Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years
It is becoming increasingly common for young people to own mobile devices. In the upper grades, it is not at all unusual to find that students carry mobiles, even if they are not allowed to use them during class, and younger students often carry them as well. The unprecedented evolution of these devices continues to generate great interest, and their increasing capabilities make them more useful with each new generation of devices. One recent feature — the ability to run third-party applications — represents a fundamental change in the way we regard mobiles and opens the door to myriad uses for education, entertainment, productivity, and social interaction.


Every edition of the Horizon Report since 2006 has had something to say about mobiles. Mobiles are ubiquitous to the point that they affect every sector and every region. Over the past few years, mobiles have undergone a continual transformation, becoming more capable and flexible with each new release. The ability to record audio and video turned them into portable multimedia devices; as storage capacity increased, they became keepers of our family photos, phone books, and calendars; and now, geolocation, web browsing, and email have brought much of the functionality of a laptop to the pocket-sized devices. In countries like Japan, young people equipped with mobiles often see no reason to own personal computers.

In a marketplace that turns out 1.2 billion new phones each year, innovation is fluid and ever-present. A recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project predicts that by the year 2020, most people across the world will be using a mobile device as their primary means for connecting to the Internet (http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/270/report_display.asp). It is clear that mobiles are already well on the way to becoming a universal tool for communication of all kinds.

About a year ago, another round of new developments took place in the mobile markets — developments that have resulted in a profound change in the way we think about and interact with mobile devices. A new generation of mobiles appeared on the market featuring multi-touch displays, the ability to access the Internet over increasingly higher-speed 3G networks or by using wifi, and the capability for sensing motion and orientation and reacting accordingly using built-in accelerometers. Thanks to built-in GPS, these new devices can locate themselves. They can run robust applications, and they can communicate with and control other devices. Most significantly, their manufacturers are working with the broader community to open up the devices to all the innovation enabled by third-party developers.

The applications being developed have nothing to do with making phone calls. Rather, they expand the capacity of mobiles to keep us in touch with information and activities that we want while we are on the move. Third-party applications are very easy to acquire and install. Commonly priced at just under a U.S. dollar, they include games, reference materials, tools for measuring and calculating, checklists, reading material, productivity applications, social networking tools, and more. In the elementary and secondary sector, applications exist for nearly every subject, from English to history, mathematics, and science. The most common materials are designed for reference and drill, but there are also creative applications for music and art, as well as calculators, reading aids, language aids, and interactive games and simulations.

Applications designed for mobiles can take advantage of built-in features like the microphone and the camera. Ocarina, for instance, is an application for the iPhone that turns the phone into a flute that is played by blowing into the microphone and tapping buttons on the screen. BeeTagg Reader uses the camera to snap a picture of a quick response (QR) code, decoding it and displaying the associated information.

The rapid pace of innovation in this arena continues to increase the potential of these little devices, challenging our ideas of how they should be used and presenting additional options with each new generation of mobiles. While there are policy constraints that limit the use of mobiles in schools, it is apparent that the devices and their new applications have been accepted in the mainstream. As more young people carry mobiles, some innovative schools are beginning to consider how to use mobiles as tools for K-12 education.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Expression

Mobiles are already in use as tools for education on many college and university campuses. At the secondary level, nearly every student carries a mobile device, making it a natural choice for content delivery and even field work and data capture. New interfaces, the ability to connect to wifi and GPS in addition to a variety of cellular networks, and the availability of third-party applications have created a device with nearly infinite possibilities for education, networking, and personal productivity on the go. The combination of available applications and a device that they carry anyway provides an opportunity to introduce students to tools for study and time management that will help them in later life. The implications for K-12 education are dramatic: the potential for mobile gaming and simulation, research aids, field work, and tools for learning of all kinds is there, awaiting development.


Even mobiles that cannot run third-party applications can be used in the classroom. One of the simplest applications is to use short messaging system (SMS) messages to allow student response in place of expensive clicker systems. Products like Poll Everywhere (http://www.polleverywhere.com/) let teachers set up questions online and use a web page to tabulate, graph, and display the results to the class. Students can see, for example, how their answers as a class differ in pre- and post-quiz situations.

