April 23, 2012

Education in the Post PC Era

#technology #tech evolution #mobile #education

Technology and education go hand in hand. School students can now access computers to research projects, type papers and complete assignments.  Yet, most classroom learning still takes place in a format that has largely remained untouched by the swirling technology storm that has swept most other sectors. Now institutions that struggled to integrate traditional computing, must deal with the agile model emerging in the current, so called, Post-PC era – the rise of the tablet.

The emergence of Apple’s hugely popular iPad, Amazon’s Kindle, and similar tablet-shaped touchscreen devices, have ushered in an era of more portable and more powerful computing. The potential to radically transform how education is delivered is on par with the introduction of slates which swept across classrooms at the turn of the 19th century. Back then, the personal transcription facility provided by chalk and stone slate tablets was seen as revolutionary. Today we again have the opportunity to revolutionize learning.

Understanding the Post PC Era

There has been much media hoopla and fanfare surrounding dwindling PC sales. Many of the eulogies are around the idea that tablets are going to be the death knell for PCs. The reality though is much different.  What we are witnessing is not so much a death as it is an evolution. The tablet is the new PC.

The term “PC” simply stands for “personal computer”. In that regard, the tablet takes personal computing to new levels.  Tablets are much more compact than laptops or netbooks. It’s a portable computing device which looks much like a detached screen from a conventional notebook computer. More importantly, tablets are ultra-light and have long battery life.

The appeal of this new category of mobile computing devices is borne out in the numbers. Research group NPD published a report in January 2012 projecting worldwide tablet shipments to grow to 383.3 million by 2017 as the portion of tablets purchased by customers emerging markets increases. Improvements to screen resolution and processor performance are expected to drive rapid growth in the tablet sales, especially in developed markets. Assuming that NPD’s estimates are correct, the global tablet market is set to surpass the current size of the PC market in the next five years.

These are very compelling statistics that anyone responsible for making capital expenditure decisions in the education sector simply cannot afford to ignore.  It also raises some critical question about what technology is best aligned to education enrichment and delivery goals.

Classroom Ready Tablet Computing

Though tablets have caught on with consumers, the education market has been slower to adopt, and understandably so.  This makes sense since the devices that are used in classrooms are tied to very important learning outcomes. As a result, Ministries of Education, secondary schools and tertiary institutions must proceed carefully when considering whether to adopt a new technology on a large scale.

Reports from recent Apple iPad pilot programs at schools in the US, UK, India and Brazil have been positive, and some education institutions have even begun distributing tablets to all of their students. By looking at all that tablets offer in the context of natural student affinity, education-specific content and an enriched learning experience, it’s clear that tablets are ideally suited for the classroom.

Here are some of the reasons why.

Intuitive Interface

The touchscreen interface of modern tablet devices is extremely intuitive. Students and consumers in general are becoming more comfortable using touchscreen interfaces for common as well as advanced tasks. According to a new Nielsen survey, 35% of tablet owners said they used their desktop computers less often or not at all now, and 32% of laptop users said the same. Most tellingly, more than 75 percent of tablet owners said they used their tablets for tasks their PC’s once performed. While tablets do not yet match laptops in terms of functionally, they can engage students in a way that traditional computing simply cannot.

Leverage the Growing Cloud

Cloud-based solutions have become ever more popular with education institutions. Tablets align well with this trend, given their portability and options for constant connectivity. With tablets and cloud-based systems, students can access content anywhere on campus and, with the right infrastructure, ensure that their work is saved in a central location and accessible from all of their devices.

Fits the Digital Lifestyle

The appeal of tablets to students lies in their thin form-factor, lightweight, long battery live and instant-on capability. This makes tablets much easier to take to and use in classrooms. This advantage is particularly relevant, given the fact that most schools and classrooms are not outfitted to provide convenient access to power sources that laptops require. Longer battery life means that students don’t have to worry about carrying a charger with them.  Tablet apps (software applications that are optimized for the new mobile form factor) also create new opportunities to capture and share education content.

Increasingly Affordable

Lowering price points are making tablets even more appealing to the education sector. Increased competition is expected to continue driving down prices. With hundreds of offerings, many based on Google’s open source Android OS, expect price points to fall quickly just as they have for laptops, and smartphones.

Local Content

Tablets make it extremely easy to consume digital content in the classroom.  At the same time, it also creates new opportunities for content creation. A properly thought out content development strategy has tremendous potential for developing the local content sector, and can lead to tablets being as a catalyst for new era of local digital content creation.

So, how close are we to seeing tablets displacing laptop and desktops as the primary computing device? Closer than you might think.