Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

31 January 2010

Down on the iPad?

Clark @ 7:02 AM

At the Upside Learning Blog, this post (which I found through the CLO group on LinkedIn) proclaims that the elearning industry is down on the iPad.  I saw several flaws in the argument and had to write this response:

I have to say I think this is partly or completely wrong. Depending on what you mean by the eLearning industry (corporate? Gov’t? Higher Ed? K12? other?), I see emotions running the gamut, but largely positive. I haven’t seen the universal bashing that your title implies.

It’s not about supporting the mobile worker; that’s what a smartphone is for. This is not a real-time communication tool. It is, instead, largely a media consumption tool and a PIM (personal information management) device. Is that good for learning?

First, learners can interact with content in a much richer way than they can with a textbook or the other ereaders (ok, so Kindle’s opened up their SDK, but it’s still monochrome). Not just passive consumption, but interaction. Simulations and learning games. It’s supports interactive content either through the SDK but also through web standards (many Flash folks are already thinking HTML 5 as a standard is going to trump their proprietary environment).

As I blogged, it’s huge for publishers, providing both a channel for richer media and interactivity, and a new unified market channel. That’s a whole new opportunity for an industry in serious strife.

Second, it supports learners capturing their reflections. It supports math modeling/notetaking/presentation creation. And there’ll be diagramming and drawing as well. Basically, learners can track their understandings, and share them.

So, it’s a great platform for formal learning, and I reckon, a reasonably powerful one for informal learning, at least independently (web browser, email). It’s missing some real time dialog (though should support VoIP), but should support text chat and webpage mediated interaction.

So, a) I haven’t seen the eLearning Industry as a whole being negative towards the iPad, b) your examples are very personal, not focused on learners, and c) on principle I think it’s got great upside. So, um, where do you come off with that title?

Ok, probably not my most diplomatic response, but I really feel that while I may have some doubts about the iPad, this argument didn’t articulate the problem very well.  What do you think?


  1. Well, i think probably many student still have an iPhone and maybe also a NetBook… Is the iPad will attract this kind of user ? I’m not sure, so probably the eLearning industry will focus on teachers and searchers… And then monotask will not be a problem compare to the power of their laptop ? I think we should wait similar product more oriented on Netbook Tablet or Netbook touch before we’ll know.

    Comment by cyborgjeff — 31 January 2010 @ 9:09 AM

  2. Hey Clark,

    I agree with most of your response. I am not PERSONALLY down on the iPad. However, I do not feel like its a “gane-changer” e-Learning or otherwise. Although I do not have one :-), right now it seems like a bigger iPhone sans the phone part of things. Is there anything wrong with that? No, not particularly. I think the issue that many folks are having really comes from the build-up that the device has received. They were expecting it to control the lights, open the garage, wash the dishes, balance the global budget and more. Yep, there is definitely an upside. But, for where some industries are right now, its not necessarily a ground breaking development. I could see it as a great tool inside the classroom though, this coming from an ex-teacher :-).

    Comment by Robert K. — 31 January 2010 @ 11:47 AM

  3. From a learning/learner perspective, I think the iPad doesn’t quite offer full value in some of these areas. For example, in terms of capturing reflections or notetaking – I can see this becoming a frustrating experience since the device doesn’t allow multiple applications to be open at the same time. It’s in these smaller ways that I think the device is a bit of a disappointment as a potential learning tool. It definitely has a great upside (as you say!) but some of these subtleties may add up to it missing the mark in practical use.

    Comment by ChrisVW — 1 February 2010 @ 10:16 AM

  4. “many Flash folks are already thinking HTML 5 as a standard is going to trump their proprietary environment”

    You can deliver video with HTML 5. You can deliver video with Flash. HTML 5 will eventually be the preferred method for delivering video, and this is a Good Thing. We agree.

    But. HTML 5 isn’t going to ‘trump’ Flash. Apples and oranges; Flash is so much more than a video delivery vehicle.

    As for it providing a “whole new opportunity” for publishers, see the Guardian’s take on this:

    Comment by Fred Senese — 2 February 2010 @ 8:39 AM

  5. Some great feedback. I think Jobs’ version of the value relative to a netbook has some merit, but I also think that the iPad by itself isn’t that big a thing (yes, it’s just a big iTouch). I thought that the iBookstore had some interesting potential as a distribution channel, with all the locked-in downside that is noted.

