Sinéad Smith
Ontario Tech University


Mobile devices are now widely used in primary education settings to support the curriculum and engage students. This literature review supports and informs integration efforts in response to the rapid and increasing shift to integrating mobile technology for education. Current practices around mobile technology use in the primary classroom and the benefits and limitations are explored. The key findings determine that mobile self-directed learning opportunities increase student engagement and boost motivation. Further investigation revealed that teacher attitudes, distractive properties, and technical and connectivity issues were areas of concern. This review will include the important findings of our study, followed by a description of an educational technology example and suggestions for additional research. The goal is to inform future research efforts, adding value to the growing body of research on teaching and learning through mobile technology in the primary education sector.


educational apps, mobile device, mobile learning, mobile technology, mobile technology integration, primary education


The introduction of mobile technology has changed the way students interact, learn, and play. Technological advancements and mobile devices, including iPads, tablets, smartphones, and wearable technology, have impacted learning and information processing (Camillieri & Camillieri, 2020b). Mobile learning is the “use of personal electronic devices to engage in learning across multiple contexts via social and content interactions” (Bernacki et al., 2020, p.1). The design and functionality of mobile devices make them a desirable option for children. The joint offerings of mobile technology and educational applications include opportunities for learning in and out of the classroom and at any time (Lim & Churchill, 2016).

Recent studies have observed that children eight years and younger spend an average of two hours daily with digital technologies. This average has tripled since 2011 (Bernacki et al., 2020). Children use mobile technology largely to stream videos and play games on online platforms. Mobile applications are accessed for educational and entertainment purposes (Meyer et al., 2021). This increased usage, access, and popularity of mobile technology coincide with a shift in educational practices.

Through an analysis of the research available, this chapter will discuss the opportunities and challenges of mobile technology use in primary education and the implications for mobile technology integration. This analysis will reveal such characteristics, identify an example of mobile implementation in education, and conclude with further implications.


Digital learning technologies hold great potential to improve student knowledge and skills in an informal manner (Camillieri & Camillieri, 2020b). Experiences with mobile devices offer opportunities to enhance student engagement and knowledge-building and facilitate self-directed learning. Students and teachers have identified several benefits of utilizing mobile technology in classrooms, and opportunities for autonomy, improved concentration and increased motivation were well documented. Some research also identifies achievement gains in science, math, and literacy subjects.

Engagement and Motivation

Learning with mobile technology provides many benefits for students and teachers. Student engagement and motivation are key factors in promoting student success. Domingo and Garagante (2016) conclude that mobile technology in class increased student engagement and student willingness to attempt and complete educational tasks. Grant et al. (2015) also describe mobile technology use by teachers to enhance curriculum and motivate students. The opportunity to increase social interactions and offer more collaboration boosted motivation and student participation. More options, including game-based educational apps, are fun for students and often used to promote interest in particular subjects.

Mobile learning with smartphones, iPads, and tablets offers new ways to share knowledge, create, interact, and promote authentic learning experiences (Domingo & Garagante, 2016). Mobile applications like email, cloud-sharing, and chat features simplify the process of connecting and seeking feedback. Wearable devices also raise productivity and increase learning engagement (Bernacki et al., 2020). Instant and interactive features and notifications facilitate cooperative learning and prompt peer collaboration in the learning process (Domingo & Garagante, 2016). As a result of the noted motivational features of mobile technology, it can be used as a tool to reinforce knowledge-building processes.

Knowledge Building and Skill Development

In addition to increased student engagement, improved knowledge and skill development are linked to mobile technology use. Tahir and Arif (2016) describe how learners using technology better demonstrate language, intelligence, and problem-solving skills than those not supported with technology for learning. Bernacki et al. (2020) documented that students utilizing mobile technologies engaged in tech-supported collaborative learning and made literacy gains. The properties of these mobile devices offer new ways for students to learn and easily access information. Bray and Tangney (2015) explain the transformative role of mobile technology in supporting mathematical understanding. Pedagogical approaches to 21-st century learning, including creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration, are supported by technological fluency and the use of and practice with mobile devices. Frazier & Trekles (2018) describe iPads used by classroom teachers to promote collaborative knowledge building and increase opportunities to differentiate instruction.

