The iPad will Change Education Forever

Posted on: March 31, 2010
Posted in Mobile

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Ever since MIT’s famous OpenCourseWare initiative was launched in 2001, people have been fascinated with the power that technology would have on open sourcing of information and the democratization of education. OpenCourseWare started as MIT’s decision to open up its vast academic curricula to “any joker with a browser”. I will never forget the visualization from this Wired article of an MIT ‘student’ racing home through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City to ‘attend’ a lab in software engineering…

It’s true that initiatives like OpenCourseWare have helped to deliver new ways to learn. But despite access to these new tools, true innovation in education has been hampered by all the restrictive dependencies which have been part of education’s lineage. For example, kids may learn a foreign language better earlier in schooling, but the structure around how English grammar is taught prevents foreign language classes from being rolled out until much too late. Clay Christensen’s new book Disrupting Class brilliantly delves into this topic.

The internet has helped to break down learning dependencies, but they remain ingrained in how education has been standardized, in both instruction and assessment. And this standardization prevents students from learning in the customized way which will help them reach their full potential.

Unfortunately, static, generic learning methods serve no one and cause students to tune out, even if technology is incorporated. For example, watching a recorded lecture on a laptop screen is not engaging (it doesn’t engage in broadcast, it’s not going to work in education).

That’s why the focus on learning (particularly in private education) has recently been shifting to a true ‘student-centric’ approach, which customizes the learning experience for each individual. For example, Knewton is revolutionizing adaptive learning methods, which deliver tailored curriculum based on individualized needs. The sky is the limit for these guys.

The iPad will take customized learning a step further, by factoring in a student’s presence. Collaborative and Social tools will enable students to interact with the online and physical world at the same time—sharing info in real-time and making that sharing valuable in the context of their current physical environment. To adapt in the moment to self vs group, online vs offline, individual vs crowdsourced, now vs later. That is unprecedented.

“There will be an app for that”. Apple just patented local area sharing, which is a stunningly perfect usage model for in-classroom education. Nearverse already has a lead in this. Creating ad-hoc interactive social nets based on proximity and time will revolutionize how we can be educated. Students will be able to share answers to questions, while data distributions and mashups are projected in real time to stimulate the need for not only collaboration, but also active, adaptive feedback.

As another example, Gradeguru (purchased by McGraw Hill) has a status system which, when a student uploads notes, her status goes up. Excellent use of social rewards to influence behavior, and the incentive for collaboration is incredible. But this incentive is tempered because if students don’t have true mobility and access to create and share notes in the classroom, they will be much less likely to take action outside that moment in time. The iPad will free these temporal dependencies.

The iPad will also help do away with another obstacle to adaptive learning frameworks: paper. Nowhere outside of education has printing of paper been so accepted. Carrying paper homework solutions, practice tests, and all kinds of paper somehow became a subconscious proxy for knowledge—i.e. if I lay this much paper in front of me, I will assimilate it.

This wastage will end with tablet computers. Textbooks will be migrated. Paper will still serve a note-taking purpose, and for that sublime ‘paper and pencil’ experience. But over time advanced stylus instruments will likely take over (tablets will get bigger, thinner and have flexible screens while going down in price).

Applications like Evernote are so good at converting handwriting to searchable text that information which was once written and ‘archived’ under a pile on your desk will be accessible literally instantly in a sort-of DVR for class notes – imagine making flags and notes in Philosophy 1, recalling them a semester later in Philosophy 2 – and publishing them to the others around you while in class.

For all this to come true, the iPad needs to be embraced in education. Can it happen? The answer is, it’s already happening. Seton Hill University plans to give every freshman undergrad student a 13″ MacBook and an iPad. This is a big deal, since whether or not academic institutions embrace technology is usually the hardest question to answer. It feels like the revolution is already in motion… even before the iPad ships.

* These are just my opinions, but are based off a strong understanding of mobile and social frameworks, and my own passion for education & involvement in an education startup.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree with the comments of your readers. As a project research lab teacher whose classroom is the computer lab and work at a 1-to-1 laptop school site, I too know that the iPad nor any other computing machine will not revolutionize education. Until the digital divide is lessen and all educators are able to truly ready to infuse technology with REAL teaching, the iPad will just be another expensive gadget placed before our students. @rcr the one & abritez –You are absolutely right – Currently majority of our students see their netbooks as a new and flashy piece of technology and not a essential tool for learning. But hopefully with regular staff developments we can help teachers to properly and efficiently incorporate technology within the daily curriculum and ANY technological device will be an ENHANCEMENT and NOT just another decorated gadget.

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