Making Sense Of The iPad For Online Learning

ipad for learningThe noise about the release of Apple’s iPad has been a bit overwhelming. Were you too busy to read the reviews, analysis and opinions? No problem. I summarized the gist of it in a quick handy dandy rating system focusing on the iPad’s future for online learning.


As Apple says, the iPad is slightly smaller than a magazine. Its 9.7 inch diagonal screen bodes well for mobile learning. You’ll be able to display more content on the screen than on most other mobile devices. Detractors say that it’s too large to slip into a pocket, but why not slip it into your brief case or backpack? It’s only 0.5 inches thick.


Weighing in at 1.5 and 1.6 lbs (.68 kg and .73kg), it’s light enough to carry around, even for wimps. Lightweight technology makes learning. collaborating and communicating convenient.

User Interface

The iPad uses the iPhone’s basic user interface with additional multi-touch capabilities. Some applications apparently work more like what you’d find on a Mac. This high-touch type of interface should enable lots of interactivity, games and simulations. This is a great way to foster engaging learning experiences.

In terms of input, the iPad has a virtual keyboard and Apple offers an auxiliary physical keyboard that connects to and charges the iPad.

Flash Ready

For a variety of reasons that probably only insiders understand, both the iPad and the iPhone do not play Flash movies. Although there will be other types of content creation tools, I see the lack of Flash support as a huge limitation for course developers. [UPDATE: When Flash CS5 is released, developers will be able to package ActionScript 3.0 programs for the iPhone. See this article for more.]

Delivering Content

The iPad is well-equipped for delivering movies (sans Flash), music, narration, graphics and text. For eBooks, it’s using the ePub format, which is an open source standard allowing digital publications to work on different devices. Unlike the Kindle (at the time of this writing), the iPad has color capabilities. The operating system is not capable of multi-tasking, however, which could present obstacles when using the iPad for learning. Don’t you like to move between different content windows?


You’ll be able to collaborate on the iPad, but not through video. The tablet does not come with a video camera. It does have a built-in microphone and stereo speakers so it is audio ready. Text chat is an obvious use and VoIP services should work. The iPad then, can be used for audio-based synchronous learning, collaboration, meetings and just-in-time support.

Social Media

Because the iPad can connect through Wi-Fi and 3G (depending on the model) and has a screen size that makes text legible, it’s ideal for mobile social media activities. Users of social iPhone apps, like Facebook Mobile, LinkedIn, TweetDeck and Seesmic, will have an easy time integrating the iPad into their social media universe. On the other hand, you’re probably not likely to whip out the iPad to text someone like you would with a cell phone.


It looks as though users won’t be left behind on the iPad. According to Apple, 140,000 existing iPhone applications will run on their tablet. They have also redesigned iWork, the Mac productivity suite with Keynote (for presentations), Pages (for documents), and Numbers (for spreadsheets). Relevant to learning is the iBook app for downloading digital publications. I see hyperlinked and interactive textbooks in our future. In addition to specific iPad applications, users can access the Internet through the iPad’s web browser, Safari.  As mentioned, the iPad is not multi-tasking and this can limit how one uses its applications for content creation and online learning.

Connecting To Other Devices

In my mind, connectivity is part of the informal learning paradigm. But the iPad doesn’t have a USB port. Instead, it has a 30-pin connector for docking and charging. The connector gives you access to iPad accessories like the Camera Connection Kit and the Keyboard Dock. To use your USB devices, you’ll need to buy a separate adapter that only works when the iPad is plugged into its proprietary dock connector.

For file management, you’ll need to sync the iPad with another computer in the same way that Apple’s iPod and iPhone work. The problem is that you can only associate your iPad with one other device. If you have multiple computers, just pick a favorite.

Open Development Standards

There are many objections to Apple’s closed development model used for both the iPad and the iPhone. Conventionally, creators of operating systems don’t control the software that users purchase or download. But Apple’s closed model means applications must be approved before they can be loaded onto the iPad, which can be an arbitrary process according to critics. The Free Software Foundation even staged a protest at the iPad’s launch event. In terms of online learning, this could potentially hamper innovation, though learning opportunities through iTunes seem to be plentiful. [UPDATE: Just to be clear, a content creator or developer can create a web application that could be accessed through the iPad’s browser. Some current technologies, such as Flash, will be blocked, however. See the note about the coming change for CS5 in the Flash section above.]