Ease of Use and Self-Directed Learning

Hand-held mobile devices such as iPads, tablets, and smartphones allow students to access and review online educational content virtually anywhere (Camillieri & Camilleri, 2020b). This technology’s convenience and ease of use make them desirable tools for learning, especially with young children. The popularity of iPad and tablet integration for educational purposes can be attributed to its small size, longer battery life, and ease of use design (Hembre, 2019). In Lu’s (2017) research, compared to computers, mobile technology was identified as particularly suited for young students due to its lightweight, tactile-based interface and child-friendly features, allowing students to interact with the digital world. Primary students can easily use mobile technologies anywhere, beyond the traditional classroom environment, encouraging learners to take control of their learning.

Availability and Use of Mobile Apps

The extensive and diverse assortment of educational apps accessed through mobile technology offers educators opportunities to choose content that aligns with curriculum goals (Camillieri & Camillieri, 2020a). Digital game-based learning and educational apps on mobile devices have become integral to young people’s cognitive development and can support them at home and school. Digital games are played to improve the students’ computational thinking skills, problem-solving, and information recall in an exciting and innovative manner (Camillieri & Camillieri, 2020a). These games have defined learning outcomes that balance subject matter with gameplay and entertainment. Other valuable features include the ability for educators to assign student work, monitor progress, and send notifications through these apps.


In contrast, several challenges are noted by primary classroom technology users. Teacher attitude and technological knowledge were critical factors for optimal implementation. Many teachers identified inexperience with specific devices and skepticism over their usefulness and effectiveness for their purposes. Further, technical and connectivity issues and the distractive properties of some devices can be challenging to manage and navigate.

Distractive Properties

Some concerns have been noted regarding the distractive properties of iPads, smartphones, and tablets in the classroom. As teachers identify best practices surrounding mobile technology use, many educators report mobile devices as disruptive to learning and classroom routines (Christensen & Knezek, 2017). Walsh and Farren (2018) further concluded that the ease at which students can switch to non-learning activities, like checking social platforms and notifications, was a challenge that emerged from their research. Although school networks could usually block inappropriate content, students with cellular data options can still access this material, leaving it very difficult for schools to effectively manage online safety (Grant et al., 2015). Through established guidelines or protocol, educators may better navigate the disruptive properties and lessen the disruptive impact on student learning. However, determining how to best empower teachers in guiding student learning and encouraging responsible use of smartphones and tablets continues to be problematic (Christensen & Knezek, 2017).

Teacher Knowledge and Perceptions

Educators’ beliefs, attitudes, and anxiety levels are key factors influencing the integration of mobile learning experiences (Lim & Churchill, 2016). Pedagogical approaches are also critical to meaningful technology use. Some teachers question the implications of mobile technology use by children during the foundational period of child development (Tahir & Arif, 2016). As educators become more knowledgeable and familiar with these tools, so does the willingness to innovate teaching methods and integrate mobile technology more readily. Tavernier and Hu (2020) revealed that a lack of intentional, proactive technology-based practices and activity preparation was problematic to integration.

Most educators are challenged with the responsibility to integrate technology with teaching. This endeavour may be daunting as new mobile devices are introduced, and technology and pedagogical implications continue to evolve (Frazier & Trekles, 2018). Christensen and Knezek (2017) outline the importance of adequate teacher training and professional development time in supporting the use of mobile technologies in the classroom. Teachers with limited tech experience are more intimidated and discouraged by problems that arise with mobile implementation. Issues involving technical support, hardware and software issues, and troubleshooting internet connectivity cause concern and frustration (Christensen & Knezek, 2017).

