In his 2017 book Irresistible, behavioural psychologist Adam Alter describes a mini-experiment he conducted on himself. He estimated the number of times he accessed his smartphone daily, and the total amount of time he spent on it every 24 hours. He then installed an app, Moment for iPhone, which measured his behaviour. His estimate was 10 times and 1 hour; the reality was 40 times and three hours. And he was way below the average. (Try it yourself with Moment or MyAddictometer for Android. If you’re brave enough.)
Smartphones barely existed 10 years ago, and users spent an average of 18 minutes per day on their phones in 2008, so this is an extraordinarily rapid behavioural change. What are its implications for learning?
In 2014/5 the team at Clarity put a lot of resources into researching how students use different devices for learning. Broadly, we found resistance to watching video on mobile, a preference for working with longer texts (both for reading and writing) on laptops and desktops and an enthusiasm for micro-learning on smartphones. This included pre-learning vocab with games. A brief overview can be found here.
But either we were at least partly wrong, or the tide has turned swiftly against these conclusions.
Two pieces of evidence. First, by a very large margin — perhaps 90% — the biggest gripe students have with Road to IELTS, the online IELTS prep program we co-publish with the British Council, is that they can’t use it on their mobile. The comments show that this causes real frustration. It is surely counter-intuitive that students would choose to practise for IELTS, which involves long and complex texts and essay writing, on such a small screen. And yet they do.
This reinforces the second point. Over the last year we have been developing the latest HTML5 version of Study Skills Success, another program that involves working on longish academic texts. The new technology enables the program to run on smartphones, and over the last three weeks we have tested the beta version with a group of 15 students. It’s a small sample, but enough to get a general impression of the way things are going.
Here are four typical answers to the question, ‘What do you like about the new version of Study Skills Success?’
- ‘I think the mobile learning is a good experience for me.’
- ‘I can use it in any devices. So it is quite convenient. There is no geographical limitation to get access to the program.’
- ‘Even if you are a first time user, you will find Study Skills Success is very easy to navigate. It is also compatible with different devices and browsers, you can study wherever you are.’
- ‘The thing I like about SSS is that it gives you option on how to run it — on a desktop browser, on a mobile browser, on tablet — as long as I have the account details I can use it wherever and whenever.’
The truth of the matter is that mobiles are now so sophisticated that the detailed interactions that seemed so challenging even three or four years ago are now smooth and intuitive, especially to the program’s target age group. As we roll out the program from November 1st in beta version and December 1st as a full new version, we will be able to gather real data on which devices students choose to run it. But actually, I think we already know the answer.
If you would like to trial the new version of Study Skills Success with your students, please send me an email. Meanwhile, here are some screenshots — on mobile, naturally.