When we think about the various ways that we learn, by listening, doing, seeing, it is hard to get around how much learning still takes place through reading. With that in mind I thought I'd spend today examining some of the reading/text apps of the new iPad to see how they might impact the learning affordances we've been discussing here.
A truly new add-on for the iPad is an app simply called "Books". As you can see, it is a book shelf with titles. I was not previously an e-book user so I can't compare the iPad to the Kindle, Nook, e-book reader or others. Apple gave everyone a free copy of "Winnie-the-Pooh" with the app and several people have commented that unlike other e-book readers, the iPad includes the illustrations. And so there on page 19 is the iconic picture of Christopher Robin pulling his bear behind him as he comes down the stairs. I can certainly appreciate having that kind of visual along with the text.
But what about other areas of learning where we regularly read, or need other written material which might be used in a classroom? I've downloaded three newspapers (The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and BBC News) along with the National Geographic World Atlas as examples of how we might bring text into a virtual or physical classroom. All work fine, all have a good look and feel, and each may be differentiating itself with how it uses related media.
The New York Times (NYT) is a very straightforward version of today's paper. There are five categories of news (news, business, technology, opinion, features) each of which has stories in that category. You finger tap to choose your category, have about half a dozen paragraph-long thumbnails on that page, and can then dig in depth by further tapping (funny, I keep wanting to say "click" but I'm living with a mouse-free device). Some stories include a lead photo, others do not. I don't see any multimedia.
For the Wall Street Journal I got a subscription and have the last 10 days of papers at my disposal. I can save whole articles or entire sections of the paper. In similar fashion to NYT you navigate by section, and then choose articles within a section. In a multipage article you swipe your finger to move to the next page. Photos have info buttons with a caption and source. And some of the articles have embedded video clips.
BBC News is of course a multimedia source to begin with. The articles are a bit shorter and each thumbnail (again broken into categories) is a photo with headline instead of piece of text. There is a scrolling headline bar at the top and I can get live radio feed from the BBC World Service playing as I read the articles. So I'm getting Premier League football scores as I write this -- Chelsea is leading Manchester United by two points in the standings for those who follow the sport. BBC has printed news in eight other languages and I can change font size in any of the languages.
Each of these apps are giving the learner easy ways to hone in on the areas of learning (reading) of most interest. Using photos and videos, which break up pages so that they are not simply text is certainly something I'll keep in mind if I'm going to develop classroom material for a training course. For many learning experiences I do want to be able to copy, cut, paste, and otherwise take notes or save certain portions. Thus far I don't see any of these apps allowing for that, perhaps because of the copyrighted material, but for overall learning functionality those tools would be must haves.
Finally, what I read for a course or what I need for performance support is often that handy resource. I wrote earlier about "The Elements", here in the reading room I've got the National Geographic World Atlas for the iPad. There are two versions of the iconic National Geographic maps plus satellite images and, in certain cases, road grids. You can zoom in to a certain degree (I'd like to get another level of detail but that's not available). You can also pick any country in the world and get a couple of paragraphs on population, area, GDP, etc. All in all a handy reference which can support learning.
At this early stage with the iPad I can certainly see promise and room for experimentation with getting that great written material into the eyes of a learner.