Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.8A, 1-5
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 1
Student Experience and Ubiquitous Learning in Higher
Education: Impact of Wireless and Cloud Applications
Vladlena Benson, Stephanie Morgan
Kingston Business School, Kingston University, London, UK
Received May 30th, 2013; revised June 30th, 2013; accepted July 7th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Vladlena Benson, Stephanie Morgan. This is an open access article distributed under the Cre-
ative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any me-
dium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Mobile learning apps for smartphones and tablet computer devices have entered Higher Education (HE)
market. While universities are investing in new technologies, they also look into cost reduction strategies,
including cloud computing. We draw upon a case study of a successful migration to mobile virtual envi-
ronment and effective use of cloud computing at a UK university. Success factors and challenges of these
emerging technologies in HE are discussed. The paper concludes with the consideration of student ex-
perience implications and research questions which need addressing in the area of ubiquitous learning.
Keywords: Student Experience; Mobile Learning Apps; Wireless; Cloud Solutions; Educational
Technology; Higher Education
Higher education institutions invest in technology to improve
student experience and increase efficiency. Two recent technol-
ogy trends are making an impact on the Higher Education sec-
tor. One, ubiquity of learning and teaching, translates into the
move towards provision of wireless access to virtual learning
environments (VLEs). Mobile VLE apps are emerging tailored
to the variety of smart phones and tablet computers. The func-
tionality of educational apps entering the market replicates the
capabilities of the traditional VLEs. However, problems of
software and device compatibility impede smooth transition to
ubiquitous learning and teaching. The second trend, often asso-
ciated with objectives of efficiency in HE, is focused on cloud
computing. HE institutions traditionally maintained in-house IT
departments and infrastructure. Under the pressure to achieve
operational efficiency, using cloud computing as infrastructure
appears as a sound investment for universities. However, issues
of security and complex regulation need to be addressed for a
successful provision of VLE services with cloud deployment.
This paper considers the above trends in emerging technologies
through the lens of student experience, an increasingly impor-
tant area in today’s competitive HE marketplace. The paper
presents research questions in wireless learning and teaching
for discussion. A case of a successful move to mobile learning
enablement and cloud deployment concludes the paper and
opens a discussion over the critical success factors in wireless
e-learning operations.
Ubiquity and Higher Education: Users Driving
Adoption of Emerging Technologies
Recent advancements in capabilities of mobile devices, both
smart phones and tablet computers, have led to a significant rise
in the penetration rate of wireless devices among the general
population. Even more noticeable over recent years is the in-
creasingly fast-growing rate of penetration of mobile devices
among younger people. Students as true representatives of the
“digital natives” generation (Prensky, 2001) are keen to explore
new technologies. Mobile devices became a default method of
accessing the Internet according to recent surveys (e.g. Internet
in Britain 2011), while the number of UK mobile contract sub-
scriptions have surpassed significantly UK population (Car-
phonewharehouse, 2011). According to the same source the
migration rate of mobile subscribers to smartphones have
reached 30% and this rate is even higher for such countries as
Singapore (54%), Hong Kong (35%), USA (35%), Australia
(34%) and Sweden (35%). The proliferation of smart mobile
devices and higher bandwidth of internet connections have had
a significant impact in Higher Education. Virtual Learning En-
vironments (VLEs) have been deployed by Higher Education
(HE) institutions to provide access to learning materials and
tools for students for over a decade. Advanced capabilities of
mobile devices and better connectivity have led to a growing
number of the student population accessing VLEs through their
smart phones, downloading and working with lecture slides on
iPads instead of paper notes, participating in VLE discussion
forums through their phones, etc. With the growing number of
mobile devices in the hands of the younger population, it is
only a matter of time before HE students will be expecting
wireless access to learning materials to complement and/or
replace current Internet-based VLEs. The trend in HE today,
mobility, is driven by the advanced capabilities and wide avail-
ability of mobile devices, from smart phones to tablet com-
puters. The next step for HE is the highly anticipated but large-
ly under researched move of the transition to mobile apps
available for major mobile device manufacturers from Android
to Apple. Extending student choice in this way will genuinely
move the classroom out to any environment and remove all
geographical and time constraints that have remained whilst
access was required via a computer (the most flexible of which,
the laptop, still requires wireless access, plug in to mobile, and
large batteries or power source). Student demand for mobile
access is likely to increase therefore, but this is likely to impact
on HE systems efficiency.
