Reading, Writing and Roaming: Mobility Key for Education Growth

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Tablets by the Numbers

Health care is generally thought to be the poster child vertical for mobility. The work force is highly mobile; communications must be secure and extremely reliable. Form factors must be flexible enough to allow people to communicate while using their hands to do more important things—such as saving lives.

Education, however, is not too far behind. It also demands high levels of mobility, a wide variety of form factors, the need for security and just about all the trimmings of health care devices.

The key similarity, of course, is that both sectors are hugely important to society. Unlike health care, though, the educational mobile sector is to some extent seasonal. The back to school time unfolds in late August and early September, which makes now a good time to look at this field.

Late last month, presented a list of stats and findings related to mobile education. Among the findings: As of 2010, the top five mobile learning (mLearning) nations—the U.S., Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan—accounted for 70 percent of the market. The Ambient Insight Mobile Learning Market Forecast 2009-2014 predicted that the mobile learning market would be $9.1 billion by 2015.

The story has links to these and other research reports. Some of them are a bit old and some comment on the mobilization of society as a whole without drilling down to education. But the basic theme is clear: Mobility is growing in general and also in its impact on education.

The creativity at play here is tremendous. PCMag offers a sampling of apps that are available for primary/elementary kids, secondary school students and high schoolers.

Software of another sort is the subject of an interview with Bill Gates at Education Week. The main topic of the Q&A is to understand Gates’ investment in Graphite, a startup tool from Common Sense Media that helps teachers find optimal websites and applications.

In addition to extolling the virtues of the particular product, Gates addresses the use of communications technology in education. Gates suggests that online tools today pay the biggest dividends for motivated students who are seeking knowledge beyond the classroom. A big challenge— and one that he hopes Graphite helps to overcome— is customizing the tools to the task of helping normal students in the classroom:

Software can figure out what a student knows about a subject and, with infinite patience, tailor exercises that focus on where they need to improve, even giving personalized hints and encouragement. As hardware like tablets and intelligent whiteboards gets cheaper and more widely available, that can help, too.

Gates made no distinction between mobile and desktop approaches, but it’s safe to assume that smartphones, tablets and other devices are as important — or even more so — as desktops. This segment is changing rapidly, of course. For instance, ZDNet has a story accompanied by an infographic on the appropriateness of Google Glass in the classroom.

The back to school season brings back many memories — some fond, some not so much — for those of us who are in the workforce. Things are changing rapidly, however, as the focus moves from stationary to mobile devices.

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