Chapter 7: Smartphones as a gateway to digital literacy and inclusion

Leveraging learners' smartphones

Encouraging and guiding the use of smartphones — for use in class and outside of it — builds digital literacy. Get inspired by one teacher’s experience using smartphones in her class and view her engaging talk: One Thing That Changed Everything About the Way I Teach. The ultimate aim of smartphone use is to encourage spontaneous, independent and seamless use for a variety of learning activities.

What do learners say about how they use their smartphones?

A group of learners we talked to described how they use their smartphones. In addition to using their phones for texting and talking, they variously use mapping applications and Google for quick searches. They also rely on YouTube videos to do repairs or learn techniques. None said they read extensively on their phones, preferring books and paper-based sources. One student said he occasionally downloads manuals and then prints and reads the material.

It’s important to recognize that there isn’t a boundary between media. Books, manuals, letters and documents will always be included in people’s digital literacy repertoires, particularly when text demands a great deal of attention and effort,  and learners will always have personal preferences. 

List of ways to use smartphone apps for learning

The modified listing was originally produced by Patten, Sanchez and Tangney (2006) and appears in the article Adult Educators’ Authentic Use of Smartphones to Create Digital Teaching Resources by A. Herrington. This article can be found in the "Proceedings of ascilite, Melbourne 2008":   

New Ontario project focused on smartphone use

The Metro Toronto Movement for literacy (MTML) initiated  Smartphones and Employment Skills, a one year project "designed to help individuals learn how to use their smartphones to improve their digital skills and knowledge to successfully participate in employment training and to seek and find work." One element of the project is learning modules for learners and service providers

Useful apps for adult learners

AlphaPlus has curated and carefully reviewed a collection of low-cost and no-cost apps for work, learning, personal use and fun. You can also review and post new app suggestions on our site. Helping students download and use the apps is a great way to promote independent and spontaneous use of new digital literacy skills and practices. Click on the image to search for the apps.

Also available are learning apps that cover complete courses or learning programs. The examples below were designed specifically for adult learners. The apps can be used as a supplement to more intensive and responsive courses offered in literacy and basic skills (LBS) programs. They promote learning independence and are an engaging way to practise aspects of language, literacy and numeracy development that require repetition.

Amrita Learning

Amrita Learning App was developed at India’s Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Amrita University). According to the developers, “It is designed for low-literate adults and supports family literacy. It can be used by Adult Education organizations, libraries, schools, prisons, and businesses. It can also supplement Special Education for specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia.”

FREE on Google Play for Android devices.

Cell Ed

Cell Ed  was developed in the United States by a team that includes educators, designers and engineers. It focuses on adult language and literacy/numeracy learning. The web description states it “does not require learners to have internet, smartphones, computers or data plans, or to possess digital literacy skills." They can simply listen to audio lessons, text or message on any device or call in using a basic cellphone.

Fee-based. Available on Android devices only.

Learning Upgrade 

Learning Upgrade was also developed in the United States to support language and literacy/numeracy learning. Here's the description: “The smartphone-based remote curriculum includes Literacy, ESL, ABE, Math, and GED Prep content.” In addition to the apps, they also have a web version.

Fee-based. Available on Android and Apple devices.