July 20, 2018

Can education afford the iPad?

 Extract: Click on the graphic to see the full graphic

Onlineteachingdegree.com has produced another interesting graphic comparing the costs of iPads to textbooks. It argues that textbooks are 41 per cent cheaper than iPads.

This is an interesting comparison, but it only makes sense if the iPad is seen merely as a replacement for the textbook, which it is not. It has many other features that could be used in a school, college or university. However, the overall point is a good one. iPads are too expensive at the moment for every student to have one.

Doing similar calculations though for a simple e-book reader such as the Kindle ($129 in Canada) or the Kobo Touch ($100) does bring the price down to a point where it would make sense to replace textbooks with e-readers – provided that the textbooks are available as e-books and at a reasonable price, which they are not yet. (But see Rice University develops free online textbooks)

Currently with e-books we are in a classic technology development phase, where the costs are too high for widespread take-up, and the necessary concomitant changes in an industry are not yet in place. However, several things will happen to change this.

  • First, the iPad or something like it (iPad 3? Android x?) will become cheaper and will have more functions, gradually replacing the use of laptops in most educational institutions; using multi-functional tablets for interactive, multimedia textbooks will become one application of many. Time horizon (for widespread adoption): 3-5 years
  • ‘specialized’ low-cost tablets will be compete with the iPad and other high-end tablets, and will provide an economical way to access e-textbooks. Time horizon: now for the hardware, but cheap e-textbooks are not currently available, so see below
  • new forms of open publishing will drive down the cost of textbooks, whether in print or electronic form, to the point where printed textbooks are really coffee-table books for specific purposes. Time horizon: 3 years. (In other words, we will go back to a pre-print age of just one copy in the library.)
  • eventually, textbooks as we know them (a single, comprehensive source for a whole course) will disappear altogether, to be replaced with modular collections of multi-media digital material that can be searched and combined at will by both teachers and learners. (These might even be called ‘open educational resources’.) Time horizon: 10 years. The problem is not the technology, which is available now, but the need for educators to understand the value proposition.

So we are not there yet, but e-textbooks are coming, probably within 3-5 years for general use. But they won’t be with us for long.

New technologies for e-learning in 2012 (and a little beyond)

© Duncan Campbell, 2012, Creative Commons license

In my e-learning outlook for 2012, I focused on mainly educational developments in e-learning during 2012. In this post, I want to look at some of the more interesting technologies that could have a major impact on e-learning. Since I’m not a technologist by background, I’m drawing mainly on secondary sources for this post, but (of course!) adding my own spin as an educator.

The NMC Horizon 2012 Higher Education Review lists six technologies over a five year horizon:

One year or less:

  • Mobile apps
  • Tablets

Two to three years:

  • game-based learning
  • learning analytics

Four to five years

  • gesture-based computing
  • the Internet of Things

I am completely in line with their prediction for adoption of tablets and mobile apps in 2012. I think learning analytics will be adopted more quickly than the Horizon timeline, but that’s a matter of timing rather than direction. I agree that game-based learning will become more prevalent, but I don’t see it as becoming widely used, because of the cost of design. It will be used in pockets or selectively rather than as a widespread tool. I see gesture-based computing (or haptics) as just one of a wider range of ways of interacting and interfacing with computers, of which touch screen technology is also a part. I thought they might also have included voice control.

The most interesting item on the Horizon list is the Internet of Things. This will be the way ordinary, everyday objects will become linked, through wireless technology, to the Internet, enabling, for instance, remote control through mobile phones of equipment in the office or house. This has fascinating possibilities. All we need as instructors or teachers is imagination as to how we can use the Internet of Things to enhance our teaching. However, don’t worry – this isn’t going to be ready for educational use in 2012.

General technology trends

I have drawn on two other sources:

Randy Muller’s Seven Technology Predictions for 2012 and Beyond (Global Knowledge) and

Peter Cashmore’s The Top 10 tech trends for 2012 (CNN).

These are general technology trends, not specific to education, so I have selected from within their lists as to what I think will be most relevant to education.

