Oct 112012

Mike Elgan predicts in his recent Cult of Mac article that the iPad Mini (non-existing but presumably soon to be announced) “will dominate holiday sales, take over the education market and destroy three current products on the market“.

He believes that Apple will spend significant effort “to convince school boards, school districts, teachers and textbook publishers to embrace the iPad Mini“.

Ala – he leaves out the little details how Apple will be successful with this effort. Not only in U.S. but also in other major markets.

Essentially it will require an ecosystem with compelling benefits to all involved parties – pupils, parents, teachers, school boards and education departments. Obviously a platform (iOS) and a “store front” (iTunes U) are essential, but it requires more.

Interactive learning apps

The content is key to convince students. They must embrace it, love it, enjoy it. How? Encouraging a Learning by Doing modality. Becoming as close to real world as possible. Creating an environment to foster a Maker subculture on tablets. Introducing game elements (gamification) into the learning experience.

Once parents are forced to impose time restrictions for their children using the learning apps the mission is accomplished.

Authoring tool

To convince textbook publishers requires powerful authoring tools  to create such interactive learning apps with significantly reduced costs and skills. I reckon that tools such as iBooks Author are too limited to create this kind of content without additional programming. And conventional programmatic approach is too costly to create inexpensive material for a whole curriculum.

More importantly it allows to build an ecosystem where teachers, students, anybody provide these interactive learning apps as well as make these apps more like composable modules (or episodes).

Classroom Management System

To convince teachers you need to show them that this shift will not make them unemployed but rather allow them to shift their focus on facilitating the students. Becoming coaches, facilitators, mentors, advisors. Even better if you would give them concise information on the progress, strength and challenges of each student. A service infrastructure that collects the data from all apps can provide this information.

App Suites

Finally to convince the school boards and education departments I imagine two things are required. Firstly an organisation of “apps” into a suite that students can work with progressively to cover a selected subset of a potentially multi-year curriculum. This allows the school management to translate a curriculum for a specific subject into such a suite.

Big Data Analysis and Dashboards

Secondly the aggregation, analysis and visualization of the collected data will help school boards as well as education departments to gain insight and gradually improve the educational system itself.

This is certainly a tall task with lots of risks. Will Apple pursue this endeavor by themselves or rather line up with other partners?

Introduce Slate Science

One candidate could be Slate Science, an education startup with a vision encompassing all of these components. Their entry at AngelList has the tagline “K-12 education powered by touch”.

Their Web site is fairly secretive and indicates that they will launch their K12 Math apps soon. It seems to be first available only on iPad with Android and potentially other platforms followed later. As background they use a domain specific language (Episode description language) and generate the platform specific apps.

This brings one big question to my mind:

Will they be part of Apple’s iPad Mini announcement?

There are continuous rumors about an Apple event in October to announce the iPad Mini. This would be a perfect fit.

For more background you find their Infomercial together with a good summary of their vision on Youtube. I love one catch phrase:

What I hear I forget.
What I see I remember.
What I DO I understand.

Shimon Schocken, co-founder of Slate Science gave an interview to Robert Scoble. It is worth the 25 minutes to watch. He provided interesting background about their intentions and a compelling live demo of their interactive apps. He has also done a great TED Talk called The self-organizing computer course.

Based on that I consider this a startup worth to watch in the education sector.

P.S. Business Process Management Systems

After writing up about all the components I notice a striking analogy to Business Process Management Systems. Except that BPMN is a domain specific language for business processes and not interactive learning apps. 😉