Open Inventions

Tools and Tips for the Productive Technologist

iPad for Education

Recently, the Khan Academy open sourced their iPad client.  If you’re not aware of the Khan Academy, just imagine the scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest just keeps on running and running and running and people just join in the phenomenon.  Well, instead of running, Salman Khan just keeps on teaching and teaching.  When you watch one of his videos you realize that Sal Khan is a great educator and he is very passionate about the topics he teaches.  When you see the 250,000 views beneath the YouTube videos you realize that there is a movement to have children be educated from a different medium other than the standard classroom curriculum.

The iPad is a great place for the Khan Academy to go next.  A survey from PBS found 70% of parents willing to have their children use their iPads and 90% of these parents mainly want their children to use their iPads for “educational value”.  When you put an iPad in a child’s hands, you realize how truly engaging the device is.  Tapping and swiping are completely intuitive, navigating the interface makes exploration fun, and most importantly, the sheer volume of apps always keeps the experience fresh.  

Recently, I drove by a Montessori school in Los Angeles and noticed a banner with an iPad on it.  I Googled the school and found a page listing apps they’ve incorporated into their curriculum.  Searching the web, I found more and more resources on how iPads are being used for education.  My five year old nephew is in town for the summer and I’ve started using him as a guinea pig on some of these apps and the results are amazing.  Watching him touch objects on screen and getting immediate feedback with vibrations, animations, imagery, audio, and video makes me realize how much more he’s engaged with the medium.  It’s a different experience than learning on the PC where you click on a mouse.  I believe the physical act of tapping and gesturing on the screen makes the experience feel more real and thus heighten the emotions and strengthens the memories of those interactions.

Yes, pure educational iPad apps will see immense growth but I wouldn’t be surprised to see successful companies start branching out into the physical space also.  I can see apps getting children enthusiastic about a topic which compel them to interact with their real life counterparts.  For example, a child could learn a lesson in optics on the iPad and the same company could offer an optics kit that the child could experiment with.  I’m doing this already with my nephew.  When he’s used up his allotment of iPad time for the day, we continue to play his favorite game in an offline “paper mode” I created.  

What I like about this, is that the iPad game’s high production value addicts my little nephew and makes it very easy for him to crawl into my little web where I then throw math questions at him which he must answer correctly before he’s allowed to shoot peas at zombies and I completely rig the game so that he learns the value of saving instead of constantly purchasing items at the game’s onset.  If I were to give him my ghetto paper game without the real iPad game, there would be no doubt he’d be bored in a day.  

In the Post-PC World our children are learning on tablet devices.  You can either shake your head and say “when I was a kid, we learned by…” or you can embrace and extend their experiences.  Either way, they’ll be playing with your iPad.