Further education: why the future is mobile

Did you know that more people now own mobile phones than toothbrushes?

Whilst this may be a damning indictment of the state of our oral hygiene, a quick look around any further education college and you can see clearly just how attached students are to their mobiles.

The future of FE is most definitely mobile – it’s the way students prefer to live their lives, and as education and skills are increasingly delivered beyond the four walls of a college building, the sector is embracing the opportunities remote access to information can bring.

Great expectations

Students have no qualms about filling in a long online application form to study for an engineering course using just their thumbs and colleges have responded to this. More and more colleges are incorporating responsive web design on their enrolment pages and making use of mobile devices in the process. With limited screen space, however, they need to get savvy about what information is important and how it’s presented on a mobile phone to succeed in encouraging students to sign up for a course or open a learning account in this way.

We recently carried out some research with a group of students studying at Ashton Sixth Form College in Lancashire and found that many want to manage other aspects of their learning from their phones too, such as tracking their attendance and punctuality.

Engaging with the millennials

The students we worked with have grown up in an environment of gamification. This is the universe of leader boards, bright imagery, and ease of access. Needless to say, they also want to engage with the college this way.

We asked them to test the student app we recently developed and there was a big thumbs-up from the group to the way it displays attendance and punctuality percentages as colourful dials on a mobile.

We are now entering an ea where mobile technology will truly come into its own in FE.

On location

The drive to increase apprenticeships has brought a step change in the way learning and skills are delivered. And mobile technology goes hand in hand with remote learning. It’s much easier for an assessor to carry a mobile phone than a laptop to ‘on location’ learning and to use its video capabilities to gather evidence of competencies a student has completed.

Imagine how simple it would be for an apprentice to tap a screen on their phone to report that they will be absent too, rather than trying to reach busy staff or calling in to leave a message.

Beyond tomorrow

The use of mobile technology is now embedded deeply in the DNA of our lives and the FE sector is not about to be left behind.

Printed aeroplane tickets are being consigned to history, we just wave our smart phone under the scanners. It won’t be long before students don’t need to swipe into college with a card, but are automatically marked present when the device in their pocket triggers the software as they walk into their next study period.

In a few short years, a new student might still stop at the reception desk of a college to ask directions for the learning resource centre, but it will be their mobile device that will be guiding them. An intelligent piece of software such as Siri will provide a swift and accurate response, using the latest GPS capabilities of a mobile phone to direct – turn right at reception, up the stairs and it’s the second door on your left. With the added value of a reminder - don’t forget, you have a meeting with your tutor at 2pm to discuss your progress.

These ‘intelligent assistants’ are becoming more commonplace, so surely it is only a matter of time before a college principal can pick up their mobile over morning coffee and ask for the latest information on funding income or check current retention rates of the engineering department.

But that’s a subject for another blog……..

Karen Reece is head of Capita’s further and higher education business

Capita provides management information systems and student engagement software for further and higher education institutions. To find out more click here

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