An O’Reilly radar article provides an in-depth look at a field study where a small sample of 150 kids were studied as they used cellphones for school work. The article addresses many of the usual points raised for the topic, and is worth reading in full if this interest you. Here are some of the main discoveries from the study:

So what’s so different about delivering problem sets on a cell phone instead of a textbook? The first obvious answer is that the cell phone version is multi-media. The Project K-Nect problem sets begin with a Flash video visually demonstrating the problem — you could theorize that this context prepares the student to understand the subsequent text-based problem better. You could also theorize that watching a Flash animation is more engaging (or just plain fun) and so more likely to keep students’ attention.

Another difference is that digital content is personalized. In this case, that just means that different students get the same problem (how long will it take a space ship to catch up with a space probe?) but with different numbers plugged in (the velocity might be given as 40,000 mph for one student and 37,500 mph for another). The result is that students can’t simply compare answers – they need to compare solutions. “How did you get that” replaces “what did you get?”

A third difference is that, unlike the traditional practice where each student works on textbook problems in isolation, the learning environment in Project K-Nect is participative. Students are asked to record their solutions on a shared blog and are encouraged to both post and comment. Over time, a learning community has emerged that crosses classrooms and schools and adds the kind of human interaction that an isolated, individual drill (be it textbook or digital) lacks and that a single teacher is unlikely to have the bandwidth to provide to each student.

A final observation is that having a digitally mediated component to the learning environment can be surprisingly inclusive. As teachers in Project K-Nect began to experiment with using the blogs and instant messaging for discussing math in the classroom, an unexpected (to us) dynamic emerged. It turns out that many kids who don’t like speaking up in class are completely comfortable speaking up online. . . .

H/T ARJWright