Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don't Have a Mobile Strategy? You're Behind

Gone Mobile

According to the latest study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "17% of cell phone owners do most of their online browsing on their phone, rather than a computer or other device."

This number shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, considering that smartphone owners now comprise the majority of mobile phone users in the U.S., and that we are a society that is increasingly hooked on connectivity.

Of course, statistics related to "mobile" Internet access go much higher when we bring in tablet devices. The tablet market continues to explode and my research continues to track numbers showing that 25% of incoming first-year students in Higher Education will own a tablet device in 2012. Apple continues to dominate the market to date, but student usage will also be fueled this summer by the upcoming Nexus tablet from Google (reportedly priced at $199), and an updated Kindle Fire. In addition, Microsoft's Windows 8 tablets, released in October, will have a strong impact on the education market as a whole.

It's also important to remember that tablets as a product type have a much higher propensity for disruption than laptops and smartphones. Tablets are personal lifestyle devices as opposed to productivity necessities. This means several things. First, users are purchasing tablets in addition to their other technology instead of as a replacement. Second, because of the lower price points and rapid development-release cycles, users are refreshing tablet technology at a faster rate than any previous technology devices. This translates to a sizable used tablet market and a product segment that is expanding more rapidly than any before it.

The Impact

This shift toward smartphones and tablets is a trend that portends significant change across the education sector -- for institutions, instructors, students, and vendors. Specific implications include:

  • Everyone is connected -- I remember my days as an IT Director and fighting the battle of connectivity. Smartphones and tablets are eliminating all concerns on that front. Everyone is already connected, with more than one device, and can gain access to information from multiple locations outside a main educational campus.

  • Everyone is touching and talking -- Smartphones and tablets have also introduced the most important and transformative changes in educational technology -- touch and voice. Within five years we will have students entering Higher Education who are completely unaccustomed to using an intermediary device (e.g., a keyboard) for data or creative input. Touch technology means that, for the first time, students can interact with and manipulate information directly. Just as importantly, voice technology is creating an incoming class for whom the primary method of information retrieval and inquiry will be spoken natural language.

  • Everything is smaller -- This is true in a real sense, as tablet and smartphone screens are reducing the visual playing field from 17" to 10", 7", and 4", but it is also a metaphorical touch. The amount of content we place on a screen is shrinking (changing consumption habits), and the amount of dedicated time users spend on single applications is diminishing as well.

  • Content is coming apart -- The rise of new consumption devices will prove to be the "final straw" in the textbook transformation process over the next 3-4 years. These devices are pushing rapidly toward the digital horizon, but are also forcing everyone -- publishers, institutions and instructors -- to rethink how learning materials are being used and what is actually required for students to be successful. The end result will be smaller, more granular learning packages, an increased use of OER, and new business models such as content subscription offers.

  • Centrifugal learning -- Perhaps the most important change brought on by the adotpion of smartphones and tablets is the rapid evolution toward centrifugal learning. This means experiential learning, education beyond the classroom walls, and the move to greater amounts of disintermediated learning activity. This holds true for traditional as well as online classes.
The Basics of a Mobile Strategy

Make no mistake, these changes are already occurring, and the immediate task at hand is to develop a comprehensive strategy for mobile learning before real chaos ensues over the next 12-18 months.

At the very least, every institution should have:
  • A content strategy -- Learning content and content options are changing rapidly. Content formats, devices, user patterns, and cost must all be considered. In addition, institutions should create best-practice models for content usage that departments and instructors can follow.

  • An app strategy/platform -- Just as institutions created programs and policies around LMS and SIS platforms, they need to address mobile learning with the same comprehensive focus. In particular, they need to determine how they can best support faculty and students in their activities using mobile devices. From a teaching and learning perspective, this means apps. What apps do you recommend for faculty? How are you helping faculty and students manage the proliferation of available apps? How are you harnessing institutional data via teaching and learning through mobile apps? How does the usage of various apps affect your overall wireless infrastructure?

  • A pedagogy strategy -- The time has come to stop thinking about mobile teaching and learning as something that affects only a small percentage of institutional participants. Within 12-18 months it will become a mainstay and centerpiece of how education is delivered and/or consumed. As a result, institutions need to have a clear vision regarding how they want to harness this technology trend. Will you emphasize a flipped classroom model? Are you focused on creating experiential learning exercises throughout your curriculum? How are you addressing new digital literacies that affect the overall success of your students?

There can be no doubt that the mobile revolution has arrived at the doorstep (if not the foyer) of educational institutions, and over the next 12-18 months it will continue to take over the way learning is delivered and consumed. Institutional leaders throughout the different market sectors in education need to act now to address this change and to harness the productive learning power it brings with it. 

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