‘Smartphone’ study

The evolving impact of ‘smartphones’ on the 24/7/365 education of the world’s young.

A study being prepared by Mal Lee and Roger Broadie.


Smartphones, tablets and other connected devices are having a profound impact on life and education of the young globally.

This technology is changing the nature of youth, their education and schooling globally.

For the first time in history the young, as largely free agents, have largely unfiltered access to the information of the networked world. Within the traditional paper based society the young’s access to information and facility to have a voice was always constrained and controlled by adults and the ‘filters’ they imposed.

This is a development that has occurred primarily outside the school walls – that is on trend to ever do so – and which only the astute mature digital schools are capitalising upon and helping shape. This is an historic societal transformation that governments, researchers, policy makers and educators need to better understand.

This study is drawing on our experience and expertise with digitally evolved schools, and that of the many colleagues we are in contact with, aiming to provide that understanding. It is imperative to view this development from a digital – and not from an insular paper based/analogue – mindset. It is important to focus on the impact of the ‘smartphone’ upon all digital ecosystems in society – including schools – and to look to what is evolving rather than being steered by the traditional paper based school paradigm.

This is a continuing and accelerating evolution – not a one off development.

While we have chosen to comment on ‘smartphones’ we are in fact examining the phenomenon of the world’s young having ready, mobile, largely unfettered 24/7/365 ‘computer’ access to the socially networked world, with technology that is increasingly powerful, sophisticated, convergent, smaller, mobile and inexpensive. In reality one is looking at a suite of ever evolving, increasingly convergent digital technologies – hardware and software – that can be actioned by way of a central control, the smartphone.

In considering the impact of that central control – today the smartphone – it is important to consider its use within a facilitating ecosystem that has the requisite Net and Wi Fi access. A focus on a single device without regard to its complementary technologies and environment will never truly adjudge the technologies’ full impact.

This phenomenon of the young having ready, largely unfettered access to that ‘computer’ has been evident outside the school walls since the mid 90’s. It has grown to the position now that the young will forever have the freedom and time to use that increasingly sophisticated technology largely as they wish, unfettered by organisational constraints, government and professional educators.

The current laissez faire – some might say chaotic – out of school use and evolution is on trend to continue unabated, unless society’s schools astutely assist shape that usage.

In considering the use of ‘smartphones’ in the education of the young it is vital to differentiate between the in and out of school use, and to recognise that except for some digitally mature schools the use of the technology in the two situations differs markedly – with even the pathfinding schools not really entering the play until around 2010 – 15 years after the out of school access by the young started.

It is necessary to differentiate between the education, and the schooling of the young. The balance between these has changed historically, from the majority of the young getting almost all their education from their role and contacts in society in the days before compulsory schooling, to a situation where schools have largely taken control of education from parents – very considerably in the context of boarding schools, less so with day schools. The balance could now be swinging the other way.

Our focus is the education made possible 24/7/365 by the digital technology, and the implications that flow for future schooling. 80% plus of young people’s learning time annually occurs outside the school walls and less than 20% therein. The focus of most educators and researchers, indeed most of the studies on the impact of smartphones on education is on the 20%, with little consideration of the vital 80%.

The time available for digital play and learning out of school vastly outweighs the time in school. It is vital to look at the 100% and the question must be posed as to the relative values of how this time is spent. This must inform the likely way forward for schooling just as it must how the young and their parents react to how education in each arena is evolving.

The study is looking at a trend line where the young both in and out of the school will build upon the agency accorded by the ‘smartphone’ evolution. This is a trend that will increasingly be supported by an increasing proportion of Net Generation/Millennial parents, a society and workforce that has normalised the use of the digital and which will have increasing digital expectations. The trend is also being driven by the continuing Digital Revolution.

These are trends that schools and governments have no control over, their control extending only to dictating the time young people spend in school and the accountability standards demanded of schools, leading to tensions that are already evident in many places.

We will be pleased to receive contacts from people interested in contributing perspectives to this study.