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Apple Just Revolutionized Education

As the parent of a 3-year old, I've found myself increasingly thinking about her future education as her intellect and willpower continue to develop with breathtaking speed. This parental perspective really drives my appreciation for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) announcement today on how the iPad will revolutionize the very foundations of education.

It may not be as exciting as an iPhone or iPad launch, but its societal implications are arguably deeper and more profound than the shiniest new gadget with the latest tech specs. I'd wager that any parent out there would hands-down agree that the significance of their child's education easily trumps getting an iPhone with more processing cores or featuring a camera with more megapixels.

A new level of engagement
Despite the fact that Apple's unveiling today was an easy prediction, seeing it in action still tugs at your heartstrings nonetheless, in typical Apple fashion. Cupertino is rolling out an update to its iOS iBooks app, called iBooks 2, which is already available in its App Store.


By going digital, the material has the potential to engage students in ways that aren't possible with static pages. Apple featured interviews with teachers who expressed that difficulty in engaging students is one of the biggest challenges of their jobs, whereas they described the feeling of elation when they see something click in a student's eyes.

Utilizing interactive content through fluid diagrams and animations addresses challenges that traditional textbooks could never overcome. Not only does content quickly become outdated, but some information is so complex and dynamic that fixed images don't do it justice, like a cell membrane for example.

iBooks 2 will also include note-taking capabilities, study cards, and quizzes that provide immediate feedback.

Bonus winners: trees and spines
An iPad weighs 1.33 pounds. I remember lugging between 20 and 30 pounds of textbooks to and from classes when I was in high school and college. We're talking about a lot of weight in paper just for a handful of classes, much less the number of curriculum courses students take throughout their educational career.

Transitioning to digital textbooks is long overdue, and we'll cumulatively be able to cut down on enormous paper usage, while saving students' spines from having to tote around a mass of paper on a daily basis.

You be the author
Taking it to the next level, Apple is providing a free new iBooks Author app for the Mac that allows anyone to create their own interactive e-book. It's not limited to textbooks; anyone can create any type of book to publish to the iBookstore, which rivals's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) own Kindle Direct self-publishing tools.

Teachers will be able to create their own customized material for their classes, complete with Multi-Touch interactivity. Anything submitted directly to Apple's iBookstore would go through an approval process similar to its other content stores before being made available.

All aboard
Major content publishers McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP  ) , Pearson (NYSE: PSO  ) , and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are already on board, which represent about 90% of textbook sales in the United States. Digital textbooks only comprised about 3% of the market last year, and that figure is expected to double to 6% this year and soar to more than half of all textbooks by 2020.


McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw said, "Digitization of education is going to be the opportunity of the century," adding that it "brings the curriculum alive." Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino similarly echoed this sentiment, saying, "We need to engage children; we need to live in the world they live in."

Through the cost savings and alternative distribution model provided by digitization, textbook e-book prices will be $15 or less, far cheaper than current paper offerings that go for around $75. Instead of selling textbook editions directly to public schools that use them for an average of five years before updating, publishers will sell updated books directly to students each year.

The future of education
Digitization is the future of education, and Apple and Amazon will be competing to lead the way. The educational market will be another driver for iPad sales in the coming years, while publishers and educators alike will be able to reach students in a more meaningful way.

One key distinction with Apple's and Amazon's current approaches is that most of Amazon's educational e-books are offered through the Kindle, which doesn't offer the same level of interactivity as the iPad does. This could easily change if Amazon were to expand into its Kindle Fire, not to mention its rumored Kindle Fire 2, but for the time being Apple has an advantage here.

As a parent, beyond giving me another excuse to eventually buy my daughter an iPad, it's exciting to consider how digital textbooks will help unlock her intellectual potential.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple and, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. 

Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (16)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 3:49 PM, prginww wrote:

    i got my kid a ebook reader so that she hopefully wouldn't have to drag around approx. 75 lbs of books on her back. after i gave it to her, i found out that her school does not allow them, because they don't want kids to be "distracted" by them. (this device can ONLY read books - it's not a tablet that she can go online with, or play games on, etc). i'm not quite sure how, but schools have gotten even dumber since i was a kid.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 5:05 PM, prginww wrote:

    This sounds like the worst idea ever. Kids already cannot concentrate because of all the gadgets. We're supposed to believe that they'll use the iPad to study better?

