The Educational Value of Multiscreen Thinking

How many screens do you look at a day? Are you reading this article on a computer screen, a tablet, or a smartphone? Do you own all three? Tonight, will you watch the new episode of The Walking Dead that you DVRd on your TV screen?

As screen-time becomes a more deeply integrated feature of today’s education, it is worth considering the value of multiple screens for learning. RJ Jacquez, a mobile learning analyst and consultant, wrote up a post about the benefits of multiscreen learning.

“Today’s connected learners interact in an ecosystem of screens. So for us in the learning industry, it should not be just about designing great isolated learning experiences that may only be consumed on desktops and iPads, it’s also about developing a multiscreen strategy that will make our content accessible anywhere,” he writes.

We’ve seen startup companies and other larger corporations work toward this goal. McGraw Hill’s e-textbook offerings are designed to fit just about any screen on any platform, and it’s very common to see app developers offer their products on the iOS platform before eventually transitioning to Android.

Jacquez wrote about three patterns of the “ecosystem of screens.” The first is coherence in multiscreen learning design. Have you ever tried to visit a website on your mobile phone and been disappointed at how poorly optimized it appeared? Perhaps it didn’t pinch and zoom properly. Page elements didn’t scale well, the text was too cramped or too messy? Smart web developers pay attention to coherence between multiple platforms in order to make their content more accessible.

The next two patterns are the synchronization that occurs between screens, and the shifting from screen to screen that users perform. The first thing I think of here is the benefits of signing into a Google account on various devices. If I create a Google Calendar event here on my desktop, I can expect it to appear on my smartphone’s calendar as well. I’m constantly moving around, dispatching emails from my phone or drafting articles on the road with my laptop.

Kids are mobile beings, and learning takes place in and out of the classroom. It is beneficial for a student to work in a computer lab during school hours, and then log in to whatever service they were using when they return home and continue their progress. And college students are the most active of us all, constantly moving from place to place and relying on cloud-based solutions to manage all of their work and responsibilities.