Last week I wrote about how 2010 would be the year of the tablet, and I pointed to the five characteristics that made them the device of the future for education:
- They are about productivity
- They are about convergence
- They are about mobility
- They are about price and availability
- They are about community
Certainly, the product presentations and announcements last week at CES did nothing but reinforce everyone’s insistence on the importance of tablets in 2010. While e-reader devices were ubiquitous enough to seem commonplace, if not dull, innovative tablet devices and new displays captured everyone’s imagination. And that is before Apple announces their new tablet later this month, a piece of hardware that some feel will revolutionize the entire PC market.
The fact that new tablet products in 2010 will give users all the benefits of e-readers, much of the productivity offered by netbooks, and the mobility of smartphones, helps us see why tablets, not e-readers are the device of the future in education.
Here are some other reasons why e-readers will fail in education while tablets dominate.
- The education market demands greater hardware homogeneity than the e-reader market can provide — The PC, in its many flavors, has become a standard tool for learning in education. A certain level of homogeneity among the different types of PCs, as well as the software that runs on the machines, have made possible institutional and district-wide adoptions, enterprise support systems, and inter-university/school technology initiatives. E-readers today are more akin to the PC market of 1981, where every device had its own operating system and storage standard. We are, at a minimum, 2-3 years out from enough standardization in the e-reader market to bring these devices into alignment with the needs of education from a support perspective. By that time, of course, they will have been replaced by tablets as the leading devices for accessing e-textbooks and other digital resources in education.
- Educational institutions need broad, multi-purpose solutions when it comes to learning hardware — Colleges and schools require homogeneity for hardware that will be adopted at an enterprise level. At the same time, they also require hardware that is multi-purpose and can address multiple needs. This allows them to bring technology into the education process that is both cost-effective and flexible. To this end, e-reader devices, at best, may reach the same prominence as today’s polling devices, but will go no further. Unlike tablets, which could be used as polling devices, netbooks, media machines, and for textbook display, standard e-readers are too limited with regards to purpose and use.
- The future of digital content in education is about software and the browser as opposed to niche devices — Unlike the trade paperback industry, the landscape in education is more “negotiated” and shared. Major textbook publishers produce a majority of the content, but they don’t actually sell to the end user. There is an uneasy relationship between publishers, distributors, bookstores, institutions, professors, and students (the actual end user). There is also a vast amount of proprietary and open content also created by non-publishers in education. This means that a niche device created to display novels has little relevance to the education market either in terms of business models or content support. Instead of niche devices, the education market needs and continues to favor software solutions that: 1) support a wide variety of e-content; 2) support a wide variety of hardware devices; 3) are browser-based. All of these elements point to success for the new tablet devices.
- Education requires content standards and interoperability — For obvious reasons, educational institutions and enterprises have promoted standards and interoperability over the years. This promotes content sustainability, re-use, and cost savings. Whether we’re talking SCORM/QTI or Common Cartridge, the education market requires solutions that embrace standards. This is bad news for e-book readers that have a proprietary content format, but the problem goes beyond that. These devices as a whole are also ill-equipped to deal with media or assessment content, and are not designed to integrate with existing learning platform standards. Tablets, on the other hand, are browser-based devices and, as such, support standards more easily and universally, and will interface nicely with existing learning platforms..
- Educational institutions and organizations must support both open and closed systems — Particularly in Higher Education, there is a healthy tension between academic freedom and intellectual property. Institutions must support openness and academic freedom in research and in the publication of content (courses and research). At the same time, the institutions must provide protection for the intellectual property of both instructors and students (courses and research). Institutions must also provide sustainable and interoperable formats for much of this content. This need for closed/open systems dictates that many institutional solutions be accessed and served up via the Web and Web browser. E-readers are not designed for this kind of hybrid content, content management, or fluid Web access. Tablets, on the other hand, are designed precisely with this kind of content and access in mind.
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