Android and mobile learning in 2013

End of year, a typical time for predictions. My prediction for 2013 is that Android finally will get the attention it deserves in mobile learning. A lot of mobile learning currently is focused on the iPad. Even though there are many other types and manufacturers of tablets and smart devices out there, the prevailing opinion still seems to be that the iPad is the best one as it is supposedly the easiest to use.

Android fans on the other hand do appreciate the openness of the system, its easy workflow (especially when it comes to sharing content via the web and copying content to and from a device) and its customization. What is true, there a more quality apps (mostly not free ones) for the iPad as developers still expect more buying customers from iOS devices than from Android devices.

While it does make a lot of sense to use iPads particularly with younger children, its exclusive use in higher education becomes much more questionable. First, it is unlikely to meet all needs of older students (particularly when a lot of typing is involved), so it can only function as secondary device. You can get a Nexus 7 and a Chromebook for the price of one iPad and those two devices in combination would be much more likely to meet the requirements of high school students than a single tablet. Both devices combined are not much heavier than an iPad and extremely mobile, one due to its 7 inch form factor and the other one due to its lightness and long battery life. I have been using a Nexus 7 for half a year now and I find the smaller form factor much more convenient to hold and carry around at school than a 10 inch slate.

Google's own Nexus devices are both high quality and very affordable. I have had Jelly Bean, the latest version of Android, for half a year on my Nexus (Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7) devices and I am more than happy with the experience. Jelly Bean tablets for under $99 (among them a possible Nexus device) are rumored to be launched by brands such as Asus and Acer in the first quarter of 2013.

Personal preferences aside, there are a lot of reasons why educators should not ignore Android:

  • 75% of smartphones run on Android and most students in high school already have one of them
  • A considerable number of tablets sold now run on Android and Android is set to overtake iOS in the tablet market by 2014.
  • Jelly Bean: the latest version of Android is now more technologically advanced than any other mobile operating system
  • Many Apps developers will probably go Android first in 2013 due to its widespread adoption
  • Prices: Android devices range from very long price to high end, whereas Apple being a high end brand can’t go much lower.
What this means for mobile learning in classrooms:

1:1 classrooms: very affordable tablets, which can be deployed for most purposes (reading, testing, content creation such as podcasting, etc.) iPads can be used for at a fraction of the price

classroom sets: Jelly Bean provides multi-user support, so students can use the tablets on demand with their own user IDs and save their content to their own cloud services

BYOD (bring your own device): will become increasingly important in 2013. With a price tag of $99 it won’t be long before most students will be able to bring their own tablets. Smartphones are often overlooked as an alternative to tablet for classroom use even though they often fulfill the same purpose equally well. More than 80% of my students are already bringing Android phones to school.

“Android in education” blogs are  also finally popping up everywhere on the web. Even so, I am a bit cautious if that makes really sense. As most Android devices probably will be used in BYOD settings it would not be wise to ignore other mobile operating systems.

Last but not least: mobile learning is not about apps as many iPad educational blogs would us have believe, it is about content and learning activities - and in most cases it should not matter which apps are used - think of flashcard trainers, ebooks, photos, podcasts, video projects - it simply does not matter which apps are used as long as open exchange formats  (csv, doc, pdf, epub, jpg, mp3, etc.) are employed.

Looking forward to an exciting year 2013 in mobile learning.

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