Learning and Connecting on the Go - How Mobile Technologies are Changing Higher Education

Learning and Connecting on the Go – How Mobile Technologies are Changing Higher Education

We sleep next to them. We carry them around with us wherever we go. We use them for social interaction, classroom polls, information gathering, navigation, entertainment, translation, coursework, payments, augmented reality (AR), research, virtual reality (VR), media making, etc. Mobile technologies offer up countless functionalities for learners and academics.

In higher education, mobile learning can “increase learner satisfaction and retention, widen participation and potentially reduce costs.” Mobile technologies can also enhance the student experience, connect learners with advisors, and provide conduits for peer-to-peer engagement.

Additionally, mobile devices can provide access to a wide array of features for users with disabilities. From captioned/sub-titled videos to voice-based search, mobile technologies, usually in the form of BYOD (bring your own device), provide powerful enhancements for student success.

Exceeding Expectations: Meeting Students Where They Are

“Higher educational institutions have the opportunity to exceed student expectations. They can use technology to deliver education offerings in new ways, ways that speak to how students have been learning their whole lives.”

Plus, in an article for Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim, Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, posited that “the future of adult learning is mobile learning.”

Portals and Focused Apps

There’s a long history of university-wide mobile portal access. The ubiquity and feature set of full-service portals are often the starting point for students and staff in terms of mobile learning and institutional services.

For example, Regent’s University London created a new app to personalize each student’s experience. The app includes the following functionalities:

  • Email – your university mail
  • Modules – Regent’s Blackboard learning materials and resources
  • E:Vision – your student record containing your assessment marks and tuition fee details
  • Student Hub
  • Calendars
  • Library account – your borrowing history, reservations, notifications and overdue notices
  • News – latest Regent’s University London news
  • Tasks

In parallel with the “everything is available in one place” apps, are apps that do just one thing. These are bespoke hyper-focused apps. Think of portal apps as being similar to Facebook’s primary mobile app and focused apps as being like FB Messenger. Regardless of whether or not an app’s utility is focused or broad, the best mobile apps are static free with a seamless user-experience via cloud-based data/functionality.

One area that is well-suited for a hyper-focused app is the university library. Similar to how Transport for London uses Twitter-based bots to answer customer queries, a university library information “bot” could be accessed via a mobile device.

Mobile Learning and Digital Capabilities

According to Jisc, a digitally capable learner will:

  • Easily adopt, adapt and update technologies.
  • Develop a personal digital environment from a range of tools and services.
  • Understand how digital technology is changing practices at work, in education, and in social life.

It will be interesting to see if courses for mobile learners become more common. Not just replication of brick-and-mortar course design, but a learner experience with tablets and smartphones as the primary delivery mechanisms for teaching and learning.

Mobile learning: research, practice and challenges

“Characterizations of mobile learning found in the literature include words such as: ‘personal’, ‘spontaneous’, ‘opportunistic’, ‘informal’, ‘pervasive’, ‘situated’, ‘private’, ‘context-aware’, ‘bite-sized’ and ‘portable’. This implies a conceptualization of mobile learning in terms of the learners’ experiences with an emphasis on device ownership, informality, movement and context that will always be inaccessible to conventional e-learning (Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler, 2007). Designing for mobile learning begins by considering how deployment or use of mobile technologies will support this conceptualization, or consideration of how any proposed learning activity relates to the above attributes.”

Mobile learning: A practical guide for educational organizations planning to implement a mobile learning initiative

“Whilst there are many approaches an institution can take when it comes to mobile learning, from administrative functionality through to rich learning and teaching experiences, one key factor to take into consideration is the learner.”

How mobile learning is delivering vital resources to teachers in India

“Putting the learner first, the technology used to deliver the resources takes account of local variations in connectivity. Where teachers have reliable access to the internet, WhatsApp groups have been set up to share videos of teaching techniques that get students excited about their lessons.”

Mobile technologies are part of the overall mix of technology enhanced learning. In some instances, mobile-based learning is part of a blended learning experience and sometimes, mobile is the sole delivery mechanism for learning.

Additionally, mobile technologies can provide new ways of teaching and learning via crowdsourced mechanisms.

Prospective Student Recruitment

Sometimes all it takes is a text message in order to provide a “nudge” to help with admissions, enrollment, and application processes. As student acquisition becomes more competitive than ever, it’s vital that universities connect with students via mobile communication. Machine learning generated, bot-driven messaging can be sent in a timely fashion and answer myriad questions to assist students. While it may seem simple, notifications via mobile devices can have a powerful impact.

By end of 2017, the combined user base of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat will reach 4.7 billion.

Students and staff are already using WhatsApp for group discussion/collaboration. In some ways, mobile messaging is the past, present, and future of student engagement as apps like WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Signal, Line, and Kik provide unique ways of making connections, building community, and supporting learner endeavors.

Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education: A Multi-Year Study

“Effective use of mobile technology is less about tools and more about students’ digital literacy skills, including the ability to access, manage, and evaluate digital resources.”

Daring to Dream

The future of mobile is about speed, access, and an ever-increasing amount of pocket-sized functionality. 5G networks will allow for lightning fast downloads. The current number of students who use their mobile devices for studying will increase. And on-the-go learning will be enhanced due to these high-speed mobile connections.

Augmented reality (AR) apps will continue to improve as will the use of virtual reality (VR) apps.

Current students and staff at NYU created a VR app to attract future engineers and scientists as hyped on STEM as they are. Incoming students to the class of 2021 will be given a Google Cardboard viewer as part of their acceptance package. It’s part marketing, part educational, and a completely innovative way to connect current student creativity with incoming student curiosity.

It’s worth noting that all of this year’s “Key Issues in Teaching and Learning” from EDUCAUSE can be connected to mobile technologies/learning.

Eventually, students will be able to complete almost all transactions via mobile. This type of functionality will not be seen as novel but will be seamless in simplicity and capability.

Mobile-based functionality is increasing. What used to be available only on a desktop is increasingly becoming the norm on smartphones and tablets. The future of learning and connecting on the go via mobile technologies is an ever-evolving landscape of functionality, hardware, apps, and engagement.


This post was sponsored by SAP as part of a higher education influencers collaboration.

Additional posts in this series:
Digital Engagement – How Technology Enhances the Student Experience

Student Success, Retention, and Employability – Getting Digital in a High Tech, High Touch Environment