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3 May 2018

Boosting Students’ Learning: There’s an App For That!

Keywords: learning, mobile, survey, Western Europe, experiment, mobile phone, young adults,

Learning through mobile apps can have several advantages over the use of traditional textbooks. Apps be more informal and engaging, provide direct feedback, and allow more rapid access to information. A study in Computers & Education shows that students are indeed more motivated and perform better when they use a mobile app for learning than when they use a traditional textbook.

Take aways

  • Students who use a mobile app instead of a traditional textbook for learning: 
    • have more interest and fun in doing so (intrinsic motivation), which in turn relates to higher scores on their exam (performance); 
    • feel more confident about their ability to apply what they have learnt (competence).
  • Teachers in higher education could use mobile learning applications in their curriculum to enhance student motivation, feelings of competence, and performance.

Study information

  • The question?

    What is the effect of a mobile application as a learning tool (as compared to a traditional textbook) on students’ motivation, competence, and performance?

  • Who?

    71 second-year Biology students (mean age range: 21-22 years, 65% were female)

  • Where?


  • How?

    All students got a general introduction about plant species identification using both a traditional textbook and a mobile application. The next day, students made a test on species identification. Half of the students used the app to answer the test questions, whereas the other half used the textbook. After the test, students completed a survey about their intrinsic motivation (their enjoyment of and interest for species identification), perceived competence (how good they thought they were at identifying species), and their preference for the textbook or the app.

Facts and findings

  • The majority of the students (72%) preferred to use the app instead of the textbook to identify species.
  • Students who used the app had a higher intrinsic motivation to identify species, a higher perceived competence in doing so, and better test results than students who used the textbook (Figure 1). 
  • Students who used the app to identify species performed better on the test because they were more intrinsically motivated to learn about the identification of species.
  • Critical note. The researchers did not measure students’ motivation, competence, and performance before they got the introduction about plant species identification. Therefore, we cannot be entirely sure that the differences between students who used the app versus the textbook is due to the learning tool alone (maybe the students in both groups differed on these measures already before the study started). Also, the number of students that participated in the study was relatively low and the results might thus not apply to all Biology students or to students in general.