The Unexpected Ways That Tablets Are Enriching Learning Experiences

Mobile devices are playing a pivotal role in learning by giving teachers and students access to highly engaging and interactive materials.

Portability, versatility and increasing computer performance of tablets are bringing completely new experiences, changing how we enjoy entertainment, shop, gather information, communicate and blend our digital and real worlds. This series by PSFK and Intel explores how improving tablet capabilities are changing the status quo in many aspects of our lives.

Numbered are the days of elementary grade computer training lab as more affordable mobile technologies make their way into more classrooms. Devices such as tablet are not only bringing students new interactive experiences, they’re allowing teachers break through the confines of traditional classroom walls. Elizabeth Crawford, who handles education marketing and strategy at Intel, says, “Graduation rates go up, behavioral problems go down, and students tend to be more engaged in their learning — they’re not bored. Students are actually excited to use the devices. It’s a totally different classroom than the one from the past.”

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When thinking about what educational experiences might look like five years from now, these personal devices are playing a pivotal role. According to Crawford,“It’s (mobile technology) preparing them with the 21st century skills they’ll need in today’s workforce. Part of it is being able to look at information on the Internet and have the critical thinking skills to interpret it and be proficient in understanding it.”

In the developing world, where students often face numerous obstacles when seeking an education, tablets offer a flexible and portable option for accessing learning materials and studying on their own terms. Tablets specially designed for education have already sprung up in countries like Haiti and the Congo and in India, where some with limited functionality cost only $20 US.

Intel was an early entrant into the space of thinking about how tablets could be leveraged by students in developing countries. Its Studybook released in 2012 was a rugged tablet that is water and dust-proof and that features shock absorbers surrounding the screen. It in part helped paved the way for the multiple iterations of these types of specialized learning devices which have followed. For example, the ZEduPad is a high-quality, low-cost, Android tablet designed specific for students in Zambia. The tablet comes pre-loaded with all the entire iSchool curriculum where students can access thousands of primary school lessons. Though the device doesn’t require an internet connect, one can be used to access additional content if desired. 

Psychologists and technologists are exploring how interactive experiences can engage students through contextual cues, adaptive interfaces and game mechanics. As computational capability increases in tablets, it could lead to new interactive, creative and contextual learning experiences that didn’t exist before. Students could walk through a city and use their device to access real-time information, including historical data, as well as record their experiences to create their 5th grade state report.

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Boston’s Museum of Science is exploring this concept by installing ‘intelligent’ light bulbs that can automatically deliver supplementary exhibit information to visitors’ personal devices. The LED light bulbs from Massachusetts-based ByteLight send location-specific information to visitors by interacting with the device’s camera using LED pulses faster than the human eye can see. Each light pulse has a unique signature, enabling any device with a front-facing camera to receive information. Visitors who download an associated app can receive media and information at the museum, such as details about the displays in each room, interactive games, activities, a map of where they are, and special offers. The museum can also receive foot traffic data from the light bulbs, enabling them to see which of their exhibits are the most popular. Game mechanics can provide an additional level of motivation around almost any activity, engaging players through rewards, leveling up, or peer to peer competition. Applied in educational settings, games challenge the notion that all students are receptive to learning materials in the same format, creating an additional outlet for delivery and interaction. Drei is an iPad game that pairs strangers, enabling them to solve puzzles together. The game relies on logic and collaboration, forgoing a sole winner in favor of tools that allow players to communicate to find the correct solution.

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Created by Etter Studio, Drei connects players across the world to engage in 48 levels, which includes the use of real-time physics as players battle against elements like gravity. In addition to breaking students out of isolation by requiring them to work together, the game creates an interactive learning environment where students may not even realize they are developing certain skillsets. We’ve all seen children glued to their parents’ devices, and today’s teenagers are outpacing generations before them in terms of device usage. To capitalize on this interest, Dreamworks studio has teamed up with tablet maker Fuhu to create its own brand of touchscreen device for children as young as 2 or 3, giving them the ability to play educational games and watch videos. Called the DreamTab, the tablet will feature original content and programming developed by DreamWorks, alongside streamed offerings from existing channels such as Disney and Nickelodeon. Each tablet comes with a stylus, encouraging children to learn to draw with video tutorials from the studio’s animators.

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Dreamworks isn’t alone in this space. Revered designer Yves Behar has come out with the XO Tablet as an offshoot of the work he did around One Laptop Per Child project. Featuring a child-friendly interface and cover along with a relatively low price point of $150, the tablet is intended to bring educational opportunities to a wider group of children. The main navigation is organized into future career aspirations or “dreams,” allowing kids to easily dive into interesting content and begin learning about how to achieve their goals. As we think about the innovative ways education could move from the confines of the classroom into our living rooms, parks and cities, tablets are offering an ideal portal for delivering the next generation of learning experiences. By delivering personalized, interactive and relevant content, these devices are catering to the different ways in which students are receptive to learning. As the technology driving these experiences becomes more ubiquitous and affordable, tablets are bringing new learning experience to students around the globe.

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