Why the Mobile Experience Matters
The Case for Mobile
Organizations have gotten smart. They realize if they want to reach and engage their customer base, they are going to have to go mobile. Pew Research recently reported that smartphone use among Americans is up to a staggering 77 percent. That may not seem surprising until you realize how much that number has grown since 2011. Six years ago, only 35 percent of Americans owned smartphones.
And which demographic ranks at the top of ownership? Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 years old, 92 percent of them, in fact. If you’re a higher learning institution, that number should perk your ears.
Not only are your students using their smartphones, but more than half of them are using other mobile devices such as tablets. Taking this a bit further, we don’t have to assume what people are doing on their mobile devices. A 2015 report found people are spending 90 percent of their mobile time in apps – and only 10 percent in their browser. This report was released two years ago so it is highly likely the gap between those numbers has widened even further.
Not All Mobile Is Created Equal
Higher learning institutions are rolling out mobile apps in hopes of capturing their student’s attention, giving them greater access and functionality on the go, and responding to the increasing demand for a mobile presence. How many of them are succeeding is unknown. Mobile app success is highly subjective. Many institutions may think simply by having a mobile app, they have succeeded. But if the users were asked about their mobile experience, would they agree?
Nearly a quarter of all mobile apps are abandoned after one use and 62 percent will use an app less than 11 times. Of course, these statistics are for the general public but they highlight the fact that mobile app users are impatient and demanding – in a good way. They are pushing developers to do better, to think differently and to design apps people actually want to use.
Students may not have much of a say in how their school’s design their apps, but they should. Higher learning institutions who want to do more than slap an app onto a mobile device and call it a day are going to be the ones with higher student engagement, greater student outcomes and happier students. Mobile apps may not be the cure-all, but a well-designed, student-focused app will empower students to do more for themselves, take ownership of their educational journey, complete more tasks on time in less time, and reach their goals much easier.
Related: Case Study: How Lone Star College is providing students with the positive mobile experience they demand
Mobile Isn’t Desktop
The first thing schools need to understand is that the mobile device, particularly a smartphone, is vastly different from its desktop counterpart. What works for the desktop often will not work on a smartphone. You may have the best online portal in the country but that portal may not translate into an awesome mobile app unless you are intentional.
A responsive design means modifications must be made across different platforms so there is a seamless user experience. This isn’t always easy and requires an expert hand.
Smaller screens mean less space for the user and the developer. The viewer can see less information at once from their smartphone, impacting images, fonts, scrolling and content. Smartphones are also slower to process information than a desktop processor, taking more time to render images or load content.
How users interact with the app will differ as well. Users will tap on links instead of clicking or hovering and there is much less precision. Keyboard entry can be tricky as letters and fields for input are much smaller. These are just a few design issues developers must consider when designing an app.
Convenience, above All Else
A list of to dos and don’ts are easy to find but user behavior is what should drive the mobile design. What do users universally want? No matter who you ask, speed and ease of use will be the top user desires, plain and simple.
Students are no different and may even be more inclined to demand such features. They were raised on technology and live in an instant gratification world. To boil it down to one word, they expect their mobile experience will be convenient. How does Google define “convenient?” “Fitting in well with a person’s needs, activities and plans. Involving little trouble or effort. Situated so as to allow easy access to. Occurring in a place or at a time that is useful.” Does your app do that?
Convenience means apps are easy to access, easy to use and fast in their response. Students want to find information, complete a task and connect with friends while they’re standing in line at a coffee shop. They may only have seconds to engage with the app and they aren’t going to love an app where they have to wait or come back to when they have more time.
As much as higher learning institutions may consider mobile app design, students don’t want to even think about the design – they just expect the app to work how they want, when they want. They may only think about the design when they recognize the app isn’t meeting their needs.
Mobile Design Takes A Village
Higher learning institutions are not generally experts in designing user-friendly mobile apps. Most prefer to focus on the business of educating and managing the hundreds of other responsibilities required to keep the institution humming. Finding a technology partner can be a critical step towards making mobile a reality and ensuring they can provide users with the best possible mobile experience both now and as technology evolves.
One of the most important things a developer (inside the institution or a third party) can do is to know their audience. Asking basic questions will lay the foundation to design: Who is going to be using the app? How will they be using it? When will they be using it? Where will they be using it? Any developer or software provider should put the user front and center before designing or selling any mobile app. This means actually speaking to the users. Assuming, guessing or throwing darts at what is thought to be a need or requirement is no substitute for real focus groups.
Enlisting the help of the user to inform decisions and guide the design is perhaps the single best tactic in developing a mobile app that will do what it was intended to do. Going mobile is a sizable investment of time and resources. Why go at it half-heartedly? If you’re going to invest in mobile, do it right. Partner with experienced providers who can deliver an app that will not only be used but hailed as a key element for student success.
Why Having a Mobile App for College Students Isn’t Enough
The development and use of mobile apps have skyrocketed in the past few years. Back in 2014, Nielsen found that people were spending 89 percent of their media time on mobile apps and only 11 percent of their time was being spent on mobile web. This trend has continued, as 98 percent of millennials now own smartphones and use apps to do virtually everything.
