ABC, 123: Can Mobile Phones Improve Learning? Evidence from a field Experiment in Niger

This resource disseminates results of a study in Niger examining the use of cell phones in a low-level adult education class.

J.C. Aker
C. Ksoll
T. J. Lybbert
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Tufts University
University of Oxford
University of California, Davis
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This resource reports on the results of a study in Niger examining the use of cell phones in a low-level adult education class. The class, focused on numeracy and literacy skills, integrated cell phones into instruction. Students that participated in the classes that supported instruction through the use of cell phones (ABC villages) showed greater gains in reading and math skills than students in non-ABC village classes. These gains appear to be persisting seven months later. Researchers controlled for class time and teacher characteristics. Results are explained by educational use of the phones and the motivation to use a new technology. The report discusses, in accessible language, how mobile phone usage was taught and how new skills were used in and outside the classroom

What the experts say

There are two reasons this resource would be useful to a U.S. educator:

  • Interestingly, the use of feature phone technology for English language learning and literacy is increasing in the U.S. For example, there is an English language learning program delivered by cell phone  (Cell-Ed) that is used in California and Texas, and has very recently been adopted by New York State. In Texas, there appears to be some serious interest in it from the Texas Workforce Commission, the state agency responsible for adult ed, because so many adults who need English language skills cannot attend regular classes due to their work schedules and many cannot afford smartphones and Internet connections. 
  • Given that this is an experimental design study of the use of this technology, it might be relevant to policy makers and practitioners in the U.S. who want to know if the use of this technology could have a positive impact on math and literacy skills for adults.


This resource is a rare example of randomized experimental research in a field that has little to none, and the numbers are impressive. It opens up an entire new field of articles that look as though they would be very useful to the field on the technological, economic, cultural and social aspects of literacy.

This study has implications for the use of mobile phone technologies for adult and literacy education around the world and in the United States. It can also be used as a model for future research that can inform policy decisions related to improving education.

It contains a rationalization of sampling choices, an estimate of impact using regression analysis that addresses short and long term implications of the test score data that was gathered through the study. A discussion of limitations is included and, as noted, may also be helpful to researchers in shaping future studies.

The programs included both math and writing skill education, and adults who participated in the mobile phone technology-based programs advanced a grade level within the first eight months of classes and had test scores 9-20 percent higher than those who did not use mobile phones. It is interesting that there, and in the US too, math skills depreciate faster. However, use of the phones appears to increase motivational levels of both teachers and students.

The study shows that there was an increase in IT scores and also an increased proportion of adults achieving higher scores in literacy through the use of mobile phone technology. Initiatives in the area of mobile technology could benefit from the descriptions and analysis of the programs that are described in this study.

The study provides further evidence that use of educational technologies can improve learning, and showed that mobile phone use had some effect upon retention.

The authors conclude that while technological barriers, such as infrastructure (financial, technological, and adult education program) exist, the use of mobile phone technology could prove to be cost-effective given the right circumstances.

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • How could literacy teachers in the US learn from this?
  • Do we use technology enough? Or do we use it in the right way?
  • Would US literacy populations be similarly motivated?
Methods the resource used to collect and analyze the data for the research: This study employed a randomized experimental design. Data collected: student and teacher characteristics, student effort, student attendance and persistence, behavioral measure of student interest in education, grade level and pre-post test gains. Reduced form regression analysis was conducted on appropriate data.
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