    Ha. Make iBooks the default for textbooks, and they'll never study again.

    The main selling point of this large iPhone that isn't a phone is that it's a larger screen for more distractions like web, facebook, twitter and video.

    Studies already show that email and other distractions hugely reduce productivity for office workers. I can't wait for the studies that will show just how much less students learn when they're using this "magical" tool. Even better will be the way the gadget will be defended by those who measure their self worth by how much Apple technology they buy for themselves and their kids.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 6:03 PM, prginww wrote:

    Just my two cents...I am a current college student, yet a bit older than most (30.)

    I can agree with digitization being the future of textbooks. It lightens the load significantly, both weightwise, AND costwise. I have managed to get all of my books electronically this semester, and since they're 180 day rentals, they're cheaper, and I don't have to worry about whether or not I'll be able to sell them back at the end of the semester. The publisher doesn't have to worry about the used book market cutting into their, in my eyes, win/win. (Yes, I realize it's a bit more complex than that.)

    However, I'd like to now direct my comments towards the brunt of the article. I don't think that Apple has anything special going for it in this market. Nor am I especially raging about the Kindle. What do I use? A Nook Color...rooted to act as an Android tablet.

    Now, before the Mac die-hards toast me to a crisp, let me say that I am NOT a Droid fan, by any means...I HATE the Droid interface, as far as my rooted Nook as exposed me to it, and my phone is the (infinitely superior, imo, yet ultimately doomed) WebOS run Palm Pre.

    Now...while I'm not crazy about the interface, it's functional, if not annoying. Barnes and Noble saw that this was happening, and introduced their own version of the Nook/Droid hybrid, known as the Nook Tablet (competitor to the Kindle Fire...and I was surprised not to see it in the article.) However, the Nook Tablet has a neutered version of the Droid Market, much like the Fire. My rooted Nook has access to the FULL Droid Market. As such, it gave me access to the CourseSmart app, where I was able to obtain most of my books for this semester.

    Ok, that's a lot of data and a lot of rambling...time to bring it on home.

    I DO agree that digital delivery will be a major part of the future, but I DON'T agree that Apple will be a major part of it. I feel that their products are FAR too restrictive, and expensive for what you get. I feel that Steve Jobs was AMAZING at convincing people that form > function & freedom. They make very, very pretty products. However, their stranglehold over the App Store isn't something I find appealing, and AS a poor student (with a family!), I want to get as much power out of my devices as I can, and frankly, I can get more bank for my buck from alternatives.

    No, they may not be, they may not have that cache, but let's be honest, Apple's rainmaker is gone. That cache will begin to dwindle. The hipsters, who are a major driving force for Apple's resurgence in the recent years, will do what they do, and declare that "Apple isn't cool anymore," and abandon ship. Over time, everyone else will follow. This will be hastened by the fact that again...without their major idea guy, people will realize that they're just churning out the same thing over and over. I doubt we'll see many more major innovations or game-changers from Apple in the coming years.

    I feel this strongly enough that I've actually got a sizable short position in Apple (with fake money in my Investment, I'm willing to be wrong.)

    Bottom line, since I said I was going to bring it home several paragraphs ago...Apple post-Steve Jobs is NOT the same Apple as when he was alive...and I think you would be sorely mistaken not to recognize that.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 6:22 PM, prginww wrote:

    As of right now, this notion of having iPads being used in lieu of normal textbooks is half baked. Who is going to pay for the iPads? The schools, or the parents? Asking a parent to invest in a tablet computer on top of all the other school related expenses is a bit much. Then what happens if it breaks? I know if I had a young kid, say in Middle School, I would not feel great about shelling out several hundred dollars for an iPad only to have the chance of my son or daughter breaking it. If the schools pay for them and loan them out to the students every year, think of the massive cost up front and you have to assume a decent number of the iPads will be broken, lost, stolen, or damaged throughout the year.

    Until there are good, cheap tables, the Kindle Fire is a big step in the right direction, tablets being used instead of textbooks is not going to gain solid traction.

    I am a big Apple supporter, but am not going crazy over this.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 6:31 PM, prginww wrote:


    As to whether or not this is a market that Apple alone can own, I don't really know.

    I'd have to disagree, though, with your assertion of it leading to no studying at all. I agree that the internet is a powerful tool, both for good (learning) and for bad (a tool of distraction).

