The State of Mobile Learning in Higher Education


According to a survey of more than 2,000 college students by software maker Unit4, mobile access to campus applications and information is in high demand. Most institutions aren’t meeting students’ expectations, however. Seventy percent of students want access to administrative tools and learning materials from any device via an app or online interface. Most 87 percent) would prefer to manage their entire campus life through a single application.

When asked if their institution’s student administration is managed digitally, 44 percent of respondents said “a little” or “not at all.” Almost two-thirds (63 percent) said complex administrative tasks distract from study time. Significantly, 41 percent said their experience would be better if digital interaction was easier, and 41 percent would be more likely to recommend their school if that were the case.

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of the student experience as a competitive differentiator and how a unified view of student data is critical to that experience. Student engagement, collaboration, success and satisfaction can be improved when student data is integrated with other systems and tools, such as financial aid, scheduling software and content delivery solutions.

Think about how important smartphones are in the lives of this generation of college students. Smartphones are their primary tools for communication, information gathering and organization. Rather than viewing mobile devices as a distraction, higher education institutions should embrace mobile devices as tools that can boost student engagement. If laptops are acceptable, why not smartphones and tablets that have the same capabilities?

Of course, mobile isn’t just about information access. Higher education students, like K-12 students, can greatly benefit from interactive and immersive learning initiatives, which are often mobile-driven. For example, in large lecture hall environments, it can be easy for students to tune out educators. With mobile devices, educators can share content such as video and graphics, and encourage student participation via social media.

A multiyear study about mobile learning activities revealed serious technological challenges that need to be overcome if higher education is going to take full advantage of mobile in an academic setting. The study involving University of Central Florida students who use mobile devices focused on mobile learning activities inside and outside of classrooms.

Although two-thirds of students reported using a mobile app for learning on a weekly basis, mobile devices were rarely required by instructors (19 percent for smartphones, 13 percent for tablets, and 6 percent for e-book readers). The top reason why students do not want instructors to use mobile is the lack of technical support. Support for mobile is not as clear, timely and precise as it is for online courses and in-classroom technology.

Also, younger students are more likely to use smartphones, while graduate students are more likely to have tablets or e-book readers and use them often for learning. Ownership of and access to devices are important as schools must offer a level playing field for students. Instructors also need support and professional development to make the best possible use of emerging mobile technologies.

Mobile applications and digital content delivery models in higher education are constantly changing. Colleges and universities must continually update their applications, evaluate online and mobile learning methods, and educate faculty and staff to meet student expectations and achieve institutional goals.