Students head back to school with digital learning demands of their mobile apps

By Elisa Silverman, on


The kiddos are heading back to college, and they have their “mobile first, mobile always” mindsets set squarely on digital learning opportunities. A study of university students conducted by McGraw-Hill Education and Hanover Research found that 81 percent of students use mobile devices to study. That makes mobile tools the second-most popular devices on campus behind notebook computers, but with 40 percent usage growth over last year, smartphones and tablets will become the indispensable technology for learning.

The EdTech field is filled with nontraditional educational factors that contribute to the normalization of digital learning. They include unaccredited learning spaces such as the Khan Academy, which has a mobile app adjunct, and learning assistance apps, such as WolframAlpha that are mobile-first.

However, the traditional university isn’t ready to get left behind as EdTech and educational mobile apps transform the way everyone learns. Universities are getting more sophisticated in the apps they offer students and faculty. Here’s a look at how they’re moving their app strategies forward:

Blended learning mobile apps are the logical next step

Back in 2013, 7.1 million students were already taking online courses, according to Best College Reviews. Schools are shifting many of these same functions, such as accessing course materials, submitting assignments and participating in class discussion, to mobile apps.

These blended learning apps are the logical next step after the first foray into blended learning made it simpler to access recorded lectures. However, they touch on the same new educational principle of on-demand education.

Instead of confining students and teachers to fixed schedules and spaces, these blended learning apps dramatically expand access to higher education. Now, both nontraditional students with family and work obligations and students who can’t or don’t want to leave their homes to attend school have the ability to design a learning schedule that adapts to their life needs.

Digital learning enables personalized learning

As you can see, student mobile demands aren’t driven only by their tech habits, but rather a stronger consumerist attitude toward learning: they want their ROI.

Bloomberg reported that costs for higher education continue to surpass the rate of inflation, leaving students with high debt and debatable job prospects. So, schools are motivated to use mobile apps to lower costs while still delivering a quality education. In turn, the students want their schools to take advantage of digital capabilities to personalize their learning.

The same McGraw-Hill/Hanover Research study also found that 72 percent of students felt that study technology should have the same level of personalization they see in their social media feeds, while 79 percent wanted their learning technology individualized to their needs.

An individualized digital learning experience means a mobile app that learns their strengths, weaknesses and interests. Many of the apps from nontraditional educational organizations, especially in the K–12 space, are already moving in this direction. Visual learners, readers and auditory learners will all be able to consume educational content in a way that maximizes their own learning potential.

Another aspect of personalization is guiding students to the content and skills they’ll need for specific careers based on their career goals. Many universities have a mobile app for their career centers, such as the career app for Illinois State University. These career apps typically offer both learning content regarding how to job hunt and logistical support regarding job fairs and employers coming on campus. Tying educational content to personal career goals is the substantive value add a university can bring to its mobile app.

Enhancing campus life

Text-based early-warning systems have graduated to full-scale campus logistic apps that provide maps, curriculum catalogs and event calendars. More innovative schools are developing separate apps for different aspects of campus life.

Many universities have designated mobile apps for their sports teams to keep students, alumni and other fans engaged with the university. Illinois State University has just rolled out a mobile app focused on the physical and mental health of all its students, according to Vidette Online. In addition to providing health content and logistical information about on-campus health resources, it lets students personalize the app with their allergies and food priorities. The app will then provide them with customized dining options, both in general and based on what’s available on campus. The mobile app also gives students a direct communication channel to a school nutritionist.

Other mobile apps, such as MidAmerica Nazarene University’s Student Life app, act as a portal to all things social at the school — both official and unofficial. The app includes online polling and surveys, as well as access to the student government, including online elections.

Keeping up with digital learning demands

So many universities are publishing creative mobile apps to educate and engage their students. Schools that can provide a personalized learning experience will start to differentiate themselves, but only in the midterm. The long-term direction of EdTech will make comprehensive digital learning mobile apps a must-have for schools sooner than they think.

About The Author

Elisa Silverman

Technology Writer

Elisa Silverman is a freelance writer, with a professional background in law and technology. She writes for technology companies and professional service firms. In addition, Elisa writes other types of B2B marketing content that help them establish authority and foster relationships with clients and prospects. Elisa's main rules of writing: Never waste the reader's time. Always be relevant – or at least be interesting.

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