Will the iPad Change What Happens in Schools?

iPadSo what’s the big deal? Why do I think the iPad will be revolutionary in terms of learning? Why do I predict iPads will be in schools?

In some ways the answer to this question simply requires us to think about what young people have been complaining about for years (in fact, if you are entrepreneurial, complaints are a huge source of ideas for breakthrough and innovative products). What do you hear your children complain about?

One of the complaints I’ve heard for years is that school is boring – or the other way of saying it, “school isn’t very much fun.” On the other end of the spectrum I’ve been hearing complaints about textbooks and how heavy they are (and how many young people have to carry around in their book bags and backpacks).

The iPad (or something like it) addresses both of these complaints.

First, it’s novel and new – and that creates interest. That novelty may wear off (we’ll have to see) but because the device is  a really nice form factor for cool software, if software developers do what they are likely to do there can possibly always be new and interesting things to do with the device.

Novelty creates interest but so does interactivity – and interactivity that young people are interested in. Because of the nature of the iPad and the apps that run on it, developers can create an infinite number of interactive and interesting ways to engage users in their content. We know there are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners – and we know the current mediums that are used to transmit information today – text, sound, pictures, and movies (including animation). Just as computers have been going through a non-stop evolution of computing power, battery life, component design (getting smaller and smaller and more powerful), software has been going through a non-stop evolution in it’s sophistication. Software applications run many, if not most, of our lives today (especially if we include the software that is creeping into our cars as well as more and more appliances.

It just takes a short time to discover how this non-stop evolution has been taking place in learning software and gaming. Sure most video games have components in them that adults may not feel are learning oriented but the game is teaching whether we like it or not. AND those game designers that have made games that are highly interactive and purposefully focused on exploration, discover, and learning, know the power in this medium. And software designers that specifically develop learning software haven’t stopped improving their offerings either. We would be hard pressed to find a subject that doesn’t have learning software focused on it.

To address the complaint mentioned above about textbooks directly, it’s pretty compelling to think about a 1.5 pound (or less) device that can store 1000s of book and actually be easy and fun to use. If textbooks take the leap and become digital they can be constantly updated AND they can incorporate other mediums in addition to text. The multi-media (or rich media) text book surely has the potential to change the way teachers teach and young people learn.

The following quote coming from a technology web site predicts that students will be one of four major groups that fuel the growth and success of the iPad (the other three being mobile professionals, regular computer users, and software developers).

Students (if the textbook publishers get on board)

We can’t ignore the iPad as an e-reader. These devices have existed for a long time, but only gained wide popularity with the relatively recent release of Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Of course, the iPad has the iBooks app and iBookstore. So what’s its distinct advantage?

It’s this: Whoever does textbooks right will win the e-book market, and Apple is very close. Here’s why.

Students are on a fixed budget, and e-books are typically cheaper than their paper-based counterparts. Also, consider all of the money publishers lose when students buy used books from the campus bookstores. Additionally, Apple can distribute textbooks through iTunes U — an established and proven system that students, faculty and staff already know how to use.

Suddenly the iPad is a device that follows a student from his/her freshman year of high school all the way through graduate school. Why buy a laptop when every student has a device that can be a textbook, reference tool, Internet appliance and whatever else the imaginations of developers can dream up?

Source: http://www.tuaw.com/2010/04/02/the-four-groups-who-will-make-the-ipad-huge/

Finally, if have the fact of the user interface – the touch screen – and the likelihood that touch screen computing is likely to be here for good. In the following, it predicts within five years more than 50% of young people under the age of 15 will be using touchscreen computers.

“What we’re going to see is the younger generation beginning to use touchscreen computers ahead of enterprises,” said Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner. “By 2015, we expect more than 50 percent of PCs purchased for users under the age of 15 will have touchscreens, up from fewer than 2 percent in 2009. On the other hand, we are predicting that fewer than 10 percent of PCs sold to enterprises in 2015 for mainstream knowledge workers will have touchscreens.”

From the same article:

As prices drop, education will become a major market for touch and pen-enabled devices. Younger children just entering school find direct manipulation on the screen a natural way to interact with their computers. Older students are already using pen input to annotate class material or capture formulae and graphics that can’t be recorded with keyboards (for math, chemistry and physics classes, among others). However, most school districts do not want to support two separate devices – one for touch and another for pen. To deal with the differing requirements of the different grades, most districts are looking for dual-input screens that support both touch and pen in a single device.

“Consensus among the Gartner client U.S. school districts is that over half, and possibly as many as 75 percent, will be specifying touch and/or pen input within the next five years,” said Ms. Fiering. “Consider this as the precursor to a major upcoming generational shift in how users relate to their computing devices.”

Source: http://www.cellular-news.com/story/42732.php?s=h

Any school that isn’t thinking about using the iPad or a device like it, is likely going to find itself in a more and more challenging position if 50% of their students are using devices like this and they aren’t.

SO we’ve taken care of the weight, potentially addressed interest and interactivity. We haven’t even mentioned the idea that students themselves will be developing applications for devices like this! That will only add additional fuel to the revolution.

NOTE: Both of the articles quoted here are from business publications/websites.