Learners and Mobile Devices

Learner Survey

Stanley Frielick & Emily Whitehead


A key aim of the Learners and Mobile Devices project was to understand the ways in which students used mobile devices for learning, and ground this understanding in empirical data rather than getting caught up in ongoing media debates about why such devices should be banned in the classroom (e.g here and here)

For the sake of simplicity and inclusiveness, we took the term ‘mobile device’ to mean ‘any device capable of accessing the internet that could be easily carried around’ ⎯i.e. including laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Based on questionnaires widely used overseas (Dahlstrom & Bichsel, 2014; Dahlstrom, Brooks, Grajek, & Reeves, 2015) the AUT project team designed a survey to be completed by learners in the participating institutions.  All local coordinators and practitioners were consulted and the final questions were developed in response to feedback.  The survey was designed as a ‘snapshot’ of learners’ perceptions about the uses of mobile devices, and as such provided a valuable opportunity to include learners’ voices in the project.


The survey was carried out under approval from the AUT Ethics Committee (14/278).  Within these protocols, practitioners were asked to distribute the survey to classes they were currently teaching in May – September, 2015.  Student confidentiality was paramount and details such as institution and subject were not required, and any possible identifiers given were removed from the responses by an independent researcher. 

The primary means of administration was online using Survey Monkey (n=340), and only a small number were completed on paper (n=11).  Survey distribution was centralised through the project team and it was promoted by either a class visitor or an advertisement viewed on the Learning Management System (LMS) and/or closed social media channels. The survey contained 27 closed- and open- ended questions and took approximately ten minutes to complete (a full copy of the survey is here). 

The sample of learners (n=351) consisted of both undergraduate (n=247) and postgraduate (n=51) students from the six partner institutions, represented by the following discipline areas across the institutions: Health, Education, Science, Computing, Workplace Learning, Business, Tourism and Carpentry. Students were not required to answer all questions - however, the number of students responding to each quantitative question was not less than 289, and not less than 181 for the open-ended questions. Quantitative data was analysed using SPSS, and qualitative responses were analysed following the framework laid out by (Thomas, 2006). 

Learner Demographics

A limited range of demographic data was collected within the ethics protocols, to enable some differentiation of responses in various groupings. Demographic categories included age, gender, ethnicity, level of study, year of study, ultimate academic goal, full or part time, and mode of study (on-campus or distance). These responses were then processed, with some questions needing to be grouped (e.g. age, level and year) for more meaningful comparisons.  For the purposes of this project, we were particularly interested in the perspectives of Māori learners. Thus, while it would have been interesting to explore comparisons across all ethnic groups, we only isolated the Māori learner group for comparison against the rest of the sample. The demographic spread on these categories is detailed below in table 1.  


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  1. Demographics