iPods in Education Part 12: Customized Learning Using Apps

Posted: June 29, 2009 in ipod, iPod in Education
Tags: , , , ,

There has been a gap of several months since I last shared ideas in the form of a blog post on the topic of using iPods in Education. While the introduction of the iPhone and the iPod Touch has changed the rules in how handheld devices can be used in education, this series has laid dormant as I’ve been in the process of catching up with the technology. I have always been a firm believer that one cannot comment on the techology until one actually uses the technology. As I did not own neither an iPod Touch nor an iPhone, I didn’t feel confident that I could confidently discuss the benefits of using such devices in education.

That is, until now. Approximately one week ago, I activated and began using an iPhone 3G S and feel that while not yet an expert, I can now begin discussing intelligently how such interactive mobile devices can be used to help students learn. Before I begin, I do want mention that I still find merit in using older iPods or a newer iPod classic or iPod Nano for all the same reasons I’ve discussed in this blog. However, there are two main differences in a classic iPod and an iPod Touch/iPhone: the ability to engage in two-way interaction and customizability. In this blog post, I want to focus on customizability.

Personally, I am of the opinion that industrial-age education systems did not focus on educating children based on gheir needs as much as it focused on inculcating predefined industrial skills. The focus was not on meeting the needs learning needs of the child per say, but on meeting the emoyment needs of society. As a result, we saw the development of a compartmentalized system that focused on age categories and specialization. The children had to bend to meet the needs of the program rather than the two forces working together.

In recent years, attitudes in the education system have begun to change. While stabdardized curriculums still exist, there is an understanding that the learning needs of individual children vary and, as a result, the teaching styles of educations need to vary ad well. Hence the pedagogical ideologies of Univeral Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction. There is a greater understanding that student learning environments need to be customized to meet their learning needs.

This is where the iPod Touch comes in. The power in these devices is not only that they allow connection to the Internet and fir two-way communication, but also in that there are 3rd party applications that have been built for these devices that allow for both extended and customized uses of the device. These apps ( over 50,000 as of this writing) come in both free and paid variations.

The reason why I get so existed over the development of these devices is that the learning potential is huge. In addition the learning benefits already discussed in this blog, using the iPod Touch allows educators to access learning apps for their students based on their individual learning needs. There are so many good free apps that no two students need to have the same set of apps. This sense of customized learning is foreign to industrial-age school settings because these environments were all about providing the same set of resources, learning environments and assessments.

Today’s technology allows for more. It allows students to learn in personalized ways using tools that empower them to learn I’m different ways. With Wi-Fi enabled devices such as the iPod Touch, communication can now be global. Now with the possibility of using apps to customize learning, teachers now have a tool that can allow them to help all their students learn in ways that leverage their strengths and using technology to support their needs.

The ability to take the concept of Differentiated Instruction and apply it using technology is exciting. The future looks bright indeed.

  1. Leonard Low says:

    Nice post Rob. I, too, will shortly be experiencing my very first iPhone, having held off on the last two releases. I’m very happy that video recording is finally available in the iPhone, but I do think that there are still some issues with the iPhone that still give me cause for concern.

    The greatest of these is the app model. While there are many apps available for the iPhone, and a significant number of these may be used to support or enhance learning, the “approval” architecture of the Apps Store means that apps may be blocked or unapproved at Apple’s sole discretion. Emulation software is an example of a whole category of software which Apple blocks from publication, preventing the creation of Java and platform emulators that could have made the iPhone even more powerful as a learning and creation tool. Flash is another platform that Apple has prevented from being used on iPhones, despite its supreme and undisputed pervasiveness elsewhere.

    That Apple sees fit to block these platforms seems to me to inhibit opportunities for creativity and interactive learning resource development… and, more broadly, represents a “gatekeeper” or “censorship” culture that is counter to the aims of open and accessible education and information sharing more generally.

    Yes: I will be moving to an iPhone myself. But it is a calculated strategy on my part to understand the platform in depth so that I can offer the most informed suggestions on minimising the negative aspects of this popular platform, and maximising the benefits.

    • Thanks for your comment Leonard. I agree that nature with which Apple allows or disallows apps is a bit of a concern. It is true that the learning potential of the device is limited but Apple’s approval policy and creativity and innovation do suffer as a result. However, another way to look at it is that Apple, through the iPhone and iPod Touch, has created a scheme where their device can be customized with apps developed by 3rd party developers in a way that was just not possible before. The fact that we can even complain about Apple approval process speaks to the fact that we, as a mobile culture, have already accepted the wide range and availability of both “for free” and “for fee” apps as a norm and a benchmark. We need to remember that the App store has only been available for just over 1 year (as of the date of this comment) and yet, it has not only changed the rules of mobile learning and culture, it has rewritten them.

      Granted, the current situation can always be improved and the process made a little more democratic but hey, when I can write blog posts using the free WordPress App or learn geography with the free Google Earth app or read eBooks with the many variations of eBooks apps, all from my handheld, something special is happening. I’ve seen a dramatic revolution in mobile learning in the almost 2 years that I have maintained this blog. While we always need to work to improve the status quo, let’s not forget to celebrate successes as well.


  2. nick says:

    Pretty cool post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts.

    Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

  3. Matt says:

    I am working with a Publisher/Assessment company to get content on to iPod/iPhone and iTouch. We have the app and just need to get content into it. This will be for all levels and some entrance exams. So hold on just a little longer.


  4. Paul Baker says:

    Thanks for alerting us to these possibilities. As a professional communicator in education I’m always looking for ways to use new technologies, including mobiles, in my work.

  5. Lisa says:

    Obviously, learners learn more (if not by any stretch of the imagination) towards permitting iPods in school whilst generally instructors boycott them unequivocally. Wouldn’t it be great if we could perceive how everything weighs out and get a knowledge for ourselves, if our kids should/shouldn’t convey them to class.

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