I have been thinking about writing this post for several weeks, without even realising (in the light of yesterday’s Apple event) how relevant and timely it will be. Yes, I want to write about how the iPad and the ecosystem around it is changing the way our children learn and why the next era in learning methods is about to start. Also, I will attempt to illustrate how learning using tablets compares with traditional methods all of us grew up on.
At first though, why iPad? Why not to talk about all tablets in general? Well, because as of early 2012 iPad is the only tablet that provides the user experience that allows developers (and authors and institutions) to truly innovate in the area of education and also successfully monetise their efforts. Apple’s product is also the only tablet on the market today that is responsive and ‘polished’ enough for children to use it fully naturally and intuitively without getting frustrated every few minutes. So what makes the iPad such a great educational tool and how does it stack up against books?
This is a big deal, especially for young children. The younger they are, the more important this is. Being able to interact with a electronic book (or an app) using their fingers, which is the most natural thing for them, is hugely important. Touch alone is not enough though. Only a touch interface that is precise, responsive and feels totally natural is going to cut it. And iPad delivers that excellently.
Interactivity & Multimedia integration
It hurts me to say it, but this is where traditional books can’t compete. Interactivity makes education so much more fun and much more engaging. Interaction with the content encourages further exploration and drives child’s interest like nothing else. And a smart integration of text, graphics, sounds and video is a very powerful way to explain even complex and abstract concepts within minutes. And there’s one more thing — learning through interaction makes remembering so much easier too.
While several of the already existing educational apps are really great (just think of Solar System, Numberlys, Elements, Starwalk to name a few), but you frequently may want to look up and an additional info to the topic. On the iPad, nothing can be easier. Just jump out of the app and look up more information, a video or an image on the internet and get back to the app in seconds — the fun carries on.
Pricing, especially in mostly state funded education, is very important. Yes, an iPad is not particularly cheap, but thanks to the manufacturing quality and the breadth of the surrounding ecosystem it is a really great value product. Moreover, and people tend of overlook this, the App store pricing is in fact very attractive — free content aside, most good apps are available under £5. And that, compared to paper books and computer SW prices, is a bargain. And don’t forget, that the currently prevalent model still is (for how long?) that future app upgrades are for free.
So what’s the future?
Already today iPads are being used by (at this point still mainly richer) college students for taking notes, reading text books and much more. And we can assume that other non-iOS tablets will gradually reach a level of maturity and offer sufficient usability to be taken seriously for real educational needs. So the overall trend clearly is that younger and younger kids will be using tablets. A tablet will become a part of their life like mobile phone did already a few years ago.
But the real shift in main-stream education approaches will happen when (notice I’m not saying ‘if’) especially primary and secondary schools start embracing tablets on a larger scale. This needs to go hand in hand with developers focusing on education as one of the great growth areas and with universities and institutions starting to recognise the tremendous potential ‘digital’ education has.
And I am happy to report that there are signs this is already happening - on a small, local scale, but still. Only last week the primary school my four-year old attends bought 12 iPads for use in classrooms — each class, including the reception class for the youngest children, now has an iPad for the kids to learn and play with. And that’s great.
I have no doubt that, over time, tablets in classes of all levels will be a common occurrence. It will help the children to learn faster, have more fun and thanks to that to learn more. And Apple’ new iBooks 2, iTunes U and iBooks Author apps revealed yesterday, together with a stronger engagement of major universities and institutions are all steps in the right direction.
So come on schools, developers and authors: It’s up to you now!