Learning Re-Imagined

Skillsoft Blog

Is the Apple iPad the Killer Corporate E-learning Tool?

By John Ambrose

The image on the left shows SkillSoft’s Books24x7 informal e-learning solution on an iPad (right) compared to an iPhone (left).  Informal is the biggest e-learning beneficiary of the iPad.

So much has already been written and there is so much hype, I thought I would think different and share my initial thoughts on the iPad as a potential corporate e-learning tool for convenient and easy consumption of corporate courseware.

Pros

•    Design
•    Aesthetics
•    Engagement
•    Input

From an elegance of design perspective, Apple has done it again. It was dubious from the pre-launch photographs, which made the device look like a chunky photo-enlargement of the iPhone.  But the device is sleek, balanced, slightly heavy, but ergonomically comfortable.  It’s heavier than a Kindle, but beyond weight there is no comparison.  The iPad’s 1024 x 768 display is not quite HD quality, but photos and video on the iPad are impressive with rich, vivid colors and smooth crisp video.

As a display device for an e-learning experience, the iPad has indeed created an entirely new category. The display aesthetics suction-cup the user’s attention in ways a laptop or desktop LCD does not. Perhaps this is ‘new-toy syndrome’ at work, but I have a feeling it is more that my hand can constantly and subconsciously adjust the tablet to my optimal plane of focus. Fixed screens don’t.  In other words, the iPad feels like a part of me; a laptop feels apart from me.  I would expect this phenomenon to aid in engagement, retention, and the success of an e-learning experience.

The iPad’s input model is ideally suited for an e-learning experience. The current state-of-the-art in e-learning requires very little long-form input of content. E-learners are usually challenged to traditional engagement such as multiple choice questions, interactive exercises, or keyword searches.  The screen-based keyboard on the iPad’s 7.5 x 9.5″ screen is soooo much easier to use than the iPhone’s just because it is bigger. The touch display opens new frontiers for e-learning course designers. One can easily imagine learners having more ‘finger control’ over the pace with which they progress through an e-learning experience.  When considering these possibilities, it is easy to agree with Walt Mossberg, who wrote in his Wall Street Journal column (March 31) that the iPad could “propel the finger-driven, multi-touch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.”

Cons:
•    No Flash
•    No Multi-Tasking
•    iTunes
•    Niche Device
•    Cost

The iPad offers great promise.  But there are several limitations as an e-learning tool today.  The biggest inhibitor is the lack of Flash support. This is not a short-term gap, it is a philosophical battle with Adobe over control of standards.  Steve Jobs has been vocal and unwavering.  Apple  most likely will throw its weight behind HTML 5.0, a highly anticipated alternative to Flash, but this will take time and so much of the more formal enterprise e-learning content that exists today has been built with Flash and as such is inoperable on the iPad.

iTunes poses a logistical challenge for organizations looking to distribute e-learning content within the enterprise. Vendors will solve this by developing applications that are both approved by Apple and designed to interoperate with the enterprise LMS. But this, too, will require time before these systems are optimized for the iPad experience.  And there is little impetus to do so until the iPad proves itself beyond niche status. Even with the indisputable success of the Apple iPhone, it remains largely a rogue device for enterprise use.

Starting at just $499, the iPad is attractively priced as a consumer product. The enterprise is not ready for the cost of providing an additional device on top of the budgeted cost of cellphones and laptops. So the question is whether the iPad is a true laptop killer.  Enterprise replacement cycles take 3-4 years to complete, so there is plenty of time before it becomes clear if the iPad can capture meaningful corporate market share. One major drawback today is the lack of a Microsoft Office suite for the iPad.  The Apple apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) are wonderful tools, but they do not fully satisfy the corporate appetite for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  It will be interesting to watch the maneuvering between Google, Microsoft and Apple in this regard.

Near-Term: Best Use is for Informal e-Learning
The biggest advantage for the iPad in corporate e-learning today is for informal e-learning. Amazing just-in-time learning tools like Books24×7 digital books provide a supersized experience on the iPad.  Using the touch screen, one can quickly and efficiently navigate through 8-million pages of professional reference content, self-organize libraries to fit individual needs, collaborate with colleagues, and bookmark for quick reference.  While I will continue to use my iPhone for my informal needs when no WiFi is available, the iPad’s form factor provides a robust e-learning experience for my informal learning needs with no compromise.  This means I have more answers, more quickly…and that’s what it’s all about in an information economy.

What are your thoughts about the iPad?  Does it seem like a viable e-learning device?  Let me know in the comments!

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