Other Integration Issues

Educators and administrators often must address technical support, hardware and software problems, and troubleshooting internet connectivity during integration (Christensen & Knezek, 2017). Other barriers commonly described during mobile technology implementation include equipment, time limitations, and other integration issues (Grant et al., 2015).

Some students, schools and classrooms can be particularly challenged without adequate internet connectivity. The digital divide limits the potential of technology in the classroom, where not all students have access to the required technology, increasing the disparities between the haves and have-nots in society.

Implementing mobile technology can be problematic and daunting without adequate training in curriculum integration, classroom management, and ensuring the device’s equitable, safe and responsible use (Frazier & Trekles, 2018).


The investigative study by Frazier and Trekles, Elementary 1:1 iPad Implementation: Successes and Struggles During the First Year, looked at iPad implementation in K-5 settings. The research examined teacher perceptions, opportunities, challenges, and issues during this endeavour.

In this study, teachers gained confidence using the iPad in their practice, primarily through trial and error, which led to some reporting higher levels of self-efficacy and implementation success (Frazier & Trekles, 2018). Many teachers appreciated the affordances offered by iPads with differentiating their instruction and providing more individualized opportunities for students in their classes.

Teachers required ample tech support for learning to develop the confidence and skills needed for new technology to be effective. Administrators must also provide time for teacher training, learning, and implementing mobile technology. Sharing with others and observing the devices utilized in the classroom were helpful strategies to support successful integration. Peer collaboration amongst educators was also recognized as beneficial for learning and troubleshooting new tech. A professional development plan can help teachers keep up with technology and understand the best ways to use specific devices to benefit their students. Another consideration was for educators to look beyond the apparent affordances of iPads and tablets and focus on their use and benefits to meet the needs of their student’s learning needs and interests (Frazier & Trekles, 2018).

Frazier & Trekles (2018) indicated that students are more likely to view mobile technology as a source of entertainment rather than for educational purposes, creating additional strain on teachers to monitor their use. Additional support and interventions were also required when using technology with younger children, as their skills in digital citizenship, collaboration, and technology use were still developing.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

Mobile technologies are integral to satisfying and supporting the requirements of educational curricula as they are integrated into primary learning environments (Camillieri & Camillieri, 2020b). This technology has significant educational implications because it offers wireless access to internet resources, educational materials, and applications. Students and teachers can easily access popular social media and communications platforms for communication and collaboration.

Mobile learning allows students to build momentum and develop a sense of ownership and autonomy over their learning. Student attitudes, behaviour and confidence are positively impacted (Bray & Tangney, 2015). Opportunities for mobile learning can transform and enrich the way teaching and learning occur by augmenting or redefining current teaching and learning activities (Tavernier & Hu, 2020).

Education systems are charged with developing and implementing effective teaching practices that support learners’ attainment of success and knowledge. Mobile technology is now regularly relied upon to support these endeavours. Student engagement and increased success were noted as clear gains with use. Tingir et al. (2017) similarly concluded that mobile learning devices have significant effects across subject areas, including higher achievement scores. Opportunities for collaboration and the development of 21 st century skills were also vastly described and reported.

The challenges revealed through this analysis include integration issues, teacher attitudes, and concern over the devices’ distractive properties. Research-based implementation strategies and adequate time for teacher training and professional development may help mitigate such challenges and support meaningful integration. Moreover, equity issues were highlighted and critical to removing barriers, creating opportunities, and supporting student success. 

This research focus aims to inform education policy-makers and leaders about how to best prepare students and teachers for success with mobile technology integration. A key set of issues to be addressed by future mobile learning research is the innovations’ sustainability and scalability (Lim & Churchill, 2016). Another consideration is determining whether or not the type of device matters in supporting instruction or increasing student achievement (Tahir & Arif, 2016). These issues should be acknowledged and considered for mobile devices to reach their full potential in the classroom.

In conclusion, it is evident that mobile technology, based on its functionality, widespread use, and technological advancements, will continue to be used to support educational programming at school and home. Strong evidence revealed mobile technology as a worthwhile and effective strategy for teaching and learning.


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