    But the trend is absolutely undeniable. A few months back I went back to my old high school and almost every student had a computer they were taking notes with on their desk. Go to some of the countries were lag far behind (in testing, at least) and you'll see more of the same.

    Just my 2 cents...


  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 6:32 PM, prginww wrote:

    Ha i remember when computers were supposed to revolutionize learning. What did we do on computers in school? Try to shoot bunnies on Oregon Trail.

    One time when a teacher was out for months with heart bypass surgery, I loaded up a bunch of nintendo games on the computer and played with the keyboard. I did this for weeks during what was supposed to be biology class.

    The technology may change, but that's about it.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 7:46 PM, prginww wrote:

    Most of the kids I see today could use a little weight lifting (some jogging wouldn't hurt either). But let's be honest, Apple is betting on it's product growing up with the kids so their name and products will be their first choice throughout life. Apple hasn't invented anything new (your leading picture looks like my Kindle fire).

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 8:21 PM, prginww wrote:

    @gskinner - correction, your Fire looks like the picture above. It looks that way because Amazon was able to buy the hardware design cheaply once the Playbook failed (nearly identical). The Playbook looked that way because they were trying to emulate the iPad in a smaller size. The iPad is the reference design because Apple actually did invent the category. So no, the picture doesn't look like your Fire, it's the other way around.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 8:29 PM, prginww wrote:

    @tmfbent - studies show that most studies are useless. Do you seriously believe that most workers were more productive before email? Should everyone just work with a Notepad and feather pen, corresponding only through the written word? Surely we would be more productive without telephones, or cars for that matter. I also hate modern medicine, living in a republic, and central air conditioning. Life was so much better and more productive before the industrial revolution.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 11:36 PM, prginww wrote:

    I don't think this is Apple's next great disruption. I'm working on an article about it now, but the short version is the walled garden approach simply won't work in public schools. The real revolution will be hardware agnostic.


  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2012, at 6:22 AM, prginww wrote:

    Somebody should stop these “innovators” before they destroy another industry without asking anybody. Killing business people’s cell phone companies, Nokia and RIM, is one thing. Killing the companies that educate our children is quite another.

    Kids need iPads instead of books about as much as they need to play video games instead of sports. Being one click away from Facebook, Twitter, et al when you’re supposed to be learning math is a formula for continued deterioration of American educational achievement.

    These guys aren’t in it for society, they’re in it for the sales.

    Someone should put the kibosh on this before the textbook companies are dead and buried. It's frightening to think that disciples of Steve Jobs might control what our kids see.

    Our thoughts on Jobs: This text book disruption is a bad thing.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2012, at 10:18 AM, prginww wrote:

    It is good to see McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw embrace new technology such as this as opposed to just assuming textbooks will not go away and they can keep pumping out sales by releasing new editions. There are several downsides to physical textbooks, including costs, weight, stagnant data, and only containing text and pictures.

    Digitizing textbooks allows for more methods to reach a student, including video and audio. Interactive books will retain attention longer, and can provide simple links to other data. And updates can be made within minutes several times a year to stay current, if needed. Additionally, if 1 teacher, parent or student finds a new way to teach a subject, it can immediately be rolled out to the entire class, school, state, etc.

    Granted, the most effective version of this will most likely be hardware agnostic as noted in a comment above, but these efforts have to start somewhere.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2012, at 11:01 AM, prginww wrote:

    @SkippyJohnJones: Maybe the feather pen is a bit overboard, but I do agree with your overall point; the advance of technology is unstoppable and usually a damn good thing in most industries.

    I'm pretty sure it'll still be a damn good thing to see technology being brought into the classroom more and more over time, but speaking as a guy who's taught high school history in some pretty low SES areas over the last few years I can't honestly imagine my students running around with iPads. The schools I've worked in can barely cover expenses as is, and the idea of them paying for iPads for every single one of their students is laughable. As for the parents of my students, they are not much better off and usually working two or more jobs just to provide for their familes; I don't see many of them adding to their expenses with iPads when the cheaper (though unfortunately outdated) textbooks are available.

    I'm just not sure I like the idea of technology that can further the education of every student but can only be afforded by some students. Will students use their iPads to look at Facebook when I'm trying to teach them about the Revolutionary War? Of course they will, they already do that on their phones. I'm less worried about the advancing technology and how it messes with the admittedly short attention span of a high schooler and more worried about how the technology is distributed.

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