Saturday, May 15, 2010

Defining iPad Learning Application Styles

After having explored the iPad for a couple of weeks, it is time to dive into the actual development of Mobile Learning solutions! Let us start off with some generic foundations on the design of iPad applications: Apple's Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) defines three application styles, which I have summarized below. These application styles help us to clarify some of our design decisions and to see how different approaches can be suitable for different types of information and functionality. Please note that application styles do not dictate the implemention method (native, web based or hybrid).

1. Productivity Applications

People use Productivity Applications to accomplish tasks, which are based on the organization and manipulation of detailed information. Mail is a good example of a productivity application. Productivity Applications often organize user data hierarchically. In this way, people can find information by making progressively more specific choices until they arrive at the desired level of detail.

In our learning world I could think of administrative LMS interfaces being implemented as Productivity Applications. Moreover, the hierarchical organization of data could be beneficial for structuring complex knowledge based Performance Support Systems.

2. Utility Applications
Utility Applications perform a simple task that requires a minimum of user input. People open them to see a quick summary of information or to perform a simple task on a limited number of objects. Utility Applications tend to present data in a flattened list. The Weather application is a good example because it displays a narrowly focused amount of information in an easy-to-scan summary.

Less complex Performance Support solutions providing instant "knowledge at our fingertips" could be well represented by Utility Applications.

3. Immersive Applications

Immersive Applications offer a full-screen, visually rich environment that is focused on the content and the user’s experience with that content. People often use Immersive Applications to have fun, whether playing a game, viewing media-rich content, or performing a simple task. Immersive Applications tend to hide much of the device’s user interface, replacing it with a custom user interface that strengthens the user’s sense of entering the world of the application. Users expect seeking and discovery to be part of the experience of an immersive application, so the use of nonstandard controls is often appropriate.

Mobile Learning courseware would heavily leverage this application type. In contrary to Apple's generic Immersive Applications, I do envision us defining standard controls for Learning to increase the consistency and usability of our courseware at least in a specific domain (e.g. corporation or organization). The Masie LearningLab aims at collaboratively defining industry standards and best practices for iPad based Mobile Learning.

Let us leverage these generic design standards to define specific WorkPad, LearnPad, PerformPad solutions.  What ideas do you have for iPad Learning solutions based on these three application types?


  1. Celia,

    Great post! What do you think will be the design/adoption rates of each of these applications? And, do you think we will see apps that are more authoring platforms rather than fully developed "appliances"?

    Gerry Monroe - Canada Finance Fund

  2. @Gerry - Excellent questions!

    I think that Immersive Applications will have the highest adoption rates in the Learning field. The market will probably 'explode' as eLearning authoring environments become available. Just imagine how much iPad based courseware would be out there by now if the iPad would support Flash.

    Regarding your second comment, I definitely hope for apps that are more authoring platforms rather than fully developed appliances. Building in collaborative and interactive components, which enable the learner to evolve the solutions would be a perfect use of the devices' capability. Just think of training material provided as an interactive app, which the learner can complement with personalized content.

  3. In my short experience writing iPhone apps, I consider that hierarchical structures are well suited for reference material but to rigid to provide an attractive and engaging learning experience.

    And although I would tend to agree that immersive ones provide the best experience, I believe is quite difficult to provide an environment that fosters exploration and that people are willing to revisit. I mean immersive it's ideal for a piano, but maybe more difficult to apply in other more abstract subjects.

    What I realized, is that you can use a combination of approaches, I wrote a little App called "Numerals" that on the surface teaches to count, and uses a combination of modes (Training and Flash Cards) so a learning experience is interactive and playful but with purpose. It uses an elementary concept as a gateway for exploration into math, diversity, cultures and languages. In fact it attempts to plant a seed of possibilities, rather than to cover the subject as a whole.

    Again IMO, a device like this presents a huge opportunity for human advancement, if we are able to stand the assault of the profit driven entertainment industry, that IMO has a very damaging effect specially on children.

    In regard with authoring tools, you have KeyNote as a precursor of what is possible.

    I have a question and is regarding rewards, there was a time when learning itself was a reward ... do you think that educational apps should incorporate
    that kind of encouragement ?

  4. Thank you so much for your comment, Mikhayl. I can definitely see the benefits of the combined approaches.

    The rewarding question is tricky. It may depend on the purpose. In a corporate context, rewards would probably be derived from the overall blended learning program that the mobile app is part of.

    What do you think?

  5. @Mikhayl - Thanks so much for your feedback. I like the idea of the combined modes and would love to see your App as an example.

    With regards to rewards: In a corporate context Mobile Apps will likely be an element of a blended learning delivery. I would therefore define the rewards, metrics, incentives, etc on the learning program level. What would be your preference?