The iPad’s role in education

The New York Times has an article this week about the increasing popularity of the iPad in US schools. It’s still a just a fledgling market, but the initial data is reasonably promising. For example, New York City has already spent $1.3 million on iPads. Other school districts in Chicago, Virginia, California, Arizona, North Carolina and New Jersey are also purchasing iPads to put in their schools. I won’t be surprised to see this become a major trend in 2011.

However, not everyone agrees this is a good thing. From the New York Times article:

“There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” said Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, who believes that the money would be better spent to recruit, train and retain teachers. “IPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning.”

Having witnessed my 5 year old niece and nephew use my iPad over the last year I could not disagree more. I’ve played with a number of educational games (both offline and online) with my niece over the years, and the pattern has always been the same. She’s interested in the task at hand for a 5-10 minutes and then her attention turns elsewhere. That completely changed with the iPad.

A great example is My First Tangrams HD. The touch interaction paradigm is much more intuitive for moving puzzle pieces than the relatively clumsy computer mouse. The application adapts and evolves at the perfect pace for her learning abilities. The iPad’s unlimited shelf space replaces the closet full of physical tangram puzzles, while also avoiding repetition and boredom. And it’s not just fun and games. She’s learning, and learning faster. She learns new shapes, new colors, and new objects. She can even freestyle, create her own artistic masterpieces, and then share those with the rest of the world.

Old School vs. New School

Likewise, my experience with my nephew has been no different. Ultimately we had to ration his use of the device with him so that he would not forget to interact with us. Without having done that, he would have been using the iPad’s educational software all day long.

This is incredibly exciting to me. I believe education is one of the most important gifts that we give to our children, and yet for a long time now it feels like we as a society have been short-changing our children. To be clear, I don’t expect the iPad to replace good parenting. But I expect it can replace books, puzzles, educational games, and packaged software, while supplementing good parenting and good teaching.

I hope to see many smart entrepreneurs pursuing opportunities in this space in the coming years. I believe that building world class educational software for the iPad (as well as for the coming onslaught of Android tablets) will not only be a gift for our children, but that it will also prove to be a good business. It’s a trend that I hope and expect to invest behind in the coming years. If you’ve seen any great apps out there tackling this opportunity I’d love to hear about it.

The iPad’s role in education

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