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iPad 2 Could Level Playing Field For Learning

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With over 15 million iPads sold to date, we might see its ubiquity as a matter of time. With the launch of the iPad 2, Apple will continue its push to democratize technology through anticipated lower costs, proven utility, and product "stickiness". Tablets have generated a lot of buzz in the last year for their educational potential, but the iPad 2 has the capacity to disrupt education in even more drastic ways. Lower cost, mobility, and intuitive design mean schools will be interested in the new iPad, but what is more significant is use among a more "overlooked" or "underestimated" constituency in education -- families.

As education technology advocates, my colleague Rafael Corrales and I brainstormed ways in which the iPad 2 might have a unique impact on education.

Democratization of technology

I have to be careful here because I do not wish to say that the iPad 2 will be in the hands of every person in the coming years, nor do I think that is necessary for student achievement. What I do foresee, however, is Apple's emphasis on user adoption and retention continuing to be extremely successful. The iPad was a hit for those daring and wealthy enough to leap into the world of the tablet. The iPad 2 will undoubtedly expand adoption with lower prices and additional features. Like the iPod, eventual price reduction will launch the iPad into more homes across all socioeconomic lines. With added features, it will become more than a toy for wealthier consumers, and with comprehensive networking features, it may supplant traditionally more expensive computer systems for lower-income families. Thus, while I don't think iPads will become the salient learning tool in all schools -- affluent private to urban and rural -- the second edition does show promise in delivering great technology to a much greater population.

Always Wired

Somewhere between the smart phone and the laptop lives the iPad (or tablet generally). With built-in wireless functionality, students, parents, and teachers can interact in real-time -- whenever and wherever. Learning games have already proven to be viable and valuable apps for the iPad, marrying children's love of competitive digital games and academic objectives; learning games are increasingly becoming feasible instructional tools as teachers embrace and utilize the iPad platform. Additionally, with emerging online learning management systems, parents and students can see grades online and forge stronger communication between home and school. Furthermore, with networked devices, suites like Google Apps for Education are in the hands of students 24/7, enabling collaborative learning to be more personal and student-driven.

Extended Learning Opportunities

As with Google Apps for Education, the mobility and diverse utility of the iPad 2 brings about new paradigms for group learning and social networking. As it stands now, children have several options when it comes to working together after school hours: meet in person, (video) chat online, work on shared text documents or talk on the phone. Obviously these methods are valuable, but the real-time applications made possible with the iPad 2 will likely enhance these experiences. The new tablet will have a front- and back-facing camera for FaceTime and other video chat apps like Skype. With the enormous number of applications feeding into the iPad platform, learning experiences that call on students to engage in new, creative ways could be extended beyond the time that students spend in a classroom. The ease of use, mobility and interactive nature of the iPad lends the device to extending the classroom experience meaningfully beyond what it is limited to currently.

Disruption of traditional ed market

Again, I want to note the idea of "democratization" when I discuss disruption of the education market. Education, a very top-down industry, has been dominated by legacy providers that have been able to make it through administrative bottlenecks to teachers and students. Putting the iPad 2 into the hands of families is an incredibly powerful tool in shifting the education market to a more bottom-up industry. The iPad is inherently demanding in nature; it calls on developers to create games and apps to meet the demands of families, but it also gives these developers an incredibly convenient distribution mechanism. This means that educational apps (highly demanded) are delivered right to the hands of eager families at low cost. The ultimate significance: Traditional academic publishers, student information system providers and educational toy/game companies that have been making enormous profits by selling to school districts since the beginning of time will have to compete with innovative, agile competitors who enter the space via the cloud -- and are accessible on devices like the iPad 2.

We will have to wait to see how or if the iPad 2 can truly revolutionize the education system. I do believe that we are seeing the expansion of an incredible tool with potential to disrupt education from the ground up.

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