Could technology help colleges deliver more for students? By Nigel Rayner @Nigel_Rayner

If you want to engage with today’s young people, one of the most effective ways to do this is through a mobile device. According to Ofcom, 90% of 16 to 24 year-olds now own a smartphone and half of them check their phones within five minutes of waking up. 

These days, smartphones and tablets are more than just pieces of kit, they are an integral part of students’ lives. This presents an unmissable opportunity for colleges to use them to attract students, keep them engaged and help them to get the best from whatever further education pathway they choose.

So how are colleges tapping into the mobile technology revolution? We asked them and what they told us offers some interesting insight into the changing FE landscape.

Reaching young people

Some colleges use social media to reach out to young people through their phones and tablets before they have even enrolled, which can help to boost a recruitment drive.  

But as one assistant principal says, mobile technology is valuable for communicating with students once they start their courses too. “In schools, you can get students together in assembly regularly and talk to them there. Once they enter further education, however, you need to find a way to communicate directly with students without the ability to get them all into a room at the same time.

“Having an app on a tablet, they could see exactly where they should be on any given day and get alerts if their attendance or punctuality falls below acceptable levels.”

Keep students on track

Moving into further education is a big step, particularly for students who come straight from school. For colleges, a key part of this transition is encouraging young people to become more independent learners and mobile technology can play an important role in keeping students on track.

A growing number of colleges are looking at providing tools that allow students to monitor their own performance using a tablet or other mobile device, to support them in taking responsibility for their own achievement. These tools can give students access other information, such as their timetables and achievement targets, when they are away from college too.  

As a vice principal of one college says, “With the introduction of iPads this year, our students are even more engaged and interested in their learning during lessons. But they now also have a tool they can use to continue that learning outside of college. It is encouraging them to be more driven, independent learners.”

Engage your college community

It’s not just students who respond well to digital communications. Colleges have much to gain by using mobile technology to reach other stakeholders too. 

There are tools available that can offer teaching and pastoral staff instant access to information about their students’ progress, wherever they are in the college. It is even possible for them to engage in two-way communication with students, in real time. With live information such as details of students’ attendance or achievement at their fingertips, a tutor or student welfare officer can act quickly and offer support where it is needed when a students’ progress starts to slip and keep them motivated to achieve. 

Parents who have been used to receiving an abundance of information from schools on their child’s progress might find that when they enter further education, this starts to drop off. But there are solutions available that will provide them with real-time information on their child’s attendance and progress straight to their phone or tablet to help them engage in and support their child’s studies. 

The future is mobile

The colleges we spoke to demonstrated that the FE sector is starting to embrace mobile technology and develop clear strategies for how students, parents and other stakeholders can benefit from its use. The director of information at a college in the midlands underlined this when he said, “As a further education college, if you don’t get information onto mobile platforms you are in trouble, in my view.”

Young people now expect to operate in a digitally connected world, and those institutions that make the most of all that mobile technology has to offer will be in a stronger position to be able to attract students, keep them motivated and boost their achievement.

To read the full college interviews, download the ‘Greater Achievement in the palm of your hand’ white paper here.

Nigel Rayner is director of Capita’s further and higher education business.