Meeting Students Where They Are—On Their Phones

5 benefits to mobile-enhanced student learning—and 6 adoption tips.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jackie Lynch

People love their mobile devices. So it’s no surprise a recent report from Nielsen found American adults spend more than 11 hours per day on mobile phones and tablets. We’ve been seeing this shift affect how people consume information for years now, and what’s starting to take shape is how mobile is being harnessed to distribute information on campus.

In higher education, we’re now seeing a steady increase in universities developing three-dimensional mobile strategies. What starts as a single mobile app for, say, admissions or orientation, quickly parlays into a more robust and strategic mobile initiative that extends across the entire student lifecycle.

Mobile in the classroom is no exception; improving learning experiences using mobile is an area that is really starting to develop roots. Here are five benefits to meeting students where they are—in their pockets—by incorporating mobile experiences into course curriculums.

Centralize Communications: Many universities currently use a number of tools and mediums to communicate with students. This could be Blackboard and printouts for course materials, email, and text for urgent notifications or in-classroom whiteboards for announcements. With a plethora of communication channels that need to be updated and monitored, students are susceptible to miss important information. However, when implementing a mobile-first strategy, the app becomes students’ first line of communication.

Enhance Learning: A mobile app can house thousands of pages of course materials and use push notifications to keep students up-to-date with any and all changes. An app can also enable students to view their courses, meticulously organized by track and course, and access corresponding materials right from their phone.

Streamline Updates: Having a way to inform students of every change can be challenging. But with an app, any update to, say, schedules or curriculum can be made within a mobile app immediately. Sending push notifications enables rapid contact with students.

Better Engagement: Mobile apps can also encourage and facilitate easier peer-to-peer and peer-to-professor engagement when not in the classroom. For example, an app can have a built-in feature for discussion, questions and answers, and sharing.

Reduce Waste: In addition to the mobile-driven student-focused benefits, a shift to mobile can help universities reduce their overall paper footprint and printing costs. An app that houses course materials, student updates, curriculum notices, etc. can help eliminate paper materials altogether.

Six Tips for Adoption

While many people are comfortable performing several daily functions entirely on their mobile (i.e., banking, email, news, etc.), in higher ed the feel of paper still somewhat provides peace of mind.

Having a small amount of trimmed down materials printed on paper is a good backup—for anyone who may be having issues with their mobile phone or insists upon a printed artifact.

The key, though, is to promote and encourage people to download and start using the app so they can see first-hand how much more efficient and effective they can be on mobile in a learning environment.

So how do you do that?

1. Champion: identify and assign a single advocate for the app who will become the voice and champion for adoption amongst students, the school, across departments, and with IT.

2. Promote: get users to download and start using the app early, even as you continue to roll out fully baked features. This will give you the runway to continuously promote the app, allow them time to warm up to the idea of the app, and their feedback will help refine the user experience.

3. Distribute: the app should work in tandem with your existing communication channels, so include details and instructions on downloading and using the app via email, newsletters, letters, etc.

4. Update: frequently update the app with new information, which helps keep it top of mind with users. As you regularly update your app, students will know to access the app for new information.

5. Lead: make the app essential, not a nice-to-have. Commit to putting all course materials, notifications, discussions, etc. on the app first so it becomes the first-place students go for updates and information.

6. Measure: evaluate metrics and gain student feedback so you know exactly how your app is performing, its most popular features and content, and functionality and offerings to improve.

How an International Med School Went Digital

Now that we discussed the benefits and tips for adoption, let’s look at how one international university implemented a mobile learning strategy to change student learning, improve engagement, and reduce costs.

Korea University College of Medicine (KUCM), the medical school of Korea University, has over 500 students enrolled in its rigorous six-year program. Last year, the KUCM administration wanted to improve communication with students and reduce spend on paper materials. The school decided to implement a mobile-first strategy and introduced the KU Medical Education Center app—and achieved 100% adoption.

KUCM houses thousands of pages of course materials and uses push notifications to keep students up-to-date with any and all changes. By moving class materials to a mobile app, students have access to original documents, providing a better experience of viewing medical documents, illustrations, and diagrams than relying on black-and-white printouts.

Push notifications enable KUCM administration to solve the challenge of ensuring students are receiving the latest information. In the past, if students changed their phone number or had strict security limits on their phone, they wouldn’t receive important notifications or messages would end up in a spam mailbox. Today, however, all students receive notifications pushed from the KU Medical Education Center app.

During midterms and finals week, the school used to write FAQs on a whiteboard in each classroom because there was no proper place to post these things before. Now, they use the “Discussions” tab within the app, allowing professors and students to address questions with answers. Students welcomed this feature; metrics show each student using the app nearly 30 times within a month.

With a mobile-first strategy, an app can equip a university with an environmentally-friendlier, comprehensive solution that better connects administrators, professors, and students.

Since moving to a mobile app, “Exam Details” are the most frequently viewed sessions, illustrating the importance of communication prior to exams. Professors were also authorized to upload documents and exam notes to their courses, making smooth pre-exam communication possible and even better.

Thanks to a strong push for app adoption, the entire school of medicine shifted to mobile, eliminating paper course materials altogether.

With this move, KUCM administration is expecting to reduce their annual printing budget by $45,000. Over the course of one decade that savings would be $450,000.

Creating a Digital Learning Experience

With a mobile-first strategy, an app can equip a university with an environmentally-friendlier, comprehensive solution that better connects administrators, professors, and students.

A fully integrated app can help the next generation of students more efficiently tackle the day-to-day challenges of school and engage with classmates using modernized tools.

Jackie Lynch is a marketing manager for San Francisco-based Guidebook, a mobile app platform used by more than 80 percent of the top U.S. and global universities. Connect with here on LinkedIn.

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