Achieving Efficiency in VLE Operations:
Cloud Computing
In search of efficiency and flexibility, higher education insti-
tutions are putting cloud computing, another current trend in
HE sector, into practice. Current priorities of HE institutions
include improving service delivery, reducing facility space usa-
ge and energy consumption. Many universities have to deal
with spiralling costs of fragmented IT systems, poor IT project
management and the complexity of legacy technology. All of
these present barriers to achieving better performance and effi-
ciency of VLE operations. Learning and teaching resources
accumulated through the exploitation of VLEs for decades
place spiralling demands on HE infrastructure, while service
disruptions for upgrades and emergencies have a negative im-
pact on students’ experience. Students expect uninterrupted
access to their learning materials, announcements, assessment
results, etc. Infrastructure as a service presents an attractive cost
effective option for virtual learning environment service deliv-
ery. Cloud computing offers many benefits, including pay-per-
usage models, improved flexibility, faster deployment of new
services, decreased maintenance costs and reduced time spent
on IT operations for an in-depth overview see e.g. (Winkler,
2011). Additionally, when outsourced to a dedicated service
provider cloud services management is performed by profes-
sionals specializing in the field for whom quality of service
delivery means their reputation. Cloud computing service pro-
viders have business continuity strategies, disaster recovery and
security tools in place. Hence savings in terms of hardware
operation and maintenance, software licensing and upgrades
can be achieved by HE institutions when outsourcing VLE
provision to a third party. While cloud platform as a service and
software as a service technologies are still at the entry stage in
the HE market, infrastructure as a service presents clear savings
and improved reliability of data centre services.
Achieving Improvement of Student Experience
through Mobile and Cloud Solutions
Mobile platforms for e-learning are an attractive solution to
help engage the student community, enrich learning and help
students throughout academic life. Blackboard Mobile Learn
app, available on Android Marketplace, Blackberry App World
or Apple App store, is one of the leading mobile platforms for
e-learning. Students gain mobile access to their lecture materi-
als, create discussion forums and posts, blog and comment on
learning progress and resources.
The “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) in higher education to-
day are used to and surrounded by technology and increasingly
expect mobile forms of communication. For HE professionals
mobile learning is a way of extending the campus and offering
students the opportunity to learn in whatever situation or con-
text they prefer. What is unclear is to what extent they can and
will learn in this increasingly informal and opportunistic mode.
Social networking services are seen by many as the next level
of learning management systems (Benson, Morgan, & Tenna-
koon, 2012) promising convergence of social and learning tools.
At present, though, mobile learning apps are offering another
media for access of LMS repositories, doing the old things with
a new tool.
Whilst mobile platforms for e-learning are still in the early
development stages, it is imperative to consider issues needing
research attention and improvement of software and wireless
device capabilities, as well as pedagogical approaches to learn-
ing in mobile circumstances, in order to assess objectively
technology’s current and future impact on education.
According to a recent survey (LSE Focus, 2007) mobile de-
vices are perceived as a significant contributor to maintaining
quality of life. While for university students (BlackBoard, 2012)
a smart phone represents a “key social connector and a learning
tool”. Higher Education institutions consider provision of mo-
bile services to students to be an indicator of performance and
better quality of student experience. Earlier approaches to inte-
gration of wireless devices into e-learning process (e.g. see
Benson, 2008 for an overview) focused on access enablement
to online content. The emergence of powerful and user friendly
smart phones and tablet computers led to a proliferation of mo-
bile apps, both from established elearning systems providers
(e.g. BlackBoard) as well as independent companies and in
house developments by Universities.
Current mobile apps from popular LMS providers are less
than a year old. Blackboard Mobile Learn 2.0 offers a rich
range of functionality with advanced usability features. Direct
interface to the learning resources is a key feature of the app
which enables students and instructors to access, create and
upload content to the LMS. Blogs supporting media attach-
ments, discussion forums and learning journal media features
promise to bring interactive mobile learning to a new level. The
user interface of the latest version of BlackBoard Mobile Learn
supports adding most frequently accessed classes to favourite
lists, this bookmarking feature helps manage and organise the
learning and teaching process. The latest version of the app
offers threaded hierarchy to improve the user interface while
managing multiple tasks.
