Mobile as a Powerful Enabler of Educational Engagement


“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

That’s how I feel about my mobile phone. We are attached. It supports me and I often feel lost without it (quite literally when I need directions). For generations who have never lived in a world without mobile technology, this connection likely runs much deeper, in ways even I can’t fully grasp.

The use of mobile technologies in education has been widely discussed for over a decade now, with more recent focus on how mobile technology can be leveraged to deliver personalized and tailored content to learners, no matter where they are. Delivering the right content at the right time presents a huge opportunity to help learners succeed, by keeping them informed, helping make their lives easier, and guiding them to complete critical activities. As more and more students depend on their mobile devices for all aspects of their lives, their expectations for how their mobile device supports them in their educational journey will rise, especially given the investment many students make in their education. Mobile allows students to interact and engage on their own time, outside the boundaries of the classroom. This also creates a powerful opportunity for educators to increase their understanding of their students, as well as the level of engagement of their students.

To ensure we meet our users’ needs and expectations, Blackboard has invested in a holistic mobile strategy. The three pillars of our mobile strategy are: inform, simplify, and engage. Our goals are to proactively inform the student and the people who support students with the information they need, make critical tasks easier with simplified workflows, and increase student engagement through mobile’s unique capabilities.

Understanding Our Three Mobile Strategy Pillars:

Pillar 1: Inform by Providing Timely Updates to Users

Students lead busy lives. Nearly 4 out of 5 students work while enrolled. They are constantly juggling demands from school, work and life—and that’s not easy. They may be parents, or caretakers, or working full time jobs—or all three. Mobile helps make the activities they need to complete both inside and outside of the classroom easier and more convenient. Our Blackboard App surfaces important information like due dates and announcements via the Activity Stream and sends out push notifications with grade updates, so students are up-to-date on their most pressing tasks.

This is an image of the Blackboard app.

Pillar 2: Simplify by Making Critical Tasks Easier

We understand what learners and educators expect to do on their mobile devices. We’ve designed useful applications tailor-made to meet their needs. Our mobile apps do not replicate deep application capabilities, but rather sit in service of them. Our new app, Blackboard Instructor, gives instructors a simple and intuitive way to manage courses, interact with students, and view content with an emphasis placed on their immediate needs. Our goal is to help expedite consuming administrative tasks and enable faculty and teachers to engage with students on the go.

This is an image of Blackboard Instructor.

Pillar 3: Engage Users by Reaching Them Where They Are

Engaged students are more likely to succeed, and mobile is a critical way to raise levels of engagement. Blackboard research shows that the number of times a student accesses their LMS can be a better predictor of student success than their GPA. In the classroom, engagement can take the form of real-time polling to gauge students’ understanding of class material, or incorporating mobile-specific assignments into work by including tools like camera, video, and recording capabilities into assignments. Mobile also allows student to interact and engage on their own time, outside the boundaries of the classroom. Outside the classroom, engagement should be prompted in a contextually relevant and personalized manner. We’re helping students immediately connect with their advisor or instructor through messaging and video conferencing tools built right into our app.

Investing in a Holistic Strategy

We are very conscious of the need to provide support for various device modalities for both instructors and students to help them best prepare and succeed in their academic work.

As part of our efforts to advance our users’ mobile experience and optimize product delivery, we have made the decision to end availability and support for Mobile Learn (our original mobile app) in August of 2017.  We’re confident that our apps, centered around the core workflows most used by students and instructors, will better serve the needs of our users worldwide. In 2015, we first introduced this framework with an app geared specifically to meet the needs of learners, and have continually delivered new features and a better experience since then. Our investment in mobile continues with our newly launched app for educators, Blackboard Instructor. Both the Blackboard app and the Blackboard Instructor app were built to reflect our three-pillar strategy.

With our continuous delivery model, we introduce features as they are developed so we can quickly provide value and convenience to our users. This also enables us to continue to gather user feedback, iterate and improve all of our features over time.

Delivering on our mobile strategy also requires investment in both native mobile apps and responsive design. Native mobile apps provide an experience completely tailored to a small screen, focused on improved optimization and speed for the most commonly performed tasks. However, Blackboard Learn is a robust LMS with great breadth and depth of functionality. Our continued investment in responsive design ensures students and educators enjoy a great experience on all devices and screen sizes without losing the ability to perform any of the functions they require. This means users will have an enjoyable, seamless experience no matter how they access Blackboard Learn on a mobile device.

But we are not stopping there, as we continue our investments in mobile, we strive to provide value to students and those who support them. As more traditional communication methods like email lose the power they once had, we will continue to innovate to help instructors, advisors and students communicate on their most used devices. Mobile also allows instructors and advisors to gather important information about students so they can provide more personalized and contextualized support in critical moments. Mobile provides scalability in driving effective, timely, and relevant interventions. We are and will continue to invest in mobile as part of our overall student success strategy to build a data-driven, connected ecosystem of support that helps institutions understand and satisfy student needs with contextualized, personalized, and timely help resources.