Commercials that market smartphones as education devices shouldn’t fool many

In the past few months, I’ve heard several commercials for smartphones that suggest kids can and will use them for educational purposes. When your child needs help on their homework, they can whip out their phone and find the answer.

Who do they think they are fooling? While parents want to hear about helping their kids succeed in school (this is an American constant over the decades), these commercials offer implausible possibilities. Kids could use their phone for homework or studying. But, I suspect the smartphone is used for two other tasks that will far outweigh educational purposes: social interaction (texting, chatting, Facebook, etc.) and media consumption (music, YouTube, TV and movies, etc.). The real education provided here might be in how to be a media-saturated, 21st century American kid.

This may be effective marketing but it also hints at another issue: the idea that new technological devices automatically lead to more learning. Where is the evidence for this? We can argue that kids needs to keep up with technology to understand and use it for their good like applying for jobs. We can argue the new technology engages kids. We can argue the technology can open up new opportunities like forming and maintaining beneficial relationships or learning how to code. But, suggesting it actually leads to more learning is a more difficult case to make.

My conclusion: such commercials play off the interests of parents who would say they want to help their kids succeed without marshalling much evidence that the new smartphone will help kids learn.

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