The changing user interface

There is some overlap here with the Horizon list, but these two commentators widen the range of factors influencing the user interface as follows:

  • voice control
  • gesture control/haptics
  • touchscreens
  • 3D

Taken together, I believe we will have a very different way of interfacing with technology within three years. Goodbye the mouse and the graphical user interface. The new ways of interfacing will open up more educational affordances which will make learning more engaging and exciting but at the same time present more challenges for instructors and course designers.


I’m really surprised the Horizon report didn’t highlight this as a significant development for 2012. As Peter Cashmore states:

HTML5 — the fifth iteration of the HTML standard — lets developers create richer, more interactive applications than ever. Why does this matter? As developers tire of building applications for every operating system out there — from Android to iOS to Windows Phone and beyond — HTML5 offers the opportunity to build an app once and have it work everywhere. The rise of HTML5 is bound to be accelerated by a recent revelation: Adobe is killing off Flash for mobile devices, meaning one of the primary methods of serving videos and rich applications on mobile phones is about to disappear. HTML5 will fill that gap. For us as consumers, that means richer applications and experiences on all our devices.

The end of the laptop?

Well, not quite, at least in 2012, but both Muller and Cashmore believe that for many users, tablets will replace laptops as the main form of ‘terminal’, especially considering the next trend towards cloud computing. Certainly for students, I see the laptop becoming rapidly obsolete, but for that to happen, we will need tablets with more ‘creative’ functionality than at present – and probably a large screen to which we can connect the tablet (given that I have five windows open at the moment in order to do this article).

To the cloud

The move to cloud computing will probably move faster in the business sector than in higher education in 2012, but nevertheless the trend for higher education is inevitable, because of the likely cost savings. The question is not whether HE will move to cloud computing, but how? Will we see ‘private’clouds with shared services, run by government agencies, that provide security and protection for institutions? Or will HE institutions ‘trust’ commercial cloud services? There are still legal and jurisdictional issues around privacy that are likely to slow the move to cloud computing in higher education, but over time I think these will be addressed.


Keep running. The technology innovation treadmill grinds on with no sign of letting up. This makes it all the more important we have strong educational criteria for making decisions about technology, as the choice continues to increase, and hence the complexity of decision-making.

But it is fun, isn’t it?

Your response?

What have I missed? Do you agree with some of the developments suggested here or are they off base? And what does this continuous development mean for educators? Over to you, readers!


e-learning outlook for 2012: will it be a rough ride?

© Firehorse Blog, 2012

Another year, and online learning, e-learning, learning technologies, educational technologies, digital learning, or whatever you call it or them, will continue to grow, become more prevalent, and more a central part of teaching and learning in higher education – but exactly how and in what ways?

The general trends are not going to change much from 2011 (which I identified as course redesign, mobile learning, more multimedia, learning analytics,and shared services), but some of the specifics are becoming clearer. Below I’ve ranked my predictions in order of significance for higher education, and also given a probability rating of the prediction actually happening.

1. The year of the tablet: 99% probable

Tablets – iPads, Kindles, Aakashes (Sky), etc. – will become a regular component of teaching and learning in many institutions. This will be mostly initially in traditional classroom and lab settings, but increasingly in more mobile applications outside the campus. Why?

  • tablets are more flexible, convenient and mobile than laptops and more practical for learning activities than even smart-phones
  • most LMSs already have almost transparent mobile capacity
  • tablet prices will continue to fall with increased competition, and applications and power will continue to increase with new models in 2012
  • textbooks will increasingly become digital and the tablet will become the mobile textbook library for students
  • functionality will increase, enabling tablets to become creators as well as distributors of learning materials
  • expect to see an iPad 3 with increased functionality released in April, 2012; this will generate even more interest in tablet applications for education
  • expect to see an enormous explosion of online teaching in developing countries, as cheap tablets such as the Aakash penetrate a world hungry for low-cost Internet access.

During 2012, we will see a small but increasing number of educational applications that build on the unique affordances of tablets, rather than merely moving LMS material to a tablet.

