Cell phones (Smart Phones) are being used in education more and more, and I am interested to know about the experiences of other teachers.

My own experience went through an evolution and now I use the phone all the time.

A brief history:

Two years ago I was teaching a class of 20 adults in a low-income housing complex. The students told me that the previous teacher often would not show up to class.

So I decided to text everyone when I arrived, just to let them know I was waiting for them.

My "plain" phone had an audio recorder that allowed me to record my voice for 2 minutes, which I thought was really incredible.

So I recorded two-minute lessons of the “homework”. When I first asked them if they could hear the audio, they showed me on their own phones. One student asked me why I did not make a video. I had to admit that my phone was not able to make videos. They all agreed that I needed to buy a Smart Phone.

Well, I finally did buy a Smart Phone and now I use it all the time.

Recently I spent 6 hours on my Smart Phone using it to:

give lessons to my EFL students on WhatsApp including sending and receiving audios and a video which I uploaded to YouTube, have a few conversations with teachers about where to find online lessons, and help a student in Egypt to translate a text with Google Translate.

Basically the Smart Phone is replacing computers, and now using a phone in adult education makes a lot of sense.

Online learning is replacing personal, face-to-face learning in a “live” classroom.  Most adults work and have families, so online or Cyber Learning makes a lot of sense.


Paul Rogers

There is a lot of research on Google,  here is one reference:


My father always detested this "instantly connected to everyone" technology in the late 80s as personal computers and the Internet were coming on board to the public. About ten years ago, he resigned that he had to at least dip his toes in the technology waters in order to communicate at all with the grand kids and the rest of the digitally connected family members. We struggled through many computer options, desktop, laptop, different operating systems and all of the same frustrations came into play for him. Eventually, I dragged him into getting a smart phone and poof, he was in! He found the voice to text commands particularly helpful and relates that kind of technology to Star Trek. Interesting to see how his fondness for the science fiction of talking to the computer on Star Trek conflicts with his continued mistrust and dislike of the Internet today. He is constantly using his phone to look up this phone number, check the weather for a destination they are traveling to, or to just find a good place to eat on the road. He is in his mid 70s now and still travels the country using his smart phone as a travel guide, journal, and often to call me for technical help because "...this stupid thing keeps ...."; he frequently pushes buttons without reading Image removed.

As a teacher, I am open for any tools a student has access to. I feel it is wrong to push all students into any one box, app, device or options. If my students have smart phones I try to use them effectively with that student. Others may not have cell phones but they have a desktop with no Internet at home. No matter what they have or don't have, I feel it is important that we all try to explore and educate each other on as many platforms as possible. After all, our learners all come to us with different resources, strengths and challenges so the more we help prepare each other with information, the better we are in helping each learner find success. 


Paul and Ed, thanks for dialoguing over this very current and important instructional issue! I am, myself, just learning how to use mobile devices and social networks for instruction. Thanks for sharing your experience. Hat's off.

So here's a huge challenge for applying the tools you mention among native-speaking adults, at least, in the Four Corners region and, I suspect, in adult learning programs anywhere that are similar. (The problem does not exist in ESL and among older students, of course.)

This past week, a second youngster, age 11, committed suicide. The trend is growing. The reason? Apparently, the very intelligent and competent young middle-class girl was being bullied, both in school and on Facebook, considered to be the greatest culprit. The word is out: stay away from Facebook and from other programs that freely promote unsupervised dialogue online. Bullying is common place there, and people don't stay away!

Teachers of children and young adults here claim that it is nearly impossible to keep students from misusing their phones and mobile devices (usually cheap phones since they can't afford much more.) At the CO Montezuma/Dolores Adult Ed Program, teachers have had to insist that students leave their phones at the office or be dismissed for the day. Students text during classes without even looking at the phone. They text under the tables and desks. One would ask, "Why do they come to school?" They come because their parents or the court mandates that they come. When I try to get instructors interested in using mobile devices in the learning environment, I hear, "No way!!!"

Any comments? Suggestions? Leecy

Leecy, the problem you wrote about – bullying via cell phones – is complex and beyond my expertise.

I only know how positive cell phones are in adult education. Having said that, I went on Google and typed in “cell phones in education”.

Lo and behold there is a big debate, and I guess the best thing is to study both sides and determine policies.

But, again, here in Lincs, I am talking about adult education, and I have seen only a very small amount of what could be called “bullying” or negaitve comments made by one student to another person. At which point I reiterated my main rule – no making fun of anybody in my English class.  Problem solved.

The only question that  I am concerned about is how to improve classes for adult students using technology in all its forms, and in this respect I am absolutely convinced that Smart phones can and should be included in every adult ESL class.

Some people argue that many people cannot afford Smart phones. Maybe, but if that is the case then any non-profit agency can approach manufacturers of cell phones to get some donated. Laptops are donated in this fashion to libraries. I think a library could loan out a cell phone just like a book.

At the same time, I would use this example to promote the concept of a Literacy Alliance or Network. For example, there could be a class at a community college in computer basics that would also include lessons on cell phone use. Graduates could then go on to other classes in a neighborhood community center near their homes.

My mother taught me: Where there is a will, there is a way. I still hear her voice!


