The iPad Eats the Smartphone and Mobile Learning Becomes Real

July 30, 2012

I’ve been following the so-called Mobile Learning revolution for some time now. The reality is, Mobile Learning was something that a lot of people talked about, few people did, and even fewer did well. There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that most folks were repurposing e-learning courses to tiny smartphone screens without acknowledging that mobile was a new paradigm that required new rules.

But the reality is, not many companies even go that far. You know why? Because their mobile learning initiative ended at their IT department. Few organization issued smartphones to their employees. There were a laundry list of issues, from cost to security to platform choices. Never before in history has American business been so concerned that a bit of technology might be left behind in a bar.

Some organizations had a “bring your own device” policy, but due to a lack of interoperability, confusion over LMs issues, and the dramatic chasm in capabilities between the newest and oldest smartphone platforms, any sort of comprehensive mobile learning strategy usually withered on the vine.

I’m writing this during the 2012 Summer Olympics, so I’ll use an Olympic metaphor. While a lot of people were focused on whether Michael Phelps would break the record for most medals won, Ryan Lochte quietly came in and ate Phelps’ lunch, then drank his Thermos of milk for good measure. (edit: Okay, Phelps proved me wrong on that one. So sue me.) Similarly, while a lot of us focused on the smartphone wars, the iPad came in made that conversation dramatically less relevant. The iPad is now making Mobile Learning a reality.

Why? The causal diagram has a lot of nodes, but it comes down to two big issues:

  • Most importantly, large businesses are settling on the iPad as a platform of choice. The old wars over smartphone platforms become increasingly irrelevant as organizations feel comfort in the relatively proven iPad platform. In many organizations, iPads are beginning to replace PCs as the business technology of choice.
  • A lot of the reason this is happening is the form factor of the iPad. Large enough to do product demos, read documents, watch videos, etc, it’s become a reasonable alternative to a PC. Its slender size, friendly operating system, and long battery life make it much more convenient.

That being said, there are still pretty big challenges to doing learning on the iPad. As always, companies are concerned about data security and privacy. But as we centralize on a single platform those issues will be easier to address. But with at least some of the technology questions being settled, learning developers can focus on content challenges, not just technology challenges.

So how do we design learning that takes advantage of the iPad’s capabilities? That’s easy; we don’t design learning. We’ll talk more about that in the next blog entry!

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