While the new features of the mobile apps are evolving, it is
important to gain a better understanding of how ubiquitous
access to study materials can improve learning outcomes. The
impact of wireless technology on higher education is likely to
be driven by student experience. Universities take on invest-
ment in mobile technology to improve student learning through
wireless devices already at the fingertips of current students and
beat the competition by demonstrating the importance of stay-
ing ahead of the technology curve. The use of the VLE has
been shown to promote independent learning (e.g. Frederickson,
2005) and one could argue that extending this use to fully mo-
bile access could further increase this. However as with a stan-
dard VLE students will need to be made aware of the purpose
and benefits of using the mobile app, and care should be taken
regarding design to encourage use. There is a risk that many
download the app but do not use the system after the first at-
tempt, removing all the benefits of developing these flexible
approaches. It is vital therefore to assess critical success factors.
Some of the Critical Success Factors to Consider
Smartphones are effectively accepted by students either as a
link to their social community or a favored learning tool, mo-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
bile apps have become a way of life for today’s students. When
making a choice of which university to apply for studying,
whether or not an HE institution supports easy access to ser-
vices or information in a way meaningful to technology savvy
younger generation becomes a key differentiating factor.
The app needs to be easy to access, fast and should be ac-
cessible on a range of mobiles (interoperable) to ensure that
all students with a smart phone are able to use the system
and interact.
If support is needed the app will probably not be used al-
though online help is likely to be viewed positively.
The technological aspects will be taken for granted (unless
they go wrong) and so the focus should be on a visually
appealing, easy to use app that will allow students to share
and enable informal and formal learning at the time and
place that best suits their needs.
Mobile experience is profoundly different to even a laptop,
as it is available at all times and enables them to learn
whilst relating to (in the world of) the concepts about which
they are learning.
Speed and continuity of service is vital, many legacy sys-
tems may not be able to cope, hence the need to consider
outsourcing to cloud management providers.
Examples of P i tfal l s to Av oi d
The concept of cloud computing and wireless access to e-
learning application leaves several areas to consider. Capabili-
ties of mobile devices present issues of access to learning and
teaching resources, presentation of learning materials, naviga-
tion and compatibility of e-learning materials. On the other
hand cloud as infrastructure as a service presents new chal-
lenges to HE in terms of security and compliance as data is
being hosted by third parties outside of the corporate firewalls.
What students can see on the mobile learning app depends on
at least two factors:
The ability of a specific wireless device to display the vari-
ety of learning materials that may be included in the course
content. For instance, iPhone, iPad and iPods running mo-
bile operating system do not provide support for Flash.
Therefore earlier e-learning materials developed using
Flash will be inaccessible to Apple users.
Instructors have control over which course content is avail-
able through the mobile app. Therefore options set so that
only limited content is available to students should be care-
fully thought through by academic staff.
Pedagogical reasons should drive the mobile learning plat-
form development, rather than pure enthusiasm of a new
gadget from technology-centric instructors (Benson & An-
derson, 2010).
Students should have a clear understanding as to what ma-
terials are available through the mobile medium and why
others are accessible only online, and how the mobile app
can help improve their learning and their student experience
on and off campus. As with all learning, particularly when
technology is involved, explaining how and why different
elements are designed in a particular way will facilitate
learning (Ausburn, 2004).
Finally, migration to cloud computing needs special consid-
eration. Unlike traditional outsourcing of IT management when
typically organizations knew exactly where corporate data is
hosted, how data is transported, managed and disposed of,
cloud presents a different level of abstraction. Cloud computing
separates data from infrastructure, hence the operational details
of data whereabouts are obscured from the user. To illustrate
this, the precise hardware location of any specific piece of data
is difficult to identify. Multitenancy, (physical coexistence of
data on the same hardware in a data centre), is almost certain in
cloud as infrastructure services. Also, transport of data between
the data centre and the corporate firewall give rise to security
concerns. The differences between in house IT and cloud ser-
vices management entail significant security and privacy issues
that have an impact on university risk management practices
and require careful consideration of legal issues in areas such as
compliance and auditing. Personal student information, intel-
lectual property of HE institutions in the form of learning and
teaching materials are subject to regulation. The abstraction of
infrastructure from data in the cloud requires addressing legal
issues and application of security methods for successful de-
ployment of cloud services in HE.
