Mobile-first: students are the ultimate decision-makers
Smartphones allow students to carry their schools in their pockets. Let’s see how this day-to-day device is an opportunity to collaborate with their learning journey.
Smartphones are the new swiss knife. Before, it was all about surviving in the wild, but now cities and the web are the new jungle. Go, child, fence for yourself with your android as a sword.
Jokes aside, we can’t ignore how important these devices are. According to the BBC, people spend a third of their awake time on their smartphones, which means an average of 4 hours per day! Sounds crazy, right? To confirm this, I checked my own smartphone’s statistics: 3.6 hours. Wait, what? Ouch, did you hear my ego breaking?
And what do I do on my smartphone? (Even I questioned myself after seeing that daunting percentage). I message people, check my Social Media, listen to music, read emails and news, pay for services, and watch tutorials, among other things. When I started listing everything, it made sense. I won’t get into the unhealthy habit that comes with this trend, but I will focus on the importance of having it in mind when it comes to modern students’ experiences. Universities can enhance the learning journey and make everyone’s lives easier by approaching this day-to-day device.
Before anything else, it would be a good idea to define this encrypted acronym. RWD stands for Responsive Web Design—a cool way of saying that a website fits in any viewport and helps the user stop juggling to navigate the web. You know, all that unnecessary gymnastics of panning, zooming, and scrolling.
In a nutshell, if you open a website on your smartphone and it looks like a small (and hence unreadable) version of your desktop’s design, it means it is not responsive. Usually, when the user encounters this kind of situation, they run away. I bet you don’t want your students to run away, so let's see the next concept.
Not so long ago, designing for desktop was a priority. Most people worked with their computers, and smartphones had lesser capabilities. I don’t know if you recall these ancient times (and I mean 11 years ago), but I remember being over-excited because I could take low-quality pictures with my smartphone. Time passed, and an explosion of devices opened new doors more complex to design in concert.
Flashforward to today, technology has evolved, and our habits have changed. That's why Luke Wroblewski coined the term mobile-first in 2009, a new strategy and way of writing code, shifting focus on designing for mobile devices first. And we aren't only talking about the screen size; we refer to the whole user experience. Mobile users can be in the middle of a crowded city with cars honking and terrible weather, or they could be crammed on the bus with their headphones on. What will these people prefer?
As you can see, this behavior is far away from the dated keyboard and mouse model. "I still use my desktop computer!" - you may be thinking. Yes, but those websites are mobile-tailored and arranged for the desktop computer. Now, we are ready to jump to the third part: how can we apply mobile-first for students?
Good, we got to the juicy part. Concepts are great as a first step, but I believe we are ready for action. According to my research, students spend four hours or more on their smartphones; so let’s use them in our favor!
There is so much to explore. Schools and universities could share their news and updates, provide payment channels, or have an online bookstore, among other limitless options.
Obviously, each institution has its needs. For example, my university has an app just to find your classroom because students get lost too often (me among them). Ask yourself: what problems need to be solved?
Do you need more clues?
Taking the first step is always the toughest part of any project. Right now, it may feel that issues are overwhelming or irresolvable, but don’t worry; we can draft an initial framework to use as a guide.
- Step 1: both students and teachers should always have a personal profile on the university’s platform.
- Step 2: it would be advisable to include direct access to their classes, grades, and academic materials.
- Step 3: build bridges between students and tutors! Create forums and direct messages for them to be in touch.
Just by doing this, you are heading in the right direction: making your students feel that they are inside the campus as soon as they open the site.
Finally, there are some general rules or best practices to take into account when designing for mobiles. For this reason, I will give you a small checklist to customize according to your case:
- Content is king: smaller screens require more hierarchization of the information.
- User-friendly is a must: don't overcomplicate things; users should only see the critical elements with straightforward instructions.
- Pop-ups are a nightmare: I don't need to explain why I say this, right? They are just annoying.
- Loading speed is key: patience is a virtue that we don't have, so websites should run as quickly as a flash.
Well, I think that you are ready to hit the road and start building a website or app for your students.
As you might’ve seen, at Awkbit we believe that mobile-first is the right approach, and we aim to develop projects that can adapt to any user. Would you like to join forces to help your students carry their university in their pocket?