Digital Learning On the Rise

Once again, Apple is leading the way: The Californian computer giant recently announced its intention to enter the textbook market, with its iBooks 2 app to serve as the platform for digital and interactive learning materials on iPad. The app will be available for around U.S.$15 on Apple’s iBookstore.

In the same announcement, Apple also revealed that it has already engaged the three largest textbook publishers in the United States in a corresponding cooperation. That’s more than good news for the company, whose launch of iBooks 2 will no doubt increase sales of its tablet devices.

In addition, Apple plans to bring out iBooks Author – software that will enable Mac users to import text, images, animations, and videos into layouts and save them as PDF or Microsoft Word files. It promises to give teachers, for example, an ideal tool for creating multimedia lesson plans.

Should digital textbooks stake out a permanent place in the classroom, children will no longer have to lug around so many conventional tomes; iPad will be the one and only device they need. On the downside, its price class is somewhat higher, and it requires electricity.

Tablets for 6 year olds

But the digital textbook isn’t the only innovation with the potential to revolutionize how students learn. Tablets themselves could soon supplant notebooks in classrooms all over the world. Their integration of apps makes it possible to assemble tailored learning content and activities, as well as to explore them with a special stylus or a simple swipe of the finger.

This is a welcome development in the eyes of three elementary schools in Sollentuna (a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden), which recently began issuing tablet PCs to first-graders. All of the schools in Sollentuna are to be supplied with similar tablets or laptops by 2013, at which point conventional textbooks will no longer be part of the city’s plans.

City councilwoman Maria Stockhaus cites “the children’s lack of fine motor skills” as the reason for Sollentuna’s introduction of tablets for first-graders. The devices are meant to help the students learn the alphabet before they switch to pencil and paper in second grade.

Someday, however, boys and girls may only use smartpens – styli that do much more than just help make notes. In addition to making voice recordings, they can keep track of what you write and convert it into a text file. When passed over important passages, the devices can also read the text out loud.

All these innovations notwithstanding, the one with perhaps the best chance of establishing itself in classrooms for the long term is the smartboard. Unlike conventional blackboards and whiteboards, smartboards are capable of connecting to the Internet, displaying videos, posting to blogs, and more. Besides saving students a lot of tedious cleaning, these intelligent surfaces make it easy to call up boards from previous sessions, as well.

Smartboards have already been installed at a number of schools all over the world, but reliable data on exactly how many there are, how often they see use, and other aspects is not yet available. That said, it’s clear that people around the globe are really buying into innovative learning techniques and teaching formats, as indicated by Münchner Kreis’s “Future Study” for 2011.

Global perspectives vary on digital learning

This non-profit association – whose members include information and communication experts and representatives from the fields of business, media, politics, and science – conducted a representative study of 7,231 people in Germany, Sweden, the U.S., Brazil, China, and South Korea regarding how they foresee our future digital lives.

The study clearly shows that up-and-coming economic nations like Brazil and China attach greater importance to new and modern forms of learning and education than do powerful industrial countries like Germany and the U.S.

A willingness to pay for digital textbooks, for example, was expressed by 45% of the respondents in both Brazil and China – compared to 34% in Sweden, 32% in the U.S., and 28% in Germany. Bringing up the rear was South Korea (25%).

Meanwhile, a general openness to paperless teaching media is apparent. In response to the question of when the majority of students are expected to have digital textbooks at their disposal in their respective countries, the respondents indicated a timeframe ranging from 2015 to 2018. The percentage of those who believe that the medium will never make its breakthrough was in the single digits in every country surveyed.

The responses to the question of when the respondents would like to see digital textbooks become available were also widely positive. Those in favor of immediate introduction, for example, accounted for 47% of those surveyed in Brazil, 42% in Sweden, 36% in China, 29% in Germany and the U.S., and 22% in South Korea.