Why Mobile Matters for Today's Learning Centers

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

The mission of a learning center revolves around the student—how can we improve access to services, quality of teaching from tutors, and ultimately, persistence and achievement of students? In this post, I argue that having an excellent mobile experience for your center (ie. through a student’s phone) will improve accessibility, teaching quality, and even overall persistence in a student's degree (bear with me on this one).

Accessibility Mobile technology is woven deeply into students’ everyday lives. While the desktop format is useful, it is relegated to a certain experience— sitting at a desk, pulling out a laptop, and browsing. On the other hand, mobile devices are becoming an extension of our being, something that’s especially true of today's students.

Here are a few stats about Gen Z mobile usage*:

  • 78% of Gen Z consider their mobile devices their most important device to go online

  • 57% of Gen Z feel insecure without their phones

  • Gen Z spends 4 hours and 15 minutes per day on their phones, on average (*source: Global Web Index, "The Youth of the Nations: Global Trends Among Gen Z", June 2019)

To increase engagement with your services, consider prioritizing mobile platforms, whether they be internally developed, bolted onto your Learning Management System (LMS), or through an external vendor. The main perk of mobile platforms for student access is lowering the "friction" in the process of booking sessions. When I leave my CHEM 101 lecture and am feeling the panic of my midterm next week, I can act at that moment, pulling out my phone and scheduling a tutoring session. That same urgency won't be felt in four hours after I get home, eat a snack, talk to my roommate, and then get to work. To answer a common rebuttal, a mobile-optimized website is simply not the same as a native app. Users have been conditioned to expect a poor experience from mobile websites, while the opposite is true of an actual app, so we do think offering a true mobile app is important. Tutoring Quality Two features unique to mobile platforms empower tutors to run a more effective session: file sharing and mobile chat. With file-sharing, students use their phone to capture and rapidly share their surroundings with others. Apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and now TikTok have made this act normal. This can be a boon for a tutor— students will share materials much more readily when they can snap pictures of their work, their progress, the problem that’s stumping them, and so on. With a strong mobile experience, the tutor will have more material to prepare and teach for future sessions. Mobile chat drives a similar benefit. Today’s students build relationships through frequent interaction, viewing their friends’ posts, texts, and videos multiple times a day. These interactions can be about anything, from plans for Friday, to paying rent, to scheduling a study session. In my opinion, the tutor-student relationship should feel more like that of a friendship. Enabling communication beyond the single weekly meeting time achieves this. Mobile chat, confined to your center's mobile app, allows the tutor to touch base on action items from their tutoring session, as well as to have a more casual, comfortable relationship with their students. Another common rebuttal - “we don’t want our tutors to be expected to tutor extra minutes over chat.” And that is entirely fair. We have seen, with current partners, that a chat experience relegated to the Penji app (or any app) rather than over text sets natural boundaries, and that directing tutors that they aren’t allowed to do any tutoring over the app is enough to prevent this. Persistence Finally, the big one—overall student persistence can be impacted by your tutoring center’s excellent mobile experience. You may think this is a stretch, but hear me out. The aforementioned factors, improving access and tutoring quality, will likely improve persistence in their own right. But, in a broader sense, moving your tutoring services to the student’s most comfortable medium will have a dramatic impact on their perceptions on your center and more generally around seeking academic help. Creating a fun, modern experience will make it easier to discuss with friends and will normalize the action of "let's book a session at the LRC." Most students care quite a bit about their image. They care about being associated with things others think are "cool." I know I certainly did when I was in college five years ago. Was getting a cab cool before Uber? I'm not sure, but it certainly became cool when my friend pushed a button and a car showed up. Could something similar be achieved for tutoring? I believe so. This effect, while less quantifiable, could be the most significant of all. Thank you for reading!


Ben Holmquist

April 16, 2020

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