8 Principles for Designing Mobile-Friendly Courses to Support Student Parents


In today's higher education environment, diversity is expanding rapidly and at an unprecedented pace. Among this diversity, one particular group stands out due to their unique challenges: student parents. As educators, understanding and supporting this demographic is crucial.

Each semester, a dedicated instructor surveys their students at the beginning of the course to gain insights into their lives and determine how best to support them. This practice reveals a startling reality: almost every student is either working more than 20 hours a week, taking care of children, or both. Alex Rockey's experience is a microcosm of a broader trend in higher education.

8 Principles for Designing Mobile-Friendly Courses to Support Student Parents

(Photo : PEXELS / Alexander Grey)

The Prevalence of Student Parents

Contrary to the assumption that nontraditional students are more prevalent in online asynchronous courses at community colleges, data reveals that over one in five undergraduate students across higher education institutions are parents. This statistic underscores the critical need for courses that offer flexibility and accessibility to accommodate the demanding schedules of student parents.

Time poverty is a harsh reality for student parents, who juggle work, grocery shopping, school, children's homework, cooking, cleaning, studying, and healthcare responsibilities. The question arises: How can educators lighten their burden? The answer lies in creating mobile-friendly courses that facilitate anytime, anywhere learning.

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Principles of Mobile Design for Courses

Creating a mobile-friendly course might seem daunting, but adhering to eight principles of mobile design can minimize the limitations of smartphones (such as small screens) and maximize their benefits (like anytime, anywhere learning). These principles can transform course accessibility, allowing students to integrate learning into their lives seamlessly.

Principle #1: Create Content for Small Screens

Using headers, chunking content, and inserting descriptive links are crucial steps in making course content accessible on small screens. These practices minimize the limitations of small screens and facilitate easier navigation and comprehension for students using smartphones.

Principle #2: Build Trust

Consistency in course navigation builds trust with students. For example, using consistent modules throughout a course in platforms like Canvas ensures predictability and simplicity, enhancing the user experience despite the small screen size.

Principle #3: Leverage Moments

Designing course content that allows for stops and starts enables students to make progress during brief moments of free time. For instance, adding requirements to modules in Canvas can help students track their progress and pick up where they left off easily.

Principle #4: Allow Choice

Providing assignment choices can make courses more mobile-friendly without extensive redesign. For example, allowing students to submit photos of handwritten answers or choose between video submissions and written paragraphs can accommodate diverse preferences and schedules.

Principle #5: Integrate Multimodality

Smartphones are well-suited for multimodal assignments, such as taking photos, creating videos, and recording audio. These assignments can incorporate students' everyday experiences, making learning more relevant and engaging.

Principle #6: Leverage Mobile-Friendly Tools

Utilizing existing mobile-friendly tools and platforms can streamline course design. For instance, moving assignments directly into a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas can simplify the process for students using smartphones.

Principle #7: Play

Approaching mobile design as an ongoing journey allows educators to make incremental improvements. Testing courses on smartphones can provide valuable insights into the student experience, enabling continuous refinement.

Principle #8: Communicate

Informing students about the mobile-friendliness of courses is essential. Many students have been conditioned to see smartphones as distractions, so educators must explicitly communicate how and when smartphones can be used for learning.

Transforming Access for Student Parents

For student parents, mobile-friendly courses can significantly enhance access to education. These courses allow parents to read articles while their children play, review lecture videos while cooking, or make progress on assignments during brief moments of downtime. This flexibility can be transformative, enabling student parents to balance their educational pursuits with their caregiving responsibilities. Earning a degree is more than an academic achievement; it is a path to a better life. Education offers chances for economic security, access to healthcare, and a more promising future for their children. By creating mobile-friendly courses, educators can help student parents overcome barriers and succeed in their academic and personal lives.

Supporting student parents requires a commitment to flexible, accessible course design. By implementing the principles of mobile design, educators can create courses that fit into the busy lives of student parents, enabling them to pursue their educational goals while fulfilling their caregiving responsibilities. This strategy benefits not just student parents but also enhances the overall educational experience for all students, promoting a more inclusive and supportive learning atmosphere.

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