile courses. “I think this demonstrates that while mobile devices alone may not always be useful in education, the additional time and effort to build course content around the mobile learner could be very powerful,” Yaros (right) says. “I think tapping and testing the power of the newest technology is one of the biggest challenges for higher education.”

*Source: University of Maryland

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