Hold app partners with UCL School of Management

The Norwegian app that rewards students for ignoring their mobile phones through a system of incentives partners with London university for UK trial

Hold is a free-to-use app that rewards students for avoiding the distraction of their mobile phone while studying. Once the app is activated, Hold awards points for the length of time that a user’s phone goes untouched, which can be exchanged for rewards such as food, retail vouchers, cinema tickets, or financial prizes, and competition tickets to win larger rewards, such as scholarships and bursaries. Launching in the UK this December, Hold has partnered with the School of Management at University College London to offer students the chance to try the app and see its benefits first-hand.

Hold launched in Norway in 2016, and accumulated 50,000 downloads in its first three months. Hold has now 40% of Norwegian students on board. The app is a unique solution to the detrimental impact of phone addiction. A 2017 study by the University of Texas found that having a smartphone within eye-shot alone can reduce productivity, as well as slow down response speed and reduce grades. This reinforces a 2015 study by the London School of Economics, which found that students who didn’t use their smartphones on school grounds saw a 6.4% increase in their test scores.  

Hold – which has over 120,000 users across Scandinavia (with the average student using the app for 2 hours per day) and offers rewards from major brands through partnerships with companies including Coca Cola, Microsoft, and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) – is poised to revolutionise how school, college, and university students combat ‘brain drain’. Schools and colleges whose students didn’t use mobile phones during school time reported a 62% increase in productivity amongst their pupils, according to Ohio University research.

UCL partnership

In a technology and education first, Hold has partnered with the School of Management at University College London (based in Canary Wharf) to offer its students the chance to gain rewards through the app, increase their productivity and improve their grades. Richard Pettinger, Principal Teaching Fellow at UCL School of Management comments: ‘I first came across Hold by being introduced to the CEO, Maths Mathisen. My initial interest in the app stems from my belief that technology is an essential part of daily life, as well as business, which can’t exist without it. By rewarding students for ignoring the distractions of social media notifications, Hold has been hugely successful in both Norway and Denmark, and I am very interested to see how the model will translate to the UK market. Phone addiction is a global issue, and using the phone to solve this issue is an innovative and unique way to combat this. I am looking forward to seeing how the UCL pilot will go, how much improvement the students will see in their work, and how Hold will develop and grow in the UK.’

The Hold app team

How Hold works

When on school grounds (established via in-app geolocation technology), the user simply activates the Hold app,  and for every 20 minutes that pass without using their device they are rewarded with one point. If the user leaves the Hold app to check a message, scroll through social media or browse the internet, the app is closed and the point counter for that session is reset.

When sufficient points have been accrued, these can be exchanged for goods and services within the app’s marketplace. Rewards are provided by brand partners and range from financial prizes, to cinema tickets or Amazon vouchers. Points are redeemed in the form of a QR code coupon, which can be scanned at the checkouts of participating retailers.

As well as the rewards, users can track their points against their friends and classmates, in order to build a fully communal and encouragingly competitive experience.

Why Hold works

A wealth of academic studies in recent years have pointed to the worrying rise of smartphone addiction and the effects of devices on education:

  • Smartphones have a ‘brain drain’ effect which can negatively affect intelligence and attention span by just being on the participant’s desk (University of Texas, 2017)
  • Students who don’t use their mobile phones on school premises found that their test scores improved by 6.4%, an equivalent of adding five days of study to the school year (London School of Economics, 2015)
  • Around one in eight people are ‘addicted’ to their mobile phones, which can result in negative effects on mood and increased feelings of loneliness (University of Derby, 2015)
  •  A 2015 study by the University of California Irvine found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully regain focus on a task following an interruption. 

Maths Mathisen, CEO and Co-Founder of Hold, comments: “Having come up with the idea for this app during my time as a student, I knew first-hand how difficult it is to concentrate while studying when you have the option to text, Snap, or play games on your phone. With Hold, our mission is to limit these distractions by rewarding students and giving them an incentive to focus on their work. The fact that a quarter of students in Norway downloaded Hold in just three months since launch, shows that young people are ready to make that change and put their phones to the side while they study.” 


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