Tablet Computers for Learning in India

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As I picked up a tonne of junk mail this morning a flyer fell out that took me by surprise. It advertised a product called iProf . It’s being touted as India’s first personal education tablet, and iProf claims it’ll revolutionize the way India studies. iProf brings study material in multiple electronic formats such as audio-video lectures, animations, structured tests to a touch-screen based device similar to a tablet. The content right now seems to be predominantly instructor-led training that’s been digitized. Currently, it’s offering tutorials for the competitive JEE exams that determine admittance to the IITs, India’s premier engineering institutes.

The concept seems simple enough, walk into an iProf study zone, buy the device, subscribe to various content options, and download those using the high-speed connectivity available at the study zone. At this point of time, iProf is sourcing educational content from Brilliant Tutorials for the IIT JEE exam. One can buy the iProf device from an iStudy Zone, and download the IIT JEE content subscription at a quick speed with high speed broadband connectivity at an iStudy Zone. After content is downloaded onto the device, it can be accessed locally, since it’s now stored on the device itself. No need for always-on connectivity. Moreover, it seems the devices have video conferencing capabilities, if that’s really the case, then synchronous and collaborative learning activities are also a distinct possibility; however those would require internet connectivity.

I brought this up because some things strike me about this product/service.

1. The leap beyond computers as learning devices – I’ve always thought that India would would make a great technological leap and adopt mobile technology in a big way, skipping the personal computer paradigm along the way. This is perhaps the first device that’s mobile and specifically purposed around learning. There’s a huge market for such devices and relevant content in the academic space in India. The great value placed on education means that parents and students will spend substantial sums of money to stay afloat in the competition. Services that combine content and devices with the ability to render it are fairly unique. In my ideal world, I’d want either one to be free; either the content subsidizes the device. Just like mobile telecom service providers will take a hit on the price of the hardware if you commit to a contract. Or the other way round, where I pay for the device and I expect the content to be free.

I also like to contrast it to Apple’s iPad, while they aren’t on the same plan, it makes for an interesting comparison. More on that some other time.

2. The subscription model for learning content – I am quite sure it will work very well in India, like I mentioned we love to spend money on all things that might give our students a competitive edge. Not competition against another nation or to upset the world order, but simply to do better than the rest, at least academically. It’s very interesting that iProf is tying up with multiple content providers, it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to source quality content and provide it at a reasonable price.

3. The device itself –  Android powered, it could possibly be hacked to support a whole lot of other learning tools – free, cheap learning tools. Imagine Moodle running on this, or the several thousand applications that the Android marketplace displays. While I dont really know the hardware specifications for the device yet, its running Android provides a unique hackable hardware learning platform. My mind is swimming with the possibilities such a hacked/rooted version of the tablet device could offer.

The success of such a product will finally depend on a whole lot of factors, let’s see what comes out of it.  I’m going to go check out the device and the service over the next couple of weeks. Will post pictures or video of the device in action if possible.

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