Likely barriers to the use of tablets:

  • institutional and instructor inertia
  • possibly some concerns over cost and equitable access
  • lack of standardization (although HTML5 will ease this)

The Aakash $35 tablet

2. Learning analytics: 90% probable

Learning analytics enable easy access to data on the desktop or tablet for instructors, administrators and even students about how students are learning and the factors that appear to influence their learning. The rapid expansion of learning analytics in 2012 is probably going to be the biggest surprise for many people outside the small coterie of people currently using learning analytics. Again, this is not likely to explode in 2012, but it will gain traction quite quickly, and again, there are strong reasons behind this prediction:

  • the biggest driver is going to be appeals and accreditation. Learning analytics enable institutions (and those appealing grades) to access hard ‘evidence’ of student performance, particularly online. Institutions can demonstrate to accreditation agencies what and how students have learned through the use of learning analytics. These may not be the best reasons for using analytics, but they are a very powerful ones, especially as quality assurance boards start latching on to learning analytics.
  • LMSs will increasingly provide the software necessary as part of the standard service
  • identifying ‘at-risk’ students. There is growing evidence that at-risk students can be identified almost within the first week of a course through indicators that can be tracked through learning analytics, such as amount of activity in an online class, response to e-mails, etc. The challenge will then be to find ways of supporting at-risk students
  • tweaking teaching; learning analytics provide instructors with useful data about how and what students are learning, enabling quick changes to materials and to teaching approaches while the course is still running
  • course review and planning: learning analytics will improve the evidence for both internal and external course reviews and future course planning.

Likely barriers:

  • identifying and collecting the data in ways that are useful for decision-making
  • concerns about student privacy
  • data overload for instructors who are already busy
  • lack of integration between LMSs and other student information systems

3. Growth of open education: 70% probable (depending on definition of open education)

I find this the most difficult area to predict, because so much of what is claimed under open education is either not new or not significant in terms of how it is actually implemented. Also open education covers so many different areas, such as content, access to instructors, learner support, badges or peer-to-peer assessment, recognition of prior learning, shared resources, and on and on. So let’s try to unpack some of this:

  • ‘raw’ digital content is already nearly 100% open, but a great deal of well designed commercially-produced digital instructional materials is likely to remain closed, or at least partially covered by copyright, because of the high cost of development. Nevertheless, the trend is towards openness, especially for digital materials created with public money, and this will continue in 2012. The Obama Administration’s $2 billion fund for OERs in community colleges which will start flowing in 2012 will add an immense amount of new OERs. The challenge then will be to find models that ensure massive adoption and use of such materials in formal learning during 2012, as there are few examples to date.
  • open access to high quality (all right, highly qualified) instructors is likely to be limited to idealistic volunteers, or to limited events (e.g. a MOOC), mainly because of a mis-match between supply and demand. Too many people want access to what they may incorrectly assume to be high quality instructors at elite institutions, for instance. This is partly an institutional barrier, as institutions try to protect their ‘star’ faculty, which is why this form of openness depends largely on individual volunteers.
  • one area to watch in 2012 is whether institutions otherwise requiring high academic qualifications for entry to degree programs start opening access to learner support to the general public. This is not necessarily direct instruction, but would include counselling, awarding certificates for successful completion of open courses (such as MITx), even automated exams. There is a cost in doing this, but it is far less significant than opening up faculty to those not meeting formal entry requirements. This would be a welcome move back towards public service rather than for-profit or full cost-recovery continuing education, but is unlikely in the current economic climate.
  • qualifications for open learning. I do expect to see institutions such as the OERu, the University of the People, and possibly the Khan Academy, putting in place ‘challenge’ exams that students will pay for that will provide a qualification such as a degree. Will any of the established open universities move in this direction? This would seem an obvious move if they are to remain competitive and relevant. More importantly, will employers and conventional institutions recognize such qualifications, particularly for entrance to graduate school? In the meantime, expect to see a growth in badges, especially for informal learning.