For millennials, their smartphones are their best friends, quite literally. A recent study found 39 percent of millennials say they interact more with their smartphones than they do with their friends, parents or co-workers. Surprisingly, the same number of them say they feel anxious when they don’t have access to their smartphone. What are they doing on these smartphones? An easier question to answer might be, “What are they NOT doing on their smartphones?”
These statistics illustrate the importance millennials have placed on their digital devices. While Gen Xers and baby boomers aren’t far behind, millennials are leading the charge. With so much available at their fingertips, there’s no indication this cultural phenomenon will slow down anytime soon. Smartphones and digital apps are here to stay. Organizations from every industry and sector will need to jump onto the bandwagon to develop apps that keep them competitive but not just any app will do.
Go Where the Student Go
If a higher learning institution wants to connect and engage with students, they’re not going to do it from behind a desk or via a desktop application. It’s going to mean campuses must go where students are spending the bulk of their time, and that’s their smartphones. Many of today’s students don’t even own a desktop computer but come to school “prepared” with a smartphone and a tablet. They are expecting, based on what they’ve come to learn from their personal lives, that everything they need will be accessible via the Internet and even more so, mobile apps.
In fact, students are increasingly choosing colleges and universities that offer a wide range of mobile apps for them to do everything from finding and enrolling in classes to connecting with friends, making financial aid payments and finding their way around campus. They aren’t wanting to navigate through multiple clicks on the Internet. They want this information and the ability to perform certain tasks in a more user-friendly app they can access anywhere, anytime.
Websites, even when they are well-built, don’t offer the kind of instantaneous, on-the-go capabilities as mobile apps. They can be slow to load, have too many pages, and often have glitches that require students to re-input information. They are quickly becoming archaic to students who have grown up using apps. Websites, in this sense, may soon be compared to the Dewey Decimal System we Gen Xers and baby boomers were once required to use.
Appearance Is Everything
Developing mobile apps for college students isn’t always easy or inexpensive, but there are companies who are making it much simpler. They offer turnkey solutions for institutions to revamp how they interact with students. By replacing their outdated systems with one that can present mobile capabilities, these institutions and their students are able to do more and have greater outcomes. But having a mobile app isn’t the end of the story.
We have to remember that the students who attend higher learning institutions are most likely included in the majority who use apps for many of their daily tasks in their personal lives. The most popular apps, the ones that people use most often, are the ones that do more than just enable them to perform a task or find information. They offer an experience.
Students want an app that is easy to download and use, sure. But if you want the app to become part of their everyday routine, it’s going to have to be built around appearances and user experience. Students will quickly abandon an app that isn’t visually pleasing, engaging and useful. In fact, 23 percent of mobile app users abandon an app after one use and 62 percent will us an app less than 11 times.
For institutions who invest in mobile app technology, these numbers should make you sit up and take notice. These are serious investments that require a complete overhaul of processes. If you want the transition and the investment to be worth every penny, it’s imperative the mobile app(s) will be readily adopted and become a valued tool for every student.
While many institutions have already recognized the need for mobile apps, others are slower to engage. Some believe they have functioned without them for X number of years just fine. But with colleges and universities receiving funding now based on outcomes, i.e. graduation rates, every student who doesn’t succeed hits the bottom line and rankings. These are two fundamental elements critical in recruiting new students.
Just over half of all college students ever graduate. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says, “An emerging theme in the literature is the need to diversify support services in order to meet the needs of higher education’s growing and diverse student population. Findings show that the major factors leading to institutional departure include lack of social integration, confusion about academic major, and academic/employment balance. This reaffirms the importance of creating diverse opportunities for student engagement at higher education institutions to complement completion efforts.”
When students have all of the information they need at their fingertips and can perform many, if not most, of their tasks from a mobile app, they are much more likely to register for the right classes, pay their financial aid on time, and navigate their educational journey more efficiently. They can more easily connect with teachers, staff, administrators and fellow students when they have a single app with centralized information and functionality. In essence, they are more engaged.
Going to the Next Level
Given this information, where is the problem? According to one mobile expert who worked with Steve Jobs to develop the framework for the first iPhone, organizations are “not re-imagining their mobile experience fast enough. The vast majority have failed to innovate anywhere near the same pace as consumers’ demands and expectations for mobile. Multitudes will fail if they don’t drastically change their approach to meet and exceed consumers’ mobile expectations.”
Who are the higher learning institutions’ customers? Their students. If these institutions want to compete, if they want their funding, if they want to recruit and retain the best students, they are going to have to rethink the customer experience. They must move from product-thinking to design-thinking. Sure, you can roll out an app, but if it isn’t designed with today’s student in mind, you’re wasting your resources because they won’t use it.
The students who are enrolling in colleges and universities don’t care as much about email as they do push notifications. They want to understand, as an incoming freshman, exactly what courses to take and when in order to meet their goals. They may want financial aid, but they don’t want to wait in lines to make payments or to talk to a counselor about whether or not a class is eligible. In one word, they want convenience.
Make it easy and enjoyable for your students to engage with their school and you will likely see better outcomes, higher student success, and happier students. It’s an investment not only in their future but the future of your institution.