    When I say HTML 5 will trump Flash, I mean more than just for video, but also for interaction. And I could be wrong, but I understand that HTML 5 will allow more sophisticated interactions: drag and drop, etc, so the other advantages of Flash may also leave. And Flash is being painted as buggy and slow (and it certainly is on the Mac, many times).

    Now, I also understand that the ePub standard doesn’t really include interactivity, so the iBookstore may not be the great opportunity. HTML 5 would allow it to be web-delivered, which could end-run the iBookstore, and allow a) anyone to build a ‘store’ (opening up the field for competition), and b) keep any browser advantages similarly open.

    So, the market angle may not be that big, but given Apple’s success in dealing with music and video producers/distributors and active solicitation of publishers now, there’s a strong chance that they may be able to lock up the market. I’m sure that the deals aren’t exclusive, but given the increasing presence of the iPhone, it may be the biggest market.

    Seems to me what’s needed is a standard for interactive comment (see Aaron Silver’s proposal that Adobe offer up Flash as a standard). It could be that ePub gets expanded, or maybe Common Cartridge makes more sense, but some standard for interactive content packaging is needed.

    Comment by Clark — 2 February 2010 @ 2:46 PM

  6. Hi Clark, Like yourself I received a very mixed response on my post and I do feel, in hindsight, that maybe I could have qualified ‘industry’ by ‘corporate’. The post was not at all meant to bash iPad. Things I mentioned about missing in iPad did result in disappointment looking at it from (corporate) eLearning perspective where we have seen significant work being done using camera (AR) and Flash still rules the roost for a very major part of eLearning development. Flash has been evolving too and would continue to remain a strong preference for developers developing (corporate and other forms) of eLearning. Lack of support for Flash and camera have been noticed by almost everyone and the lack of multi-tasking adds to the overall feeling for the device to be ‘so near yet so far’. I mentioned in my post as well that I believe iPad offers great value for content publishers and their users.

    Looking at history of Apple and its capability to come out with disruptive inventions and technologies iPad seemed like the next big thing in personal computing. Maybe everyone’s expectations were raised to a level where iPad just failed to deliver in entirety. This however does not take away its great benefits for a significant population of users.

    HTML5 is a great step but still in its nascency and it needs to move very fast to serve some competition to Flash. Like @Fred said, Flash is much more than just video delivery and HTML5 needs to be able to reach that level to challenge Flash as a tool for (corporate and others) eLearning development.

    I do agree with some of the ways you believe and put forth it would be put to use by learners in a formal and informal setting. I look forward to hear more on iPad as it hits the stores in a couple of months and its put to a real use by a variety of people. iPad, with whatever shortcomings it may have at this point, is definitely a great innovation in more ways than one. It has opened doors for other vendors to look at this market seriously and perhaps we will find a variety of such devices hitting us soon.

    Amit Gautam

    Comment by Amit Gautam — 3 February 2010 @ 6:14 AM

  7. I’d like to take issue with the term “game-changer.” The New Orleans Saints, who the year of Katrina went 3-13, took four years to turn the team around to a 13-3 record.

    The iPhone was not intended as a gamin device, but a few years after its launch, the market established the phone as a gaming platform. Jobs is saying so; the # of gaming apps against other apps supports this notion as well.

    Game-changing takes years. In a few years the iPad will usher in interactive books for the classroom for collaboration, just as you say. Students want to talk with another and work with another. They are incredibly social. This device will bring about social-based educational applications that have the potential to transform education.

    The introduction of the iPad (and the reactions against it) reveal how quickly the public wants this change to happen. We should be discussing what our reactions mean more than the device…

    Comment by Terry Pollard — 4 February 2010 @ 7:34 AM

  8. I tend to agree that the convergence of new platforms and technologies will catalyze the change significantly. However, I’m not confident that HTML5 will change the game (particularly where Flash is concerned) anytime soon. Browser adoption tends to be slow. I know plenty of folks still using legacy browsers that have trouble with Web standards.

    This may change when we (developers) drop support for these platforms and platform developers move what they support closer together (Hey Microsoft, Firefox, Apple – get your collective shiz together)

    On the other side, I see platforms like the iPad / iPod / iPhone as temporary solutions. I give these platforms five years before something better hits the market. If we’re stuck in a proprietary container then we have zero portability. Flash is ALSO a proprietary container and should also be considered a temporary solution. If content is Web native, that’s one thing – if it’s encapsulated in an App, that’s potentially a big problem.

    Lasting solutions will be standards that abstract data using portable and transformable methods. HTML5 is one potential way to resolve this, but we have a ways to go yet.

    Comment by Steve — 10 February 2010 @ 4:34 AM

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