I so agree with you, Paul, in every way. I can understand why instructors in the scenario I described above would resist having students use mobile devices in the classroom. Clearly, we need to design instruction to fit the audience, and the audience you described is perfect for using mobile devices for instruction. There is much less bullying and distraction among older learners and ESL learners, for sure.

Thanks for sharing any additional practices for the effective use of mobile devices in instruction. I know you also do a lot with Facebook, which many of us want to use more among our adult learners. Leecy

This is such a timely topic. In the Digital Promise Adult Learning initiative, we have been exploring effective use of mobile technology with adult learners, turning to experienced educators and developers to get their insight. Here, Alison Ascher-Webber, advisor to Cell-Ed and Avasant Foundation, explores the reasons we need to go mobile in adult learning. In this webinar, Mockingbird Education demonstrates how to use the app Remind for text-based responses to involve adult learners in comprehension activities. Finally, here is research on how many adult learners have access to at least a basic cellphone (if not a smartphone). I hope these resources provide great fodder for how to use phones powerfully in the adult ed classroom.

Susanne, thanks for sharing the timely links on this topic. Certainly, we would do well to educate our programs and their instructors to the benefits and opportunities offered through mobile learning. I appreciate the conclusion in the Alison Ascher-Webber article:

We need all hands on deck to reach and effectively train the 36 million adults in the U.S., and close to a billion people globally, who lack basic and career skills. Mobile learning is a critical solution for meeting these workers literally wherever they are. Let Antonio’s desire to learn despite incredible obstacles be a call to action to developers tc create mobile technology tools personalized to the needs and goals of adult learners. Those who act now will have the best chance at leading this promising market.

Right on! What suggestions do you and others here have to help us act in useful and effective ways to adopt or "create mobile technology tools personalized to the needs and goals of adult learners?" Leecy


You ask a great question, and Digital Promise is trying to take action on it. We are talking with developers about designing mobile products for adult learners' needs so that we can help spur thoughtful mobile app development for adult learners. What we then hope program administrators and educators do is be willing to try these products with their learners. We have many stories of programs who are doing just this that we hope help people feel more comfortable with taking this step themselves. You can read one of those stories here about how a program in Texas is working with the developer Cell-Ed to use mobile apps for ELL. Another story is about a program in upstate New York bringing learning to migrant farm workers through mobile labs is here. Through our work, we have seen that it takes a willingness to experiment and iterate with a product to have it fully fit the goals of individual programs, so we have provided guidance here on how to do that. We are happy to connect any adult ed programs and educators with mobile ed tech products that we know are effective -- anyone reading this thread can just let me know if we can do this for them. Please reach out to me here on LINCS or my email is

Susanne, thank you for telling us about Digital Promise. I have seen through my own experience how cell phones can - and must - be integrated into adult ESL classes.

I am the author of PUMAROSA.COM a free ESL website which became available via smart phones earlier this year (it is not an App). Since then I have used it as the basis of my course on WhatsApp and Facebook.

Right now a major task for us is to promote the use of cell phones in class and to educate the educators about how to use the various ESL programs that can be are available.

These programs are particularly important for working adults, especially women, who are usually low-income and have children. By accessing lessons on their phones, a world of opportunity opens up.

There is also a need to reach out to adult educators in Non-Formal programs in libraries, churches, community centers, etc. In this way we can create networks that can provide a basis to work together for common aims.

I look forward to reading more about Digital Promise.

Paul Rogers 

Mobile learning is a solution to some instructional issues in education, but not a solution to everything. I caution us to always remember that the goal of technology in education is to use technology to support specific and intended learning objectives. Instruction with smart phones also needs to take into consideration the student's data plan and our expectations for participation. 

As far as the cyber bullying and distractions in the classroom, I have some suggestions / thoughts. First, classroom expectations for participation need to be clearly defined and followed. Rather than taking phones away, perhaps giving students time throughout the class to pull out phones and check messages /status updates on social media, excetera, might help students focus. Cyber bullying is a very different, complex issue. Teaching students about appropriate behaviors online and how to seek professional support if they are the victims of cyberbullying. 

Kathy Tracey




You are so right -- we should always have the educational goal in mind. Technology for technology's sake is not the right approach. Transportation and the ability to get to a learning center with other life commitments are some of the biggest needs we have seen mobile learning addressing. But at the same time, research has shown that adult learners succeed the most when learning in a community of learners. So balancing providing access to learning anytime anywhere versus learning with a community is so important.

And you raise another critical issue: wifi access. I have been impressed with Cell-Ed's products because they are purely text-based -- they require no data plan and only a basic cellphone. 

I do want to share this set of stories again because these adult learning sites are addressing the critical issues you raise. Our work at Digital Promise is to help spread the story of programs who are thinking carefully and thoughtfully about how technology can serve adult learners in new ways. One of the sites at this link is trying to maintain a learner community by bringing devices for a full group of learners to where they live. Two of the sites are working on providing free devices and wifi access to learners.

I am always impressed with the commitment of all involved in serving these learners -- from you all having this thoughtful discussion to the programs we have been working with to help them continue to think of new ways to widely provide equitable, powerful learning.