3 iOS E-Learning Wishes

Lessons from an iPad initiative.


June 30, 2013

This summer we are rolling out a one-to-one iPad mini initiative for the small blended learning graduate program in which I work.

This iPad program has provided me the opportunity to spend lots of time thinking about the pros and cons of iOS as an e-learning platform.   

All this cogitation has left me with 3 wishes that I believe would dramatically improve iOS:

Wish 1: An LMS Designed Around iOS (and other mobile OS's)

Please tell me I'm wrong - but every learning management system (LMS) that I look at seems to be designed first for the browser. The mobile e-learning experience is relegated to whatever can be architected within the constraints of a platform initially designed for the screen size and capabilities of a browser and a laptop.

What would the LMS look like if this paradigm was reversed? Design for mobile first, and on then make a browser version.

A mobile LMS would leverage the capabilities of an app. It would have syncing and offline content storage. It would be parsimonious in features but robust in performance.  

It would be intuitive to navigate by swipe and gesture. It would have robust notification and response features. Formative assessments would be easy to access and complete.  Collaboration tools would be scaled to the smaller screen, with a UI designed to encourage collaboration and presence awareness.   

A mobile first LMS would never dump the student into a browser session. All content and tools would be contained within the app, available online or offline.

The irony is that we have something very close to a great mobile LMS app - the iTunes U Courses app.  

Apple could do a few basic things and the iTunes U app would be a contender for any program or course that wanted to dump the existing web-based LMS. We would need a collaboration tool (combined discussion / blog feature).  An assessment tool. A way to turn in assignments. A grade book. A system for pre-enrollment and SIS integration. And a simple Web interface that matched these features. With these six additional features Apple would provide a serious alternative to the existing LMS paradigm.   

Wish 2: Camera / Microphone iOS in App Access

This e-learning iOS wish should be the simplest of all my wishes for Apple to fulfill. Update the iPad / iPhone operating system to allow apps to access the microphone and camera.

This update would allow any app to record video and voice over the content on the screen.   This capability has been part of the computer OS capabilities forever.  We couldn't imagine a Windows or OS X machine that would not allow us to utilize the camera and microphone in an application.  But that is where we are with iOS.

There is no good iPad application that matches what we can do in TechSmith's Camtasia Relay, Adobe's Captviate, or TeleStream's Screenflow.   No simple way to record, share and distribute a voice and camera capture over a presentation or virtual whiteboard.

This lack of the ability to create rapidly authored voice/video over-presentations is a significant limitation to the utility of the iPad (and iPhone) as an e-learning platform.   

Perhaps an opportunity for Microsoft and Google to leap ahead of Apple?

Wish 3: Full-Featured Office on iOS

Are you as confused as I am about Microsoft's iOS strategy?   

Today we can get an app called "Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers"

David Pogue's review of the app was "yawn".

No ability to create an new PowerPoint. Stripped down editing features in Word and Excel. And the need to be a subscriber to Office 365.

Pogue mentions that there are other alternatives, such as Documents to Go Premium ($16), Polaris Office ($13) and QuickOffice Pro ($15) - so maybe the lack of a robust Office iOS app / Skydrive / client integration is not that big of a deal. 

But I can't get past the idea that I want my Office docs to work seamlessly across whatever screen that I'm on. I want my documents to all to update automatically, and I want the creation and editing experience to achieve as close to parity across platforms as the screen real estate allows.    

Microsoft's refusal to invest in a true iOS Office app may end up hurting the company in the long run.  

At some point we are going to find productivity software alternatives that are designed for mobile first. It may be that this shift will come earlier in the education world than the corporate world, as e-learning is moving quickly to mobile / browser parity.

What would be your iOS e-learning wish?


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