Mobility and connectivity are some of the advantages gained from doing an online or blended class. Most learning management systems (LMS) and open coursewares come in a flexible, multi-platform application – a webpage and a mobile app. For instance, Moodle sites, Litmos sites, Coursera and alike are all accessible via web and mobile app. PROUDLY! Our University’s moodle site has its own mobile application.
Mobile applications improve the mobility of learning spaces. Moreover, portability are enhanced by having (literally!) much lighter options – like smartphones and tablets. Students could check their smartphones for announcements or class materials. If a teacher forgets to bring the slides, he/she could load it from the mobile app. Moreover, Schools doesn’t need to invest too much on laptops or desktops, as tablets are much cheaper yet sufficient alternatives. All these may be achieved with a good mobile app and a well-designed course.
BUT, What makes a good “learning mobile app”?
SIMPLICITY and COMPLETENESS.
Personally, I look into these two general criteria in reviewing a learning app.
A blended class becomes more convenient, if it’s accompanied with a “simple” but “complete” mobile application. It should be simple, because it should assist learning without the hurdles of technical difficulties or structural complexities. Moreover, designing a learning app, just like designing a blended class, is a controlled process. Too few is underwhelming, too much is confusing. Developers must accept the idea that not all tools in the web are needed in the mobile app. The platforms, at the very first place, are not equivalent (Tablets are not Laptops are not Smartphones). Mobile apps are created for improved accessibility, and students are the main focus of the benefit. Hence, learning apps must be “complete” in terms of having the basic functions that a student and his/her class need.
Here are the 6 Functions Students need in a Courseware Mobile App
1. SEARCH and ENROLLMENT FEATURES (Tap and enroll!)
Students must be able search and enroll to (or drop from) classes through the mobile app. With this feature, students will not have to transfer from mobile to web just for the purpose of searching and/or enrolling to a course page. This also makes the mobile app a dependable partner in implementing blended and online classes before, during and even after lecture period. For example, the Coursera app recently included a feature that allows users to search and enroll to their on demand courses.
2. SOCIAL INTERACTIONS through FORUMS (Forums > Chat rooms > Messenger)
Blended learning is a sound combination of online and face-to-face interactions. Hence, the mobile app should also have tools for online social interactions. Commonly, these are forums, chat rooms and a messenger. I think having only one among the three would already suffice.
In my opinion, having a responsive forum resource is the best option among the three. WHY? First, the needed interaction is focused among students within a class. Hence, messaging across users, regardless of class, is not really necessary. Moreover, teachers don’t have much control in a messenger, unlike if it’s in an activity/resource like forums and chat rooms. Second, online interactions and feedback are not always “in sync”. Hence, chat rooms would be a limiting option, because it’s designed for synchronous discussions. Thus, I think having (at least) a responsive forum tool in a mobile app would already allow various levels and forms of interactions.
Forums allow synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Students can post questions, start a thread and/or monitor graded discussions. Forums may also be used for peer evaluation activities. Teachers could influence their students to give more “visible” reactions through forums. More so, frequently-asked-questions are much easier to manage in a forum set up. In a forum, you can ask the participants to organize posts within “Topics” , making the posts more organized than in a messenger or a chat room. Moreover, students will be more encouraged to give feedback if there are options for anonymous postings, and interactive responses such as a “thumbs up” or “like” button.
3. ONLINE QUIZ! (Quiz > File Submission or Assignment)
According to my Blendkit class, a “Module” contains both assessment and content. Hence, the mobile app must be able to maintain such elements within its environment. The app should provide access to online assessment tools such as quizzes. Most LMS allow different interactive structures in quizzes (e.g. multiple choice, fill in the blanks, drag and drop etc.). Hence, if a mobile app has a responsive quiz tool, students will be able to make self-assessments and/or answer quizzes through their smartphones or tablets.
Assignments in mobile apps?
Commonly, an online assessment tool is either a quiz or an assignment, where the latter usually requires submission of files. Arguably, submission of files will not make sense in mobile apps. First, teachers usually require files that has to be created through an office suite. Thus, students will more or less complete such requirements in a computer. Hence, transferring to and submitting through a mobile app will be unnecessary and impractical in most cases. In fact, if I were the student, I will submit the files via computer right after completing it. Hence, it is already enough that the app allows users to see if there’s an assignment or not.
4. ACCESS to MULTIMEDIA MATERIALS (Print, Audio or Video).
Most online classes depend on interactive media for delivering content. Video lectures are the most common medium, but teachers may also use podcasts, webinars etc. All CMS allow file and media sharing within a courses page. Hence, it is also desired that there’s consistency in content delivery across platforms. That is, students are also able to view/access files regardless of format (print, audio or video).
At the very minimum, I think it is already enough that the mobile app has a reader and a media player. That way, students are able to view pdf files, ebooks, or epubs as well as watch video lectures or listen to podcasts. Moreover, it might be inconvenient for a blended class, if files, esp. media materials, are not accessible through much mobile options.
5. GRADE BOOK (Check!)
Aside from being able to access a complete module, mobile apps should also contain a progress monitoring tool. A Grade Book is more or less sufficient.
There are many benefits of including and using a grade book in an app. CMS, via grade book, allows a more private and instantaneous delivery of grades. A grade book helps the student monitor the amount of requirements done or will be done in class. It may be viewed as the app’s progress bar or completion checker.The grade book also helps in reminding the students of the main components of grading.
“Socials+Assessment+Content+Grading = Complete Class Experience”
All stored in a mobile application.
6. FEEDBACK, TECH SUPPORT or REPORT BUGS (Help!)
Oops! I’m not yet done with my list. Remember. Nothing’s perfect. There could be times when a user encounters bugs or difficulties in the app. Hence, there should be a feature or venue for giving feedback or reporting bugs. This will benefit both the user and app administrators. This is just as important as the first five in this list.
And of course, these baseline features could be improved further by creating professional-looking visual design, strengthening security features, and adding helpful notification options, such as synchronizing class calendars with a phone’s notification feature.
If you’re looking for a good courseware app, you should try exploring coursera. Personally, I like how simple it is. I like how it was designed to contain just what I needed as an online learner. The features are well-streamlined, the design looks clean and navigation is easy.
APP! APP! and away!!!