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Addressing the needs of non-traditional learners through mobile technologies

May 11, 2015 2:00 PM | Anonymous

Advances in technology unequivocally change the ways that adult and non-traditional learners access higher education services. As mobile devices with internet access become more accessible, older students are regularly seen working on school projects on trains, planes, and in coffee shops. Although the ability to access a syllabus, turn in a paper, or comment on a discussion board is helpful, I believe that these online services prove inadequate in today’s rapidly changing world of distance education technology. The new age of mobile application technology can allow students to not only access the right data, but also the right people. Mobile technologies can allow adult students to speak face-to-face with counselors, student service officers, and even special program coordinators.  

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, nearly two-thirds of American cell phone users now use their phone to go online. Accordingly, 57% of all American adults are mobile internet users (Duggan & Smith, 2013). What’s more, a range of tablets and smart watches are expanding the ability of adults to access the internet – and learn remotely.

Despite these findings, Ranieri and Pachler argue, “
…to date relatively little systematic research has been done on mobile learning in the context of adult education and lifelong learning” (Ranieri & Pachler, 2014, p. 62).

Because the majority of American adults now have the ability to access the internet through their mobile devices, it is imperative for higher education institutions to actively research and utilize people-centered mobile learning applications specifically tailored for non-traditional learners.

Greater investment in mobile learning applications for non-traditional students can strengthen the relationships between online learners and higher education institutions. For instance, innovative mobile applications that compliment enrollment, counseling, and academic services can improve communication pathways between distance learners, their instructors, and the institutional administrative staff.

For example, in my experience as an adult graduate student, I often wished to speak to my academic counselor. However, the only way to officially communicate with this counselor was to schedule a face-to-face interview. Often, our schedules did not align. It would have been convenient to have the option to schedule a video conference through a streamlined, school-sponsored application on my mobile device.

As mobile technologies become more universal, higher learning institutions must stay relevant and connect with their adult and non-traditional audiences through next generation mobile learning applications. Moreover, institutions should consider research in mobile learning technologies, their efficacies, and utilities to be top priorities.  

Duggan, M., Smith, A. (2013). Cell Internet Use. Retrieved from:

Ranieri, M., Pachler, N., (2014). Inventing and re-inventing identity: Exploring the potential of mobile learning in adult education. Prospects, 2014, Vol.44(1), p. 61-79

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