Application Development

Course developers will be able to use Apple’s new version of the iPhone’s Software Developers Kit (SDK) which now supports the iPad. This proprietary environment comes with coding resources, libraries, some training and an interface builder. This is a definite advantage for those who have built iPhone applications. I’m leaving this unrated as I have no experience with their SDK.

Even though the iPad doesn’t have a full 5-star rating, I sure would love to own and play around with one!

What’s your take on the potential of the iPad for formal and informal learning?

Related Article:
First iPad University Course

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  1. Lee Graham says

    Fully agree! While Flash isn’t supported for iPad Safari browser, one noteworthy item about the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, is that when Adobe release Flash CS5, developers will be able to built native iPhone Apps using Flash. This makes it much easier to port a good chunk of eLearning courses to a mobile platform.

    One a side note, with the next release of Flash CS5 there will be support for Flash Player 10.1 on mobile operating systems such as Android and WebOS, and yes, those will support in-browser Flash. =)

  2. Rom says

    Open Development? You can always create web-apps the same way Google did with its Google Voice for iPhone. Fully functional – not integrated, but functional.

  3. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Rom, Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right and I think I’ll update that paragraph to make it clear there is another path.

    I just thought it would be good for eLearning developers to know that Apple blocks installation of software that comes from anywhere except the official Application Store and they will need approval to get it there. But yes, there is another path.

  4. David Miller says

    Unfortunately, Apple has stated they will not allow Flash content for the iPad. That’s a loss for us in the eLearning development community.

  5. Connie Malamed says

    Hi David. I know, I’ve been keeping up with the iPad developments. As an eLearning designer/developer, I think it’s a really big loss for societies around the planet to have Apple dismiss Flash. I doubt if there’s a technical reason for it.

  6. Amy Marie says

    Good review. But I think it’s important to remember that flash is not the be all and end all, in contrast HTML5 is coming up quite nicely and will bridge the flash shaped hole in the iPad.

  7. Carlos Baez says

    In my opinion, IPad is a tool that has a good future in the educational field. I wonder, why many webmasters are changing their designs from Flash to HTML5. How many IPhone users are in the market? If we add the IPod Touch, IPhone and IPad users it gives us a good number to consider a change. If you were to design a new website, would you consider Flash knowing that many users won’t be able to see its content? The mobile access is growing in gigantic steps. The important decision would be if we want to limit the information to Flash users.

  8. Connie Malamed says

    You’re right, Amy. I’m just concerned about the tens of thousands of courses that already exist in Flash. What will happen to them? Thanks for your comment.

  9. Connie Malamed says

    Yup, you’ve got some good points too, Carlos. I do think the iPad has a future and I just interviewed someone who is working on a project now. Will write it up soon. I just don’t think Apple should be controlling these things (she says as she types on a Mac).


  10. colmmu says

    Whilst HTML5 is going to be very good in the long run, it is not going to fill the Flash gap on the iPad. Why? because HTML5 will not be consistent across multiple browsers etc until predicted 2022. That’s a long time for multi platform digital publishers (as are most e-learning providers). Here is a good explanation and a video from Google:

    and a good analysis of where we’re at currently in the e-learning community:

    There is an anti-trust case now being pushed forwards to tackle Adobe vs Apple in this debate, we shall see.

  11. Connie Malamed says

    Thanks for adding to the conversation, Jon. I hadn’t come across that prediction about HTML5 in all my reading. Still, having read Steve Jobs response to the Flash flap, it doesn’t look like Apple will ever relent.

  12. iPad Free says

    The iPad is great for watching youtube tutorials and listening to audiobooks. I’ve yet to read any actual eBooks on it but I hear it’s amazing and better than the Kindle.

  13. agus says

    I have to disappoint. The iPad (like the iPhone and the iPod touch) resize and adapt the website for his display.

    What do you think? That for the iPhone we should design a website 320×480? It automatically and perfectly resize any website.

  14. Mary McGivern says

    I certainly understand not wanting to redesign animations an interactions in HTML5; however, consider that HTML5 is actually a universal format as opposed to FLASH, which is proprietary. The long and the short of it is that it is a GOOD thing to be designing in a format that is accepted universally.

    Also, Flash interactions can contain security breaches. HTML cannot. This is another reason that we should be delivering our training for mobile devices in that format.

  15. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Mary,
    I think there is a lot more browser and mobile player support for HTML5 (Javascript and CSS3) now than when this post was written. So I totally agree with you. It’s easier to develop in HTML5 now and there are the advantages you’ve mentioned. Thanks for your comment.


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