I very much enjoy my Fox 35 Orlando segments, largely because I have an excuse to research currently trending consumer technology topics (and sometimes I’m even able to rationalize a purchase or two for “further research”). Regardless of the technology I’m focusing on at any particular point in time, I’m always mindful of the potential applications of that technology in the teaching and learning environment. As I’ve said numerous times elsewhere, the technology that is truly transformational within the education landscape usually finds its origins in the commercial/consumer sector of the marketplace.
This morning, the topic for discussion was the categories of smart-device applications that would be useful for gift-giving during the holiday season. I broke the topic down into three basic categories: e-Books, mobile applications, and e-Coupons (for product and service discounts). Here’s the clip:
So what would those product offerings look like in terms of the education space, not too far out into the future? I’m happy to make some quick predictions.
- Category 1: e-Books
The majority of the current e-Book formats are a repackaging of traditional text content in a high-tech wrapper. And that’s par for the course: whenever we invent new forms of media technology, we typically take older forms of media content and do a direct port. That lasts about as long as it takes for producers and consumers to learn that we can accomplish better things. But make no mistake, for all the high-tech attributes of the various e-Book readers and smart devices out there, today’s e-Book largely does not add to the format. As a result, e-Books so far are squandering an opportunity to push the technology and evolve the format. The future e-Book is not going to be a primarily text-based medium. Rather, there will be a framework of interactivity sitting atop a foundation of multi-media source materials that will turn out to be content compelling enough to re-engage a generation of reluctant readers. Not quite full-fledged mobile applications (see the next category), the e-Book will replace the static text book as a dynamic repository of course content material, perhaps even capable of customizing itself in the format most appropriate for the reader’s particular learning style. While the traditional book format will continue to exist, especially for recreational reading (just as television never quite replaced radio), e-Books in the educational context will become a much more active part of the learner’s tool kit.
- Category 2: Mobile Applications
It’s this category that seems to be garnering all the predictions across the education industry, and justifiably so. Like traditional software applications, mobile apps are capable of tremendous utility in terms of tools that support the teaching and learning endeavor, from word processors and presentation engines to virtual lab and scientific apparatus simulators. Yet mobile applications offer two things that commercial software products from Microsoft or Adobe have not yet provided: 1) portability in terms of app footprint size and ability to run with a robust feature set on handheld devices, and 2) extremely low (and sometimes no) cost. As a result, end users are able to mix and match from their own selection of mobile apps to serve their own particular set of needs. Consider that once a person purchases the Microsoft Office Suite, he or she is not particularly inclined to run out and buy a copy of the latest thing in spreadsheets from the XYZ Startup Software Design Company. While the old model has resulted in expensive, often bloated software containing a multitude of features rarely fully utilized, the mobile app model presents a development environment in which feature set experimentation will be commonplace, as the cost for app acquisition will be extraordinarily low. Mobile applications in the education market space will afford learners solutions that can be customized to fit particular learner needs (bringing us one step closer to the EPS construct, in fact).
- Category 3: e-Coupons
This is an unusual category to consider, as we rarely think of education as a shelf-style product that can be purchased a la carte, along with soap, potato chips, and six-pack of your favorite beverage. Thinking about Groupon or LivingSocial, it’s not a natural conclusion to think of students looking for “sales” on course content that they might purchase to fill in credit requirements. Yet this is not such a far-off possibility. The infrastructure of the Internet has already made it possible for students to take courses from any number of institutions–not simply the ones within their range of driving. At the same time, organizational constructs such as the National Student Clearinghouse are allowing students to be the center of their own education universe, and equipping them with the tools to reach out to multiple institutions simultaneously. It’s not difficult to see a path forward for students to leverage group buying power and, as a result, select their own courses from a number of institutions simultaneously in order to build their own custom schedule path to their particular academic goal.
In all three of these categories. we see a potential future where technologies that first have taken root in the consumer space have an impact in the education landscape, such that they change the way education is both offered and provided. In the consumer space where competition drives innovation and cost efficiencies, this is not surprising at all. As educators, those of us that recognize this and move to take advantage of the coming waves of change are the ones that will be best positioned to guide the next stages of transformation in teaching and learning.