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The Need for Mobile Strategy in Higher Education

Institutions need to understand and measure what value is delivered by mobile for improving student retention and success for students of all types, including prospective and distant education students.

It is common knowledge that the use of mobile devices is growing rapidly. All of us likely know someone who uses a smart phone a tablet or both, even if we do not have one ourself. More and more students are coming to campus with these devices and it is likely that the devices will soon become pervasive with the attendant expectations. If some reports are to be believed, it is likely that in the not too distant future, most students will have more than one mobile device. Cisco recently stated that:

By the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and by 2016 there will be 1.4 mobile devices per capita.

Many institutions support mobile devices today as demonstrated by the non-exhaustive list of Higher Education institutions compiled by Dave Olsen of West Virginia University which can be found here. A closer look at mobile support suggests that schools are focusing on supporting the myriad technologies and devices, but they do not have a clear strategy, including measuring value and/or success.

Today, institutions address mobile by making information available on the institution’s web site usable on smart phones. Some institutions have taken to writing (or having written for them) apps that they then distribute through their own “apps stores”, iTunes® and/or the Android Market®. Other institutions have chosen not to go the app route and instead have focused on mobile applications using web technology. Some institutions have used both approaches. More recently the focus is beginning to turn to what is known as the Responsive Website.

Whatever approach is taken, the services currently being provided, while useful and important, are focused on delivery mechanics rather than value provided to students and the institution. Some examples of these services, to name just a few, are:

  • Campus maps,
  • Bus schedules and
  • Class schedules.

This direction has also been noted by Seth Odell who argued here for an “Admission First” approach to mobile in Higher Ed (emphasis added):

… a staggering 52% of college-bound high school students looking at our websites via mobile device, it’s hard to ignore that there is real demand from prospective students for valuable mobile-friendly admissions information. Yet when they come to our mobile sites what do they actually find?

For the last few years higher education has been largely designing mobile sites with one audience in mind – the campus community. … Nowhere to be found are the … requests that college-bound students are asking for right now.

What does this all mean?

Higher ed has missed the mark with mobile. 

Has Higher Ed really “missed the mark with mobile” as Seth Odell writes?

Unless mobile is part of of the institution’s strategic plan for student retention and success, I suspect the answer will be yes.

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