A Case of a Successful Move to Mobile Platform with
Cloud Computing
As part of the student information system and learning man-
agement system (called StudySpace) upgrade, a Blackboard
Mobile Learn application, available for iPhone, Blackberry and
Android phones, has been launched by Kingston University,
UK. The app allows students flexible mobile access to Study
Space course content and communication tools, the download-
able app is accessible via the learning management system and
QR code as shown in Figure 1.
The mobile platform solution was introduced in January
2012. By the start of the spring semester, the mobile learning
app already had thousands of downloads. The rate of rapid
adoption illustrates the impact of the mobile platform on the
student population, as well as demand on computing services
provided by Kingston University and external stakeholders. In
the experience of other HE institutions, e.g. Stanford University
(BlackBoard, 2012) the number of mobile learning app down-
loads tends to exceed the number of enrolled students. The
impact of the mobile platform deployment has a wider impact
not only on current students, but involves alumni, parents, and
the greater community.
The capabilities of the StudySpace app at Kingston include
access to course content and communication tools. Course ma-
terials most suitable for accessing on the go are enabled by
instructors for mobile learning. One of the most well received
features of the mobile app is instant communication capability.
Integration of mobile text messaging service with online an-
nouncements as well as a Facebook site for the university are
tied in with individual courses and organization. This allows for
seamless and unified communication means for students, staff,
alumni and wider community. One of the key objectives of
introducing the StudySpace mobile app is to improve student
experience by increasing 24-7 access to learning technology
that is not dependent upon location. This reflects the social, and
increasingly work, environment to which students are accus-
Furthermore, it enables learning to move in and out of the
classroom in a much easier manner than laptops as students
invariably have their mobile with them, not always the case for
other devices. Class activities including assessments could use
and link to the mobile app (this also enables movement between
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 3
Figure 1.
Mobile app for VLE access.
classroom and workplace, for example, placements or work-
based learning, see (Couldby, Hennessey, Davies, & Fuller,
The University also turned to cloud service management for
its VLE provision. The choice of an EU based cloud hosting
and storage service provider with careful consideration of regu-
latory frameworks ensured smooth deployment of cloud ser-
vices. Flexible storage options of cloud computing offered
University the highest levels of efficiency and interoperability.
While VLE content is delivered to users faster and more effi-
ciently. As VLE is accessed by students and university faculty
from various countries content is distributed through a network
with multiple nodes throughout the cloud, closer to the VLE
end-users. This minimizes the distance the learning resources or
messages have to travel, bypassing network overloads, de-
creasing latency, and improving the user experience. Business
continuity measures have been improved by the move to the
cloud provision which offered high availability solutions for
VLE service delivery.
During the migration to cloud and BlackBoard mobile staff
at all levels were well informed and engaged in the transition.
Staff development exercises have taken place throughout the
university, this is vital in ensuring successful transition. Stu-
dents also welcomed the new IT project and enjoy the best of
mobile and harness efficiency of flexible cloud services.
An unexpected advantage occurred when the legacy systems
failed for a number of hours and students using the standard
VLE often did not realize they could still access the cloud
based systems if they went direct (in future the link will be
included in the message), whereas students using the mobile
app were still able to use the system. Again this demonstrates
the importance of ensuring systems can cope with the increased
usage and the potential benefit of using the cloud.
Whilst the mobile platform appears a lucrative solution for
engaging learners on and off campus (Benson, 2008), the
Blackboard app still suffers drawbacks. User ranking of the
Blackboard Mobile Learn for Android (GooglePlay, 2012)
phones averages at only 2.6 out of 5 (based on 6196 reviews)
according to Google Play data in 2012. The app version for
iPhone and iPad (iTunes, 2012) also lags behind in user re-
viewers (2.5 stars from 2420 users) based on iTunes user feed-
back. So what challenges are ahead of developers and academic
staff alike to help make a mobile learning platform fulfill its
objective to increase the quality of student experience and im-
prove learning and teaching?
There are several levels of challenge to address, including
application dependent, service dependent, compliance related
and pedagogical underpinning of the mobile technology.
Application dependent issues reported on the BlackBoard
Mobile user reviews revolve around the following:
Compatibility problems—having downloaded the app stu-
dents were unable to find their institution or reported mes-
sages of “your institution does not support” the app.
Application failure—when accessing PowerPoint slides app
“crashes”. Conversion of files to PDF formats causes ap-
plication failure.