Third-party educational applications are readily available for the newest mobiles, and educational content is easy to find for almost every discipline. More sophisticated tools that tap into the unique capabilities of mobile devices like the touch screen, the camera, the microphone, and the accelerometer are quickly emerging. Language learners can look up words; practice listening, speaking, and writing; and compare their pronunciation with a native speaker’s. Graphing calculators display 3D graphs that can be rotated with a finger on the touch screen or viewed from different angles by tilting the phone. Detailed reference materials for medicine or astronomy include the ability to supplement information and illustrations with online sources. The variety and quality of educational content is growing at a fantastic pace.

A sampling of mobile applications across the curriculum includes the following:

  • Mathematics. In addition to applications for flash cards and simple drill practice, math tools for mobiles like Kids’ Fraction Fun (http://www.nscpartners.com/kidsmathfun62233) help students practice skills they are learning in school in a game-like format on the iPod Touch.
  • Science. Mobiles can be used to photograph results of experiments in the lab or outdoors. Students can take measurements using tools like Seismometer (http://coneri.se/iphone/), or perform calculations with tools like ChemiCal (http://www.twssworldwide.com/ChemiCal.html).
  • Art History. Students in Bath, England, will be using Mscape (http://mscapers.com) to create media maps of historical sites in and around the Holburne Museum and Sidney Gardens. Using cameras and mobile devices, the students will develop materials that can be used to raise interest in the site among the community.

Mobiles in Practice

The following examples provide snapshots of how mobile devices are being used in schools.

Google Earth for iPhone
The iPhone version of Google Earth includes all the detail of the desktop version and is available in 18 languages.

Mobile MAAP
Columbia University’s Mapping the African American Past (MAAP) website now includes a mobile version designed to be viewed using the iPhone or iPod Touch.

Panoramio is an application for Android mobiles that brings up a map of the user’s current location and then shows photographs that were taken in the area.

ZooZBeat is an iPhone application featuring a gesture-based musical studio that is easy enough for beginners and also robust enough for professional musicians.

For Further Reading

The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about mobiles.

The Future of the Internet III
(Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, Pew Internet & American Life Project, December 14, 2008.) This report describes the results of a survey of Internet leaders, activists, and analysts assessing predictions about technology and its roles in the year 2020.

How Mobile Is Changing Our Society
(Teemu Arina, Tarina, 18 October 2008.) This blog post explores the blurring boundary between mobile devices and computers and the potential future of what we now call mobiles.

iPhone: 3 Features That Will Impact Education
(Jeff VanDrimmelen, EduTechie.com, 12 June 2007.) This blog post describes three features of the iPhone — multi-touch display, widgets, and iPhone applications with full Internet access — and explains why the author believes they will make a difference for education in particular.

Mobile Learning in Classrooms of the Future
(Suren Ramasubbu & Bruce Wilcox, Converge, September 2008.) This article describes the potential of smart phones to revolutionize K12 education.

Voice in Google Mobile App: A Tipping Point for the Web?
(Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Radar, 18 November 2008.) This blog post discusses the release of speech recognition for searching with Google Mobile App for iPhone and its implications for developing computing services designed to be native to phones.

Delicious: Mobiles

(Tagged by K-12 Horizon Advisory Board and friends, 2009). Follow this link to find additional resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hzk09” and “mobile” when you save them to Delicious.

Posted by NMC on March 17, 2009
Tags: Chapters

Total comments on this page: 7

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Edthoughts on paragraph 9:

I like Ferriter’s most recent post about cell phones in the classroom. It mirrors my own.

April 15, 2009 7:01 pm

[...] more about the impact of the mobile computing revolution on K-12 education, refer to Chapter 8 of the CommentPress version of the 2009 Horizon Report K12 [...]

September 25, 2009 9:41 am

[...] Horizon Report has been highlighting the importance of mobile learning since 2006. The 2009 K-12 edition of the report projected a time-to-adoption for Mobiles as two to three [...]

July 17, 2010 7:56 pm

[...] of these features depends on HOW they are used and indeed, it’s interesting to look at some K-12 Examples from last year’s report and try and locate these scenarios in our [...]

August 3, 2010 7:41 pm
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