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The Rise of Mobile Technology in Higher Ed

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Between the ever-expanding popularity of tablets and the continued rise of smartphone ownership, all evidence points to an unabated focus on the adoption of new mobile devices and innovative technologies. According to a study by the Online Publishers Association, smartphone owners have increased by 44 percent between 2011 and 2012 and that figure is expected to increase to 57 percent during 2013. As mobile device adoption has increased, so, too, have the number of new applications. From mobile banking to real-time entertainment, there's seemingly no end to what Americans have come to expect from their mobile lifestyles. And, higher education is a market where mobile technology is playing an especially prominent role.

Today's digital natives are no longer confined to their desktops as the mobile revolution spreads across higher education. Florida Lynn University, for example, is requiring all freshmen enrolled in fall 2013 semester to purchase an iPad mini in order to guarantee a "truly modern college experience." Seton Hill is providing all new, full-time students with iPads, while the Illinois Institute of Technology is providing the popular devices to all first-year undergraduates.

The utility and ubiquity of mobile devices, in combination with the digital aptitude of the students who use them, are transforming the educational landscape and bringing a host of new benefits to higher education. Mobile technologies are creating new ways for students to connect with their course materials, their classes and their colleagues, while also providing new ways to save money, while increasing access, productivity and flexibility.

Solving the Higher Education Cost Conundrum

Current college students have been raised on mobile technology and expect higher education institutions and their instructors to continue integrating technology into the classroom for obvious reasons such as convenience; but the most significant benefit of mobile advancement in higher education is improved cost savings for both students and institutions.

The cost of college continues to be a challenge with student debt reaching a shocking $1 trillion in 2012, proving the urgency of providing students with more economical solutions. Online courses are rapidly growing in popularity and certainly alleviate some of the challenge in solving this cost conundrum by eliminating institution costs related to infrastructure and amortizing costs across a much larger pool of students.

Babson Survey Research Group released a study showing that 6.7 million students signed up for online learning in 2012, and at least 32 percent of students take an online course at some point during their college careers. These statistics validate growing student preference for the accessibility and affordability of the "mobile classroom" and many universities are beginning to recognize and expand their online offerings accordingly.

An additional major expense addressed by mobile technology is the cost of textbooks. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office's newly-released report on the Association of the American Publishers' website, textbook prices rose an average of 6 percent per year from 2002 to 2012. In addition to saving students money, digital textbooks also cater to the mobile nature of many students who prefer content at their fingertips, anywhere, anytime.

Mobile Convenience and Efficiencies are Priceless
Online courses and digital textbooks clearly offer robust cost savings for students and institutions, but mobile learning also provides an unmatched level of convenience and productivity. Today's students are part of a digital generation that has grown accustomed to instant online access and information on demand. Last year, a Wakefield survey found that 40 percent of students could not go more than 10 minutes without using some sort of digital technology. This reliance on technology emphasizes the importance of mobile devices and augers for continued proliferation of tablets and smartphones across campuses.

The "digital backpack" is an all-in-one resource, able to store a student's homework, notes and textbooks, without the hassle of physically carrying them around. Accessing content and materials on a digital device is a natural preference for these digitally savvy students, allowing them access wherever and whenever they want, whether it's on the bus to campus or up late studying for a final in their dorm.

The Future of Mobile Learning
According to the Financial Post, investment in U.S.- based education technology companies hit $930 million in 2011 and by 2015, 25 million post-secondary students in the United States will be taking classes online. Students have more mobile devices than computers and they certainly don't have a problem adapting to new delivery mechanisms, as long as the benefits are clear.

Mobile has already proven its cost saving and convenience benefits, but it has the potential to truly transform the effectiveness of education by delivering it within the context of the student's life rather than in an abstract classroom. In order to successfully educate the digital generation, institutions must continue to evolve and further integrate innovative tools and digital resources into their learning models.