As mobile devices become more integrated into daily life, educators are striving to create an easy-to-use, interactive experience for students. By introducing their courses on mobile responsive platforms or in individual apps, independent course creators are making a formerly deskbound activity accessible on-the-go.
As technology moves forward, educators must also adapt. New apps are constantly being developed and released in the Apple Store, GooglePlay and Android Market. Individual course creators are starting to jump into this trend, marketing to mobile users and even selling educational apps alongside their online courses.
Apps for the classroom
For example, Michael Williams, founder of the online-based Start Speaking Training Center, LLC, recently released a mobile app, Proactive Speaking Mobile Speech Trainer. He sells it for $15 on the Apple Store, and it will be available in the Android Market later this month. Williams, who started selling his courses online with Udemy last year, decided to expand his perimeters to reach his audience better.
“A client suggested looking into making a mobile app,” says Williams. “So I took a serious look and said, ‘You’re right. This is where I need to be.’”
Using an app, instructors can reach students easier and in a more personal way than with the typical online course. Students can upload and cross post their own material, create personal calendars and reminder schedules, comment on videos and interact with other students, among many other things. The ability to send push notifications and text alerts guarantees announcements and updates aren’t being filtered into email spam folders.
“I think I’ll be able to have higher quality interactions and more intimate relationships with my clients,” says Williams. “I probably will not reach more people, but I will be able to serve more people better.”
Williams worked with a team of developers over a four-month period to help him make his idea a reality. He had previous experience working with developers for his website and knew it was important to find a group that would invest as much into his product as he did.
“You want to make sure you work with good developers,” he warns. “You can’t take short cuts and go with the lowest bidder. Otherwise you’ll end up paying in the long run.”
In the end, Williams is excited that as an online course instructor, he is in charge of his own domain. To him, owning his own app is essentially like owning his own business — just with a mobile storefront.
“If you have your own app, you created that. It’s yours and all of your students are yours — they aren’t brought in by a larger company,” he says. “It’s a big move to own your own business and making it yours, but it’s worth it.”
Sandi Lin, founder of Skilljar, a company dedicated to hosting online courses, says, “A lot of people want to be able to access content on-the-go. People expect to be able to sit on the couch and use an iPhone or a tablet.”
Tablets make up more than 10 percent of over all traffic to Skilljar’s course platform, with iPads being the most dominant device. “Without being captive to a class or a desktop computer, more people expect mobile access and more of an experience while accessing that content,” Lin explains.
Engaging online learners
Another example of offering an educational app alongside an online course is John Bura, owner of game development studio Mammoth Interactive and Udemy’s recently named top course instructor. His company has been developing and selling apps since 2008. He enjoys the level of participation that he gets from students who use his learning apps.
“One of the hardest parts about online education is engagement,” Bura says. “For some people it is really hard to get started. I personally had to train myself for years in order to make it a habit. Interactive apps and games help people have fun while learning. If a person decides to pick up one of my apps to learn to code instead of a AAA shoot ‘em up, I call that a complete win.”
The content of Bura’s mobile education courses focus on teaching students from a beginner level how to use coding to create games and apps among other things. He strives to keep his courses fun and interactive so students can visually understand his teachings and continually come back to learn more.
“Currently we are working on apps that combine video HTML 5 games and questions into one,” he says. “The idea is that a person can watch a video then work through some interesting problems and fun games to help him or her understand the lesson. After the tutorials you can use the information in real world situations.”
Courses have to be tablet compatible
Both Williams and Bura have begun to tap into an expanding niche market. According to CNNmoney, mobile apps exceeded desktop use for the first time ever in January, making up 47 percent of Internet traffic, with mobile web browsers making up another 8 percent.
As people turn to their mobile devices, creating a course adaptable to all devices is crucial in the development process, Lin says: “Any instructors creating a course today from scratch should be focused on mobile responsiveness. With learning in particular, you should be looking to use tools that are compatible on all devices. Apple products make up one half of mobile users; it is important to consider the compatibility.”
Robert Power, an instructional developer and doctoral student specializing in mobile education, cautions against alienating potential students by making courses incompatible for various device.
“The number of people who have the ability to participate in such courses is increasing with mobile technology and what’s going to be affected by this trend is design requirements,” he says.
Power uses mobile technology both in his online course work and physical classes. One of the simplest ways, he says, for beginning instructors to implement mobile technology in the classroom includes creating a specific hashtag for students to use during the course. Instructors can pose questions through Twitter and have students tweet responses or create a poll.
“I remember when I was in high school, we got to go to the computer lab once a week,” he says. “When I began teaching you had to schedule time in to use the computer labs. You used to have to plan ahead to use computers for course work. Now, you don’t need to be quiet as precise and you can use technology throughout your course.”
Moving to mobile compatibility isn’t just recommended, but something that will inevitably be required at some point down the road. It’s going to be most important, however, that students can access material online in any form, whether it be via desktop, cell phone or tablet, and that the course content can work in each one of those forums.
As educators it is important to stay familiar with technology and supply students with the most up-to-date material possible. Developing mobile accessible courses and apps will expand the number of people individual courses can reach. Keeping in mind design and development, along with content, individual educators can create successful mobile courses.
“People are going to choose the way they want to learn,” Bura concludes. “That could be books, web courses, videos or apps. It could be all of the above, a few of each or only one. At the end of the day the person is going to find the way they want to learn something and go do it. It’s our job as educators and content providers to give them that choice.”
Sandi Lin’s and Robert Power’s do’s-and-don’ts for mobile-friendly courses:
- Consider the compatibility of Flash and HTML 5 on different devices.
- Understand the capabilities of Wifi verses data usage.
- Keep all demographics (and devices) in mind, especially if your students are international or located in developing countries.
- Audio quality is important and often an over-looked factor.
- Text size should fluctuate depending on device.
- Consider download times for videos & audio files.
- Break material into smaller sub units to make it easier digest.