Likely barriers:

  • lack of recognition by conventional institutions of qualifications obtained through the use of open learning (this resistance has always been there, and won’t go away quickly)
  • lack of cost-effective models for incorporating open educational resources in formal programs
  • demand from students for formal qualifications from elite or ‘closed’ institutions
  • general concerns about the quality of OERs (although I suspect this will diminish during 2012, as more and better quality OERs become available)

The OERu logo

4. Disruption in the LMS market: 60% probable

LMSs aren’t going to go away in 2012, but expect to see some major changes here. Competition has suddenly ramped up, with several new entrants such as Instructure and Pearson. I don’t think the higher education market is big enough for all the players, so expect some large changes in 2012. Your guess is as good as mine as to what these changes will be, but here are my guesses

  • either Blackboard or Desire2Learn will be acquired/absorbed by another company or will go bankrupt: it may not happen in 2012 but it is inevitable over time (I hope you have created your digital materials in an easily portable format)
  • LMSs will begin to look different, with a greater emphasis on learner control of the interface, learner input, and the ability for instructors to plug and play ‘external’ applications at will
  • continued rapid incorporation of social media, either directly or (more probably) through seamless links
  • whatever, Blackboard’s market share will continue to drop, but there is no obvious winner in sight yet; more likely is a continuation of a fragmented market

Likely barriers to the predictions coming true:

  • Blackboard’s future is secured through sale to a major IT corporation (think SAP or Microsoft), resulting in greater R&D and higher license fees
  • inertia: faculty not wanting to change and so unwilling to move to better products/designs

Instructure's Canvas is a new LMS player

5. Integration of social media into formal learning: 66% probable on a large scale

In some ways, this is more of an opening of education than a technology move. However, expect in 2012 to see many conventional universities incorporating ‘open’ blogs and wikis as an increasingly important part of formal courses. The University of British Columbia’s wiki is a good example. There are several reasons why this is going to expand rapidly in 2012:

  • once the infrastructure is in place (and it’s not difficult to do technologically), it is easy for faculty and students alike to create their own materials
  • campus wide log-in provides security and quality control so that content cannot be tampered with externally, but allows for open access to other faculty and authorized users from outside the institution
  • interaction between students and instructors and assessment remains private (within the LMS)
  • such sites gradually build centres of excellence around academic topics – especially interdisciplinary areas (take a look at The Evolution of Insect Wings at UBC)
  • topics can be developed as ‘stand-alone’ wikis that transcend a course, or as course related topics, reducing over time the need to create online course materials from scratch
  • because these are open access materials, under a Creative Commons license, materials can be accessed from a growing number of institutions worldwide as well as creating local sites.

Likely barriers

  • central IT units fearful of losing ‘control’
  • overload for faculty and students if merely added to existing course work
  • lack of consensus across the institution about infrastructure and organization

From ‘The evolution of insect wings’, UBC wiki

6. The digital university: 10% probability

Will we see an announcement from an elite university that in 2012, it will go truly ‘digital’, by starting to redesign all its programs from scratch, so as to incorporate digital learning as fully as possible? This would not be an online or distance university, nor one where digital technology is used to enhance classroom teaching, but one which by design tries to integrate the best features of online and campus-based learning.

A good place to start would be the very large first and second year foundation courses. For instance if you were starting from scratch, how would you design a science foundation course, using a combination of small study groups, inquiry-based learning, OERs, remote labs, simulations, hands-on labs, social media and ‘modern’ instructional design, focused as much on the development of intellectual skills as on the acquisition of content, within the current constraints of staffing and facilities? How could the campus best be used in such a program?

This would follow the MIT precedent of having the President and Vice-President/Provost announce this, but (unlike MIT) after full consultation with faculty and students, and the process (also unlike MIT) would extend, gradually, over time, throughout the whole university, based on trial, error and evaluation. The degree qualification would remain the same, but the teaching, and also the learning, would be vastly different.

