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Mobile Courses

Posted on Mar 12, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.Mobile devices are increasingly being used to supplement education at the K-12 level, but as Jan Quillen, writing for Education Week, reports, “There is one giant step K-12 virtual education has yet to take: the creation of online courses that can be completed entirely with a mobile device.”

If you have ever visited a favorite website on your mobile device only to find that the website does not function well on a mobile platform, you can begin to understand the issue. Youth are increasingly turning to mobile devices as the primary way to use technology and access the Internet. Desktops gave way to laptops, and now it seems that laptops are increasingly giving way to tablets and smartphones. In order to address this trend, course designers will have to begin to take into account what it will mean to design online courses for mobile platforms.

Elliot Soloway, a professor of computer science and education at the University of Michigan, pointed out that “How you design the course will be fundamentally different. These people are going to be doing this in five-to-ten minute chunks. I don’t know that that’s the way most course designers are going to think about it.” Indeed, the ability to whip out a mobile device to use for the bus ride home or while waiting in line is one of the main reasons mobile devices seem so beloved. In order to tailor courses for mobile devices, then, designers must realize that users will not necessarily be setting aside half an hour or an hour to use their phone to learn.

Other complications include accomodating all screen sizes, varying keyboard layouts, battery life, reception, and data usage. Some tablets have sizeable screens that can accomodate a lot of visual information, but with most phones, screen real estate is limited. Similarly, some phones have miniature keyboards that slide out from under the screen, but many other phones and tablets have an on-screen keyboard. Course designers must take all of these factors into account in order to design effective online courses for mobile devices, and it is clearly a significant challenge to overcome.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

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