How can we enhance mobile learning?

Appsanalysis brainstorm

There's a relatively new term floating around called "The Touch-Screen Generation" which roughly refers to the children of Millenials. Touch-screen mobile devices are even more normal to this new generation than computers were to their parents. Many people are alarmed by this, leery of it effects on the brains of young, growing minds, and recommend limiting the time with and use of touch-screens.

While technology is hurtling into the future at a rapid pace, I'm not convinced trying to slow it down is the best use of our time, or even remotely possible. Instead, how can we change the way this generation of people use technology to encourage positive effects and reduce the chances of a negative impact?

Appsanalysis research question

This is the question my professor, Michele Wong, and I asked while I was studying under her direction at UNT. Looking at the differences between learning in the classroom, learning in daily life, and learning through a mobile device, we came to the conclusion that some parents and experts see touch-screen use as inhibitive to brain development in children because mobile learning, in some ways, lacks the ability to produce critical thinking in its users.

With that concern in mind, Michele guided me through the entire process of collecting quantitative and qualitive data for the top 100 educational iPhone and iPad apps in the Apple app store, and distilling the findings into practical information.

Appsanalysis comment data
Appsanalysis build guide

We came up with a "Build Guide" for principles one should consider when making an educational app for young learners. Some principles spoke directly to the affordances of technology, such as:

"Make your product available across many platforms. Not only do you reach a wider audience by making the product available on the web, phone, and tablet, but each platform lends itself to learning uniquely."

or, they spoke to the users themselves:

"Make the content and interaction useful in a particular moment and/or setting. When learning is relative to the user's experience of life, user satisfaction, enthusiasm, and knowledge retention is greater."
Appsanalysis build guide

Finally, upon creation of the Build Guide, I tried my hand at developing a concept children's app that would follow the guidelines to encourage critical thinking.

Appsanalysis app brainstorm

My sketches of a prototype demonstrate an app that supplies a daily lesson that stretches across multiple subjects, and then encourages the user to respond by thinking differently about what they have learned. Through reframing the setting, connecting what they learned with something related, or imagining it in an entirely new way, the user doesn't just consume information, they construct thoughts, opinions, and ideas about it.

Appsanalysis app idea
Appsanalysis app idea

For example, if the lesson was about why the sky is blue, the app would ask the user questions like:

Imagine: What if the sky were purple?

A fact the user would have learned in the day's lesson is that the ocean appears blue for the same reason the sky does. In this instance, a user might respond by drawing a picture of a beach with purple water, but the app's tools and questions are intentionally left open-ended in a way that should encourage creativity and ingenuity—two ways thinking I hope we can foster in the "Touch-Screen Generation" and in generations to come.

  • Design Research
  • Concept & User Experience

This was a student project led by Michele Wong.