We really need something like this if we want high quality, sustainable higher education for a mass market. Nothing would better prepare economically advanced countries for the growing competition from fast developing countries. Universities need to get ahead of the economic and technology curve, and shape it, not follow it. Such a development has to come at an institutional level, but government funding and encouragement would also be extremely helpful, as there would be a relatively high cost of change.

It’s unlikely that such an announcement will be made in 2012, because it needs a lot of advanced preparation, but at least the process could begin this year in some institutions. This of course requires leadership and commitment at a scale that has been notably lacking in most institutions and from most governments in recent years.

Likely barriers:

  • where does one begin? Probably risk: why would an elite institution risk its market competitiveness which depends more on restricted access than quality teaching?
  • the need for faculty training: this won’t succeed without a massive effort in this area
  • the high cost of start-up: this will need extra resources to enable faculty to have time to work on the design and implementation, extra training, and for communication with students, faculty, board and employers; however, there may be significant savings down the line
  • getting consensus across the institution, which would be necessary for it to work
  • faculty in elite institutions don’t care enough about teaching to go through the inevitable disruption
  • add your own…….

Using the best of online and campus

7. Watch India

I will be writing a full post on Indian e-learning later, but there are several reasons behind this prediction:

  • the Indian government’s decision to subsidize 12 million Aakash tablets at US$35 per tablet will open up online learning to a vast number of Indians (800 million) who currently have no Internet access, but who do have mobile phones
  • the Aakash deal will also put great pressure on Indian higher education institutions, who in general have been highly resistant to e-learning, to move more quickly, if they are to access additional government funding for tablets.
  • this will also stimulate India’s already burgeoning e-learning industry to produce content, programs, degrees and learner support for such students. In 2009 Researchandmarkets estimated the market size to touch $603 million by the end of calendar year 2012. The Aakash deal is likely to inflate this figure by an order of magnitude.
  • up to now, most e-learning companies in India have been marketing externally, and have focused on corporate training and informal learning, but there are signs that in 2012, the focus will be on providing e-learning products, services and programs for Indian students.
  • English is widely used in Indian post-secondary education, and the move to OERs will enable Indian institutions to move quickly into online learning with what will be perceived as quality learning materials from reputable organizations (such as MIT).

Likely barriers:

  • institutional resistance to online learning
  • costs of Internet access
  • lack of bandwidth in many rural areas
  • lack of attention paid to instructional design and learner support leading to high drop-out

© Heyday Solutions 2012

8. The great unknown: 10% probability

Lots of possible developments could really put the spanner in the works for e-learning. The biggest threat could come from the US Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, could have massive implications not just in the US but also across the world, given the location of servers and companies that provide critical Internet services to whom the law will apply. Other attempts to counter terrorism, or attempts by telecommunications companies to throttle access to media, or changes to copyright laws  all have possibly negative implications for online learning. Publishers are doing their best to block open access.

Technology problems could also impact e-learning, for instance, the large-scale loss of data through an LMS failure, or a major class action suit for invasion of privacy through the use of social media.


Despite some of the risks outlined, the overall outlook for e-learning in 2012 is generally highly favourable, with the ‘good’ developments much more likely to dominate.

Although it is difficult to be precise, the trends towards more openness, more mobility, more innovation in teaching and learning, and more powerful tools for instructors and especially students, are clear and are consistent with developments in previous years. Yes, history is on our side!

In another post, I will look particularly at individual technologies that are likely to impact on e-learning in 2012.


In the meantime, how do your predictions differ? Have I missed something important? Do you disagree with any of these predictions? How do you feel about e-learning in 2012? Over to you!


iThanks, Steve!

‘Never live someone else’s dream; always live your own’ – Steve Jobs

I’m just one of millions who is saddened by the death of Steve Jobs. There will be many better tributes from people who really knew the man, but I want to recognize what Steve Jobs and his company did for me, as again, he has touched all our lives in so many ways.

