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Gen Y: Mobile and Ready to Learn

The use of mobile technologies in student learning environments is growing and represents the next great frontier for learning. Increasingly we will continue to see academic and corporate research invest, design, and launch new mobile applications, many of which can be used in an educational context.

How many people use mobile technology?

At the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel outlined the explosive growth of web-based and mobile technologies. According to Semel, there are 900 million personal computers in the world. But this number pales in comparison to the 2 billion mobile phones currently being used around the world.

Even more astounding is how mobile devices are increasingly being used as the primary way in which people connect to the Internet. In fact, Semel notes that 50% of the Internet users outside the United States will most likely never use a personal computer to connect to the Internet. Rather, they will access information, connect with online learning communities, and create content for the Internet via a mobile device.

A recent study by the Irish National Teachers Organization (INTO) found that students are using their mobile phones for just about everything--except making phone calls. According to INTO, only 20% of the 671 students surveyed report using their mobiles to make phone calls, whereas 81% report using their mobile to communicate via text or IM messages.

The INTO survey seems to dovetail with the results of a 2005 Pew Internet and American Life study on teens and technology. Like their peers in Ireland, American youth preferring using IM or TM for everyday conversations with friends.

Other key findings from the Irish National Teachers Organization survey:

  • 96% of 11 & 12 year old students have a mobile phone
  • 60% have a camera on it
  • 72 % say they use it to access the Internet
  • 20% use it to make calls
  • 81% use it to send texts

Recognizing the growing connection between mobile media and youth, the popular social networking community MySpace teamed with Helio to provide a mobile version that includes access to Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! Messenger, and various Yahoo! services.

A 2005 study conducted by the United States-based Kaiser Family Foundation found that, although 90% of teen online access occurs in the home, most Gen Y students also have web access via mobile devices such as a mobile phone (39%), portable gaming device (55%), or other web-enabled hand held device (13%).

In order to create a better and more relevant learning environment for the digital learning styles of the Gen Y student, there is a need to integrate new pedagogical strategies that support the authentic use of technology to support and foster student motivation, collaboration, and learning.

The convergence of mobile and social media technologies, on-demand content delivery and early adoption of portable media devices provides higher education with an opportunity to leverage these tools into learning environments that seem authentic to the Gen Y students filling the virtual and physical halls of the 21st century university.

If you're interested in learning more about how Gen Y uses mobile technology, be sure to attend the 2007 MashUp in San Francisco. Among the many conference sessions is a panel discussion all about youth and their love affair with cell phones and mobile technology. Sounds fascinating!

This is exactly the kind of conversation that needs to happen--especially here in the USA where our use of mobile technology to support student learning (mLearning) lags behind that of Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia.

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