Nearly nine out of 10 further education lecturers think their teaching is improved by using mobile phones and hand-held computers to support student learning, a text message survey has found.
Mobile technologies such as smart phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) helped to raise student achievement and retention rates, as well as making learning more flexible and interesting, according to a study of the first year of the two-year Mobile Learning Network (Molenet) programme.
The Learning and Skills Council made Pounds 6 million available in 2007-08 to support 32 projects involving 10,000 students and more than 2,000 staff at 75 colleges and 18 schools. The money was used to buy more than 10,000 hand-held devices, including PDAs, smart phones, MP3 and MP4 players and digital cameras. It also provided the infrastructure to support the devices, including wireless routers and servers, and complementary technology such as smart whiteboards.
The students - most aged between 14 and 25 - and lecturers have been surveyed to assess the effectiveness of the Molenet programme, which is being run by the Learning and Skills Network.
The findings suggest there was an 8 per cent improvement in the retention rates for learners involved in Molenet projects compared to actual retention in 2006-07. And the achievement rates of 5,000 students were predicted to improve by 10 per cent compared to actual achievement in 2006-07.
Of 902 students who responded to the text message survey, 69 per cent said mobile technologies had helped them to learn, and a further 22 per cent reported that the devices had possibly helped them.
Three out of five students said that the devices had made learning more interesting and three-quarters said they had helped them learn outside the classroom and outside college hours.
Of the 112 staff who responded to the survey, 86 per cent said mobile technologies had enhanced their teaching. Seven out of 10 believed the use of mobile devices had helped them to make their teaching more interesting to students, and 73 per cent felt that technology had helped their students to learn.
The projects also helped to dispel some myths about mobile technology, including fears that students would break or steal the devices.
There was little evidence that the use of some gadgets, such as mobile phones, would make it more difficult for lecturers to control classes, although some staff and students said the novelty of the devices could be distracting.
Fears that mobile technologies might be beyond students with learning difficulties andor disabilities proved groundless, as did the assumption that young people are up to speed with new technology.
There were concerns about the amount of time it could take staff to produce learning materials for use on mobile devices, as well as the technical skills it demanded of them. The report said training and support for staff was critical.
It also said it was important that employers understood and agreed to the introduction of mobile learning technologies on their premises for work- based learning.
The survey found mobile technologies have particular benefits for students on courses that require a considerable amount of work-based learning or field trips.
The second year of the Molenet project has brought the total number of colleges involved to 115, with 4,000 staff involved, and raised the number of students benefiting to 20,000. But funding may not continue beyond this academic year.
Jill Attewell, manager of the Technology Enhances Learning Research Centre at the Learning and Skills Network, said: "Even if no external funding is available after this year, the evidence is that a number of colleges want to do this.
"What we wanted to avoid is the kit-in-cupboards situation by providing training to staff alongside the hardware.
"I think a lot of people are now beginning to see the uses of mobile technology."
The Molenet report is due to be presented to the LSN's conference, The Shape of Things to Come: new research in education and skills, on April 21 in London.