The face of higher education worldwide is in constant evolution. Every generation of students has its own ambition, drivers, and needs. Today’s students are increasingly multinational, wanting to make an impact on the world, and striving for a brighter future. They also have more choices than ever at their fingertips regarding how and where to get an education or pursue a career. Many of them could be also defined as “non-traditional learners”: mature students looking to retrain to widen their career options, students studying outside their home country, undergraduates who need to work full-time to fund their own study.

While they have different backgrounds, they all have in common an increasing demand for flexible courses, internationally recognised qualifications and, in particular, information accessibility anytime and anywhere.
As the market leader we’ve seen a surge in the use of mobile by universities. For example 82% of the universities we work with in the UK are currently implementing a mobile solution to deliver a more student-centric learning and offer mobile access to online learning and collaboration.

Attracting students when competition comes from an ever-widening pool of learning options, means that students have more choice about what they want to study, when they are available to study and where they want to be when they study. There is a shrinking number of students who are able (or want) to attend university in person, take part in face-to-face lectures and submit their work by hand. And the transformation of universities across the UK has been enabled by mobile technology.

At Blackboard, we’ve been researching this need for a mobile environment and we have spent time with students in class and in their free time to understand their learning patterns better. On top of the specific features that learners want from a dedicated app, the research revealed that mobile technology comes as second nature to today’s students and they rely on devices to manage their lives. They don’t feel study should be any different. If every aspect of their lives can be handled remotely through a handheld device then they expect their education to be the same.

However, some universities have only made a cursory effort to update their curriculum delivery mechanisms. They use technology as a notice-board, broadcasting learning without enabling the students themselves to drive activity. Some operate with an educational delivery and support system based on frontal lesson only models, which was designed to serve learners in a more traditional way.

By ignoring the needs of today’s learner, these universities risk facing more than just a student’s frustration. Without the flexibility to take part in flipped classroom activity, submit assessments using their mobile device or engage with students and faculty members online, some students are falling behind as they try to weave their education into their everyday lives. As a result, more students are dropping out, struggling to reach life and career goals, and questioning the value of an education.
So what happens next? Some universities are changing how they develop their courses, changing how they deliver lectures and changing how they engage with their students. A lot of this is done through mobile technology. The world has its first paperless university, Higher Colleges of Technology in United Arab Emirates, and it’s only a matter of time before more follow suit. But the technology doesn’t take the lead. It enables the university to follow the student. And the universities who recognise that and meet the needs of the new breed of learner will succeed in changing the shape of education for good.

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