When it comes to user engagement, the biggest competitor to any online education platform isn’t a rival one, said Dan Friedman of Thinkful on stage at this week’s M1 (“Mobile First”) Summit. It’s Netflix. So how can Web-based schools keep the attention of students who’d rather be watching Breaking Bad? The answer might come from mobile.
Friedman, the founder of online coding school Thinkful, joined a panel of education platform developers at the conference at New York’s Grand Hyatt. Panelists, all of whom are experimenting with delivering their content via mobile devices, talked about the technology’s impact on online education.
They generally think that impact is positive. Mobile can serve as a powerful tool for building community and engagement among online learners, they agreed. Text-enabled communication can facilitate interchange between teachers and students. Push notifications can remind students of upcoming due dates. And even good old-fashioned phone calls have value that is easily forgotten by today’s finger-centric communicators.
The basic message: mobile devices let instructors reach students wherever they are. Mobile can also connect footloose students to learning groups on social networks and help them find nearby classmates or study meetups via GPS.
But mobile also has limitations, panelists said, cautioning that education platform developers should not try to make it do too much. “Use the device for what it’s best for and don’t try to force [anything],” said Paul Gollash, founder and CEO of the online English school Voxy. Developers should be wary, too, of wasting time and resources on building everything from scratch when the mobile apps they need might already exist. “Build as little as possible,” said Friedman.
Also on the M1 Summit panel were General Assembly’s Brad Hargreaves, 2U’s Chris Conlin, and Daniel Seltzer from the Center for Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Mount Sinai Health System. The panel was moderated by Peter Bell, founder and CTO of Speak Geek.