The iPad: The Perfect Learning Companion

If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that our country’s educational system has some serious fundamental issues. Our educational infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world and seems like it declines even more every passing year. For a country that has always prided itself on progress our educational system has progressed very little. Apple and the iPad could stand a chance to change all of that. If the powers that be are smart, they would jump on the iPad bandwagon and begin integrating it at every level–especially elementary school.

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I came across a recent info-graphic from the folks at which visualizes quite a bit of good data about the state of US education. The graphic shows the bad and then presents some of the hopeful points from successful iPad trials in schools. The most encouraging statistic so far shares that through multimedia platforms student interest and retention goes up 25%. I encourage you to check out the full info-graphic here.

As much as I believe the iPad, and tablets in general, present one of the most exciting advancements for education in some time integrating it successfully will not be easy. For this to work, the system has to change and we need to begin to think more creatively about how we educate our youth.

One of the most important and fundamental principles that has at least been acknowledged over the past 20 years is that not everyone learns the same way. My 8-year-old, for example, has no problem learning through repetition and busy work. For her the system works. There are of course ways the system can develop and be more effective even for her learning style but the point is it works. For my youngest, who is now seven, the system does not work. She learns very differently, she learns through interaction and engagement, needs more hands on work filled with examples, and more importantly (just like me) she learns through trial and error most effectively. She gets frustrated with the current systems process but that doesn’t change the fact that she is hungry to learn. She simply needs a better tool. She is not alone.

That is why I have been integrating the iPad into both their learning processes since it first came out. That is why I stated in a previous column, as well as in my TIME column, that I believe the iPad is one of the best investments in a child’s future. You can choose to agree with me or not.

As I stated earlier, the system needs to be reformed. The iPad, and technology in general, present the best opportunity at a fundamental level to re-build our current system. It won’t be easy but there are several keys required for this to work.

Integrate Technology Early
Getting kids started early with technology is key. We want them to be comfortable and embrace technology as a part of their lives. This doesn’t mean they need to be entertained in order to learn but rather technology presents a way for them to engage with what they are learning in ways not possible before.

As we understand and experiment with how best to integrate things like the iPad into the classroom, we will make progress in better understanding the right approach and educational philosophy. The key is not for educators to be afraid of this change but to embrace the iPad as a new tool in their toolbox to better lay learning fundamentals and prepare our kids for the future.

We Need New Software
The second thing that needs to happen is dedicated software or apps for teachers and kids at every learning level. We are constantly taking steps in this direction but the software development community has yet to fully catch on and take this category as seriously as they should.

What we need is something akin to a fund, whether a specialized VC fund or government grant fund, to encourage our best and brightest software developers to use their talents and invest not just in gaming apps but education apps as well.

Apple Needs to Lead
Apple has taken a leadership position with the iPad and we need them to do so with their educational strategy as well. Luckily this is exactly what they are doing. This section of their website is dedicated to providing resources and education on using the iPad in education.

Apple is continuing to develop a dedicated ecosystem around the iPad and education. iBooks Author and iTunes U are good examples of Apple continuing to invest and focus on this area. As Apple actively engages the academic community, I hope we continue to see a mass of quality multi-touch textbooks as well as educational apps for every subject at every learning level.

The one area I would personally like to see more progress is in the app curating part of the iTunes App Store. There are so many apps that “app shopping” can become a burden. Apple already curates some areas of this with their “Apps For” categories. It would be great to see a more expansive curating process for education like breaking out apps for learning by age, or subject, or topical interest.

Teaching Teachers
Lastly, we need to teach our teaches as well about the benefits of using technology and specifically the iPad in the classroom. My wife is a teacher, and she like many of her friends who are teachers, needs a little help when it comes to technology. Generally speaking, they are not the tip of the early adopter iceberg.

Along those lines having courses at the college level or as a part of the teaching credential process on using things like the iPad would be extremely helpful. I assume that over time this will happen but hopefully it happens sooner than later.

Our teachers are valuable assets to this nation. Empowering them with the right tools to educate and encourage our youth is a legacy the technology industry needs to focus on.

For further interesting reading I encourage you to check out this online Ning social forum that was created for teachers to share stories and leaning experiences on using iPad in the classroom.