There’s a long-held argument that smartphones have given us the access to all knowledge, but we use it instead to look at pictures of cats and argue with each other on the internet. This isn’t always true – while we may do these things, we also use our phones constantly for looking something up, whether it’s a leading actor in a film we’re watching or if we’re checking what exactly Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle actually means.
But that’s why it’s become such an incredible learning tool – the ability to look anything up immediately means that there’s no longer a barrier to us absorbing new knowledge or learning new skills. Even an iPad can be a window into the works of Da Vinci, should we so wish. Twenty to thirty years ago, it wasn’t a case of simply taking the phone you got from O2 out of your pocket to learn a little more about what exactly caused the First World War – you’d have to go to a library, or even enrol on an academic course. Now, almost all the academia you’ll ever need is accessible via the same machine you’re using to order pizza and call your bank.
It’s not as though the learning is accidental either, it’s simply more accessible than it was before. Ten years ago, the idea of sitting down to watch Breaking Bad would’ve been a pain in the backside – go and get the DVDs, a DVD player, a TV, and sit down and watch them in standard definition. Now I can stream the same show in high definition on my mobile device.
There are also a multitude of educational apps available for people to use to expand their mental horizons. This goes for children as well, of course – there’s a considerable pile of interactive books and games that allow for their imaginations and logical reasoning skills to come out and play while using a device that’s far more intuitive to a child than a mouse and keyboard.
But smartphones are allowing us not only to look things up quickly, but to keep ourselves connected to data banks full of new possibilities. Apple runs a part of its online digital marketplace called iTunes U. Yep, iTunes University. It comes complete with several degrees’ worth of lectures in video and audio form from some of the best universities in the world, and they’re all accessible via your smartphone. This isn’t your average afternoon on Wikipedia – we’re talking actual lectures that offer a university-level education in a particular topic.
Mobile devices are also changing how we engage with the practical parts of our education. We can take notes, Skype our lecturer, use Vine for film class, and even ensure that our work is accessible from our pockets by uploading our current written musings to a Dropbox account.
Before, it was a little risky to take your phone out when you were supposed to be soaking up information – now, it’s no different to sitting down with a computer. Your smartphone has become your PC, your textbook, your notepad and your dictaphone – it’s not difficult to see why you’d be learning with it.