I got my first Apple in 1985. It was my first real computer (a Mac Plus). For me, computers are a means to an end, rather like a car. The less maintenance the better. Just do what I want it to do. Hence a Mac was an obvious choice over a PC. As I started to look at educational applications of computing, especially online teaching, the technology had to do two things: enable me to communicate efficiently and conveniently with students; and enable me to teach in the way I wanted to teach. I did learn over time that the medium is the message, that I could do things with the computer that I couldn’t do as well in the classroom (as well as the opposite). But the ‘new’ affordance must still serve an educational purpose.

Who would need an iPod?

One of Steve Job’s gifts was to see what people did not yet know what they wanted, but would want if the company delivered – which it usually did. This is particularly true in the consumer area. However, no matter how sleek and trendy, the computer must enable me to teach in ways that I want to teach, although I am prepared to change my way of teaching if I can see the educational benefits of exploiting the technology’s ‘affordances’.

Apple’s design philosophy is important. They have wanted computers to be easy and fun to use. This didn’t (indeed still doesn’t) go down well with many in the IT community. I have been told by IT support staff that Macs aren’t a ‘serious’ computer (presumably because I didn’t need a six month training course to learn how to use them), that Microsoft is the industry standard, so Mac’s won’t be supported, that it is uneconomic to support more than one standard, and that Macs are too expensive.

However, the irony is that Macs are highly reliable, the upgrades (usually) are trouble free, the software is largely bug-free, they are less prone to hacking and viruses, and above all the user interface is simple and easy to use. So for almost all my career I have used ‘non-supported’ technology, often at my own expense. I spent a miserable nine months in the early 1990s trying to manage with a PC. I eventually got to the point where I was able to use it effectively, but found it so infuriating compared to using a Mac that I went back to my ‘unsupported’ personal Mac (I used to hide it in the cupboard when the IT staff came around, which was quite amusing once when the fax machine – another ‘forbidden’ personal technology – that was attached to it started to work in the cupboard when the Director of IT Services was talking to me. ‘I can hear a fax machine! Have you an unauthorized fax machine in your office? ‘What fax machine? Can you see a fax machine?’).

I still have major problems with Microsoft software such as Word and Powerpoint (crashing or suddenly producing a new version of the document so I don’t know which version I was last working on), especially since they introduced docx. I spend more time trying to get Powerpoint to do what I want it to do than I do preparing the content. I have to use these products because ‘they are the industry standard’ and it’s a hassle converting Keynote to Powerpoint and Pages to Word, as the conversion never works seamlessly. So thank God for Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple, for setting a higher standard in user friendliness. If only Microsoft could match it.

It should be remembered that Steve Jobs was responsible for breaking the monopoly that Microsoft held on the software market in the late 1980s. No-one gave Apple a chance of surviving until Steve Jobs was re-hired (if only I had bought their shares then!). Apple’s recent success is particularly rewarding, seeing light triumph over dark.

Another legacy is Apple’s industrial design. They have learned how to meld form and function into a beautiful aesthetic. I sit here with my razor thin aluminium laptop, with multiple ‘windows’ open on my 17″ screen, my iPhone with its simple, glass touch control interface, and my wife’s sleek, pink iPad, all comfortably fitting on to a small desk.

Apple has made technology beautiful. Although many engineers have contributed to these benefits, the vision, the standards and the drive came from Steve Jobs. I for one am immensely grateful.

$300 iPads will eat Notebooks: Gartner

Nagel, D. (2010) Media Tablet Growth to be driven by iPad Campus Technology, October 26

Gartner Consultants has updated its forecast for overall worldwide enterprise IT spending

“The all-in-one nature of media tablets will result in the cannibalization of other consumer electronics devices such as e-readers, gaming devices, and media players,” said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, in a written statement. “Mini notebooks will suffer from the strongest cannibalization threat as media tablet average selling prices (ASPs) drop below $300 over the next two years.”

An iPad for less than $300?! I told my wife to wait before buying one. Too late: $1,000 gone. That’s a really expensive way to read Jane Austen.

Lastly, remember you are getting this third hand (Gartner-Campus Technology-me-you). If your institution can afford the full report, click here