The Uncommon ‘Happy Path’

As thruway to graduation and career success becomes more elusive, mobile can help.

GUEST COLUMN | by Brook Bock

credit-blackboard-happy-pathIn edtech software development, we often talk about the “happy path” – a best–case scenario where the student goes through a sequence of activities completely as expected. In software, as in life, the happy path can be more fiction than reality. When we talk to educational institutions about the path of a student from enrollment, to attainment of a degree, to gainful employment, it is clear the technology and processes that support a happy path student journey are insufficient. Why? The happy path isn’t very common. More students transfer schools, change majors, and even get interrupted on this path than go through it in a straight line.

We need to take into account students’ lifestyles, their expectations of technology, and their desire for instant access.

We need to redefine this journey, noting that we are guiding students on a messy path, but one that can lead to success. Technology can support the student journey in a fundamentally new way by reaching students where they are every day – on their smartphones.

To help institutions drive positive outcomes for their students, we need to address what comes before the class, what comes after the class, and the experiences in between. Students need readily available, up-to-date, and easily understandable information about career options, degrees, and courses to make informed decisions – and they need it at their fingertips. Advisors, too, need a more holistic understanding of student sentiment, plans, academics, and risk profiles.

The power of mobile

Mobile represents an enormous opportunity to help students find success. Students are on their mobile devices for hours each day. As we think about how to better empower students on their mobile devices, we need to take into account students’ lifestyles, their expectations of technology, and their desire for instant access. Students are already on their phones to access their coursework, grades, and other class content. We need to unify the student experience across planning, learning and advising – regardless of the student journey.

To truly unify the experience, we need to make sure students have an integrated mobile experience that meets the expectations of today’s mobile lifestyle.  Let’s dive deeper into each key pillar to uncover how mobile can help students on their education path. 

Planning: We know students struggle with planning – both the administrative task of scheduling and the critical tasks of identifying desired career and degree goals based on one’s interests. When planning lives in a silo, students experience a disconnect between their day-to-day lives and what happens after graduation.  Mobile allows students to connect their tactical everyday activities to their long-term goals. It is an opportunity for students to actively engage in small chunks of their educational journey at a moment’s notice. We should enable students to explore interests, identify desired careers, and then plan their journey – all on the device they keep in their pocket.

Learning: When students think of school, they group all aspects into buckets – learning, extracurricular, advising, planning, etc. Mobile provides an interface for various aspects of a student’s journey to seamlessly come together in one place. A unified experience across planning, learning, and advising will help students feel more connected to both their school and their long-term goals.

Advising: Mobile allows student support and advising to become much more personalized, relevant, and timely. The more students engage in activities on their mobile device, the more advisors are able to learn about student wants, interests, needs and struggles. The phone is a way for students to relay sentiment, as well as quantitative data that give advisors a more holistic view of their students, while also providing a better experience for students. Plus, mobile allows for quick communications via text, email, and video chats.

Not all students will end up on a happy path, but advances in mobile technology provide a great opportunity for institutions to help students reach academic and career success. Among my colleagues, while we understand the happy path may be fiction, through mobile innovation we hope to help empower institutions and their students to find something better: happiness.

Brook Bock is Head of Mobile Solutions at Blackboard, Inc., where she focuses on bringing innovative and engaging mobile apps to students and faculty. Write to: and follow @BrookMBock


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