11 Mobile Hacks for Online Learners

Mobile Hacks for Online LearnersMobile access is increasing for all of the things we do online, including training and education. The convenience of online learning is amplified when you can log in from anywhere, anytime with an ultra-portable device like your smartphone or tablet. So, how can these tools assist you with your course work?

Last month I presented a session about “mobile hacks” with a colleague at the National Career Development Association’s annual conference. We had 50 suggestions, in categories such as Productivity, Security, Synching, and more. Many of our ideas translate well from counselors and advisors to college students. Aren’t we all looking for helpful shortcuts?

What is a Hack?

This was the first question my colleague and I were asked as we began our presentation. The term hack is used in a lot of ways, but in this context, it’s a creative tip or trick that makes using your mobile device a little easier. Hacks can take the form of a quick solution to a common problem, clever shortcut or hidden feature.

Are You Mobile?

In a 2015 study of technology use in the U.S., the Pew Research Center found “nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 19% … rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information.” For many people, mobile devices are becoming the only way they connect to the Internet. Thirty percent of this survey’s respondents reported using their smartphones to “take a class or get educational content.” This was particularly popular among 18 to 29 year olds; 44% of this age group used smartphones for educational purposes.

We use our mobile devices for everything these days. Chances are that you own one (or two), and have downloaded apps for tasks related to web searches, banking, maps, travel information, the job search and much more. If you aren’t using your phone to help you with school-related activities, now is the time to consider the possibilities as colleges put more resources into “going mobile” and connecting with students this way.

Mobile Hacks to Try

Can you rely on mobile access for all of your online learning activities? Not yet, but the industry is moving in that direction with mobile-ready college websites and learning management systems. In the meantime, here are just a few ways you can make the most of your mobile device to stay connected with your classes when you are away from a desktop or laptop computer.

Battery Life

One of the most frustrating aspects of using a mobile device (at least in my opinion) is running out of power. The battery life of smartphones and tablets depends on multiple factors, such as the operating system and settings. You can get the most out of your device’s battery with these hacks:

1. Turn off what you don’t need. If you aren’t using the Bluetooth capabilities or Wi-Fi, for example, change your settings. You can easily turn these back on when you need them.

2. Charge in “airplane mode.” This technique means you’ll be somewhat disconnected for a little while, but you’ll reach a full charge in about half the normal time.


Your device probably has many functions available that you haven’t tried. Take some time to explore a few features designed to make phones and tablets easier to use. Here are several that have made my work a little more efficient:

3. Use keyboard shortcuts. If you do a lot of texting or take notes with your phone practice using some of the shortcuts available with your operating system. You can even create your own.

4. Use accessibility settings. These features are designed to assist those with vision, hearing and motor skills challenges, but they can make using the device easier for anyone. Look for options to make text bigger, remove screen clutter, have text read by voice over, view closed captions, change click speed and more.

5. Try a headset. One probably came with your phone or tablet and it’s convenient for more than just hands-free calls. Use it with communication apps like Skype, and to dictate text messages and notes.

Offline Use

Sometimes we find ourselves with time to work or study, but no Internet connection. This is more rare than it used to be, however, it’s good to know there are still things you can do while you are offline:

6. Save offline maps. Headed to campus or a regional learning center for the first time? What about finding the location for your next job interview? Google maps allow you to use the app to find directions and then save those directions for offline use, just in case.

7. Try an offline reader. Diigo is one bookmarking tool that lets you not only save a webpage to your collection with keywords and annotations, but also access it without an Internet connection. Your instructor may use a tool like this to make assigned readings available in your online class. Pocket is a similar app that allows you to read saved articles and view videos offline.

School Systems

So far I’ve listed general tips and widely used apps. Your college may also provide specialized services designed for mobile access. These tools are on the rise, so check with your school’s academic technology offices and help desk to find out what is available.

8. Look for LMS apps. Not all learning management systems provide mobile-ready course access, but a few are starting to offer at least a few class features this way. Moodle and Canvas are just two of the systems moving in this direction with tools for participating in discussion boards and other class requirements.

9. Ask about school apps. Some colleges and programs create their own mobile apps to provide students with a range of information and activities, such as searchable course catalogs, library access, event calendars, emergency updates and videos.


Last, but certainly not least, on my list of hacks are ways to keep your mobile device and the personal information it contains safe. If you are going to take advantage of the convenience of mobile computing, take these basic steps to limit the damage if your phone or tablet is lost:

10. Create strong passwords. This is always a timely reminder – when was the last time you changed your passwords for important accounts? Use a tool like PasswordMeter.com to create and test the strongest passwords possible.

11. Set up a passcode. Use the passcode, lock-screen or PIN option available for your device’s operating system to create obstacles for those who may try to access your device if you walk away. This is a simple step that doesn’t take long to accomplish.

More Mobile Apps for Students

Mobile access is increasing and will no doubt help shape the look and feel of the online learning experience of the future. If you are interested in finding out about more ways these devices can help you become a successful student, check out our app series with recommendations for collaboration, note-taking, study skills, productivity, writing and the job search.

How do you use your smartphone or tablet to stay connected with online courses?

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog