As said in another post, I live in Spain. From 2008 to 2013, every student at primary school was given a laptop when started 5th grade. From my point of view, it was a failure, for many reasons that I have found in Warschauer & Matuchniak (2010).

First of all, they point out the issue of technology availability everywhere, but mainly at home. They underscore the benefits of home access to the Internet and access to home computer. However, computers must be capable of Internet access.

Differences in race and socioeconomic status seem to be related to technology availability. As a consequence, the lack of computer literacy -both in students as well as in teachers- makes a negative impact on the experience when using technology in class. Warschauer (2006) found out that “students in low-SES schools had less home computer experience, and thus took more time to adapt to using laptops” (as cited in Warschauer & Matuchniak 2010, p. 200). To make things worse, low-SES schools usually haven’t a good support.

Nonetheless, technology availability and computer literacy is not enough. In other words, buying tablets or laptops, and knowing how they work, is insufficient. In my opinion, here is where Warschauer & Matuchniak points out the key of success, when using mobile technologies in class. Let us focus on how technology is used.

Wenglinsky (1998) distinguished between two possible uses: applying concepts of developing simulations on the one hand, and drill and practice activities on the other hand. Becker (2000) reached the following conclusion:

Computer use in high-SES schools often reflected more constructivist and innovative teaching strategies. (…) teachers in low-SES schools were more likely than those in high-SES schools to use computers for remediation of skills and mastering skills just taught (as cited in Warschauer & Matuchniak 2010, p. 198).

But this is not all. Warschauer & Matuchniak continued with the following finding:

Wenglinsky (2005) found a consistently negative interaction between frequency of technology use and test score outcomes in mathematics, science, and reading. This appears to be because of the negative effects of drill and practice activities that are used predominantly with low-SES students. In contrast, the more constructivist educational technology activities typically used with high-SES students were correlated with higher test score outcomes (Warschauer & Matuchniak 2010, p. 204).

This fits with several concepts outlined by Pea & Maldonado (2006). One of them is Heidegger’s idea of ready-to-hand. As I understand it, technology has to be transparent. Technology doesn’t contains what has to be learned. It just help us to see further and understand deeper the reality. Learning with mobile technology has very little to do with fill in the blanks exercises on a screen.

I’d like to add a final word regarding to informal learning. I find very interesting the distinction between messing around and geeking out (Warschauer & Matuchniak 2010, p. 192). It reminds me of peripheral participation (as newbie consumer) and participation in a community. I believe that formal education can benefit from these concepts in a constructivist learning environment.


  • Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of equity in access, use, and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 179-225.
  • Pea, R. D., & Moldonado, H. (2006). WILD for learning: Interacting through new computing devices anytime, anywhere. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge University Handbook of the Learning Sciences (Chapter 25). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Why, sometimes, learning with mobile technology fails?

4 thoughts on “Why, sometimes, learning with mobile technology fails?

  • May 26, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Hi Josemaria – looking forward to exploring many of these issues in our little blog group this semester. To reinforce your point about availability and literacy not being enough: I found the research that included how access through libraries and computer centers very interesting. Just because certain communities had access didn’t necessarily mean that they were able to use the potential of the technology. One of my main takeaways from this lesson was that mobile technology is another tool (though I’m not trying to minimize how powerful the tool is). With that said, the researchers point out that some parents are very hands on and active on coaching their children when they read books at the library – books, after all, are just another tool/technology! In the same way, students who don’t have a great support system (technology support and academic/emotional support), can’t be expected to make great use of the access to technology (laptops/internet/mobile/etc.). To summarize, the digital divide can’t be bridged just by throwing computers into low-SES communities. A great deal of support and scaffolding is needed.

    • May 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      Yes! I totally agree.
      I would say that part of that scaffolding consists on engaging students. Then, using your example, they will take the book by themselves because they like what it tells.
      Also, I find important to keep in mind that mobile, as the book, is not the target itself, but just a tool.

    • May 28, 2015 at 11:52 pm

      Hi Josemaria — Nice working with you this semester. I do admit that learning with technology sometimes fails. I also agree that using mobile technology is not target but rather a means to activities that were otherwise not possible, or to increase the benefits for the learners. However, I disagree with you that mobile is not just a tool like the book. The standard of successful mobile learning should be different with traditional learning. Mobile learning should not be the legacy of traditional learning. It has different features and metrics with any other learning tools. Thus, I think we should use different assessment method for mobile learning.

    • May 29, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Hi Ming – Thanks for your comment! Your are right in pointing out that successful learning is different with traditional learning. I understand that learning with mobiles should pursue the 21st century skills, and include not just learning a topic, but learning to learn.
      How to assess all that is a good question. Isn’t it?

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