Device support issues—individual wireless devices will have
an impact on what resources are available and how they will be
presented to the user. One of the most notorious support issues
affecting a wide range of existing learning materials is the Flash
vs Apple support. BlackBoard Mobile Learn and other apps
base their popularity on their support for a variety of wireless
devices but pockets of unsupported functionality and varied
presentation between devices remains.
Service provision problems reported relate to speed of the
app loading resources. Slow download rate of the communica-
tion tools and learning resources are the main causes of concern
for mobile app users. On the other hand, service availability of
the VLE maintained by universities in-house is quite an impor-
tant factor in student satisfaction.
By moving VLE service provision to the cloud, service qual-
ity and reliability improves. However, issues of privacy and
security of data transported between cloud service provider and
users on or off campus creates a number of concerns. These
include regulatory issues around personal data storage and
management, communication of data across borders and other
compliance issues. On the other hand outsourcing of VLE
hosting to a cloud provider enhances security and reliability of
services as the professional approach of many cloud vendors
may mean better security as well as business continuity.
Finally, pedagogical underpinning of the mobile learning
apps is far from maturity. How to ensure that students are not
lost in “virtual learning space”? How to deliver a meaningful
learning experience through a powerful mobile platform but yet
limited in its capabilities at present?
The pedagogic implications of developing systems that are
sufficiently simple to work well on an app but challenging and
interesting to students, and the extent to which students can and
will learn using these technologies, have yet to be explored.
There may be exciting new pedagogical approaches that can be
taken to make full use of the potential of mobile.
All aspects of the technology potential should be assessed to
consider what new learning experiences we can offer students.
What we can be certain of is that students will increasingly
expect these services, and they will expect them to work well.
Indeed HE institutions that are able to truly innovate and en-
hance learning with mobile apps, working around the chal-
lenges above, could gain ground quickly.
Student Experience and Emerging Technologies
Students graduating today will find increased competition for
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 5
jobs, and will be expected to work in a global economy, for
many they will be part of a global collaborative environment
communicating without borders. They are already involved in
mobile communities through Facebook and twitter, and will
increasingly expect HE environments to mirror this lifestyle
and prepare them for the “wired” world. At the same time,
Universities need to stay current and relevant to attract and
retain students. Whether mobile learning is student led or Uni-
versity led, it is likely to become increasingly important.
The mobile VLE can improve student experience by en-
hancing engagement, enabling collaboration both formal and
informal with peers and related communities, in an immediate
and modern manner. Our initial student feedback of the system
suggests they are enthusiastic at first, and it is viewed as inno-
vative. Certainly offering a mobile VLE extends student choice
regarding when where and how they learn, is likely to enhance
independent learning, and also collaborative learning. As with
any learning tool though it will be vital to ensure the students
understand the purpose and benefits of the mobile offer, and are
encouraged to actually use it through good course design and
blended learning—using the mobiles in class and on campus as
well as outside the institution.
There is some evidence that many students download the app,
adding it to their long list of available tools, and then promptly
forget about it, or try once and then give up. The technical is-
sues and purposive use of engagement-led content will be im-
portant to success. We have highlighted some critical issues and
some student demands, but far more research is needed to fully
understand good practice. Research questions should focus on
actual student experience of mobile learning and which forms
of mobile activity, in which contexts, generate deep learning
and student engagement.
Over the past year the Higher Education (HE) sector has ex-
perienced a move to wireless learning enabled through mobile
apps. Advanced features of smart phones and tablet computers
have sent the penetration rate of mobile devices soaring
amongst students. Universities are investing in mobile applica-
tions enabling wireless access to current Virtual Learning En-
vironments while carefully considering the benefits of the cloud
for secure and flexible provision of VLE services. Capabilities
of wireless devices present issues of access, presentation and
compatibility of e-learning materials, while cloud as infrastruc-
ture as a service raises concerns of security as data is hosted by
third parties outside of the corporate firewalls. A case of a suc-
cessful move to mobile learning enablement and cloud deploy-
ment opens the discussion around the critical success factors in
wireless e-learning operations. We have considered research
questions through the lens of student experience and call for
further research attention to the pedagogical underpinning of
wireless learning technology.
The authors would like to thank the Academic Development
Centre and Student Information Services at Kingston Univer-
sity for their help and advice in development of this paper.
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