Mobile practices in everyday life: Popular digital technologies and schooling revisited


Address for correspondence: Prof Guy Merchant, Sheffield Hallam University, Faculty of Development and Society, Sheffield Hallam University, 122 Charles Street, Sheffield S1 2NE. S41 9QW, UK. Email:



Mobile phones have rapidly been absorbed into the fabric of our day-to-day lives. They are now a key consumer item, a symbol of social capital and they connect their users to a mobile web with multiple applications. As ownership and access to smartphones has spread into the teenage years, their place in institutions of formal education has been marked by contention. The dominant view that mobiles have no place in the classroom has recently been contested by educators, such as Parry, who suggest that mobile learning, and the literacies involved, should play an important role in education. This paper argues for a more nuanced view of mobile technology, one that focuses on everyday social practices as a way of understanding the relationship between mobiles and learning. Using practice theory as a starting point, I suggest a way of mapping everyday mobile practices on to educational activity to illustrate potential areas for innovation and evaluation. I conclude by returning to the debate about mobiles in education, noting that familiar arguments about popular digital technology and schooling are once again being rehearsed. If ways of accessing, sharing and building knowledge are changing then a more principled consideration of how educational institutions relate to these changes is needed.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • There is growing interest in the use of mobiles in educational settings.
  • Practitioners are beginning to look at the advantages and disadvantages of mobile learning.
  • Increased ownership of smartphones and other mobile devices amongst the youth population is well documented.

What this paper adds

  • Social practice theory offers a useful perspective for looking at the use of mobiles in different contexts.
  • Comparisons and contrasts between the uses of mobile technology in everyday life and in school settings can help in evaluating its potential.
  • A consideration of ownership and access, and how this may reproduce social inequalities, are important to innovations in technology and education.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • There is a need to move beyond debates about prohibiting or encouraging the use of mobiles to look at more specific examples of their advantages (and disadvantages).
  • Policy and implementation should be informed by a finer-grained analysis of mobile practices in everyday and educational settings.
  • Mobile devices are highly desirable consumer items. Schools and other educational establishments have a responsibility to adopt a critical approach to ownership and use.