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Is the Portal App D.O.A.?

I think it’s safe to say that little, if anything, has changed with portals in Higher Education since the pre-mobile days. But as it is generally true that the cognitive models in use at any given time are used to understand something new, it is of little surprise that many institutions are attempting to marry portals with mobile technology today. In doing so, we find ourselves engaged in conversations with clients regarding whether they should develop device specific apps or use HTML5, for example. The assumption, in all of this, is that “app as portal” is worth the investment. Yet, is it necessary?

Smartphone with apps

Students today, and certainly tomorrow, are and will be immersed in a world where apps have very specific or targeted uses. Is there something innately challenging for an institution to have separate apps for their Learning Management System (LMS), their administrative systems (for course registration, billing and other information), their residence halls, the bookstore, bus schedules, a map of the campus, athletics, etc.? It is certainly not innately challenging for students nicknamed “digital natives” to access them. Students know how to locate the information they need when they need it. They are already accustomed to downloading apps, whether free or not, to help them read course materials, take effective notes, transcribe lectures, or anything else related to their studies and their personal lives, so do they really need excessive guidance to direct them to the information they’re looking for? I think not.

If multiple apps are not a challenge for the students, there does not appear to be a need for a “portal app.” As Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”


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