Whenever a new medium or technology becomes available the initial approach is to “repurpose” existing content, such as filmed radio on television. Many of the big education publishers have been approaching tablets that way. They try to grab some assets from the web or even further back from print and push them out. There are two reasons for doing so: first, it seems like low hanging fruit and second, these companies tend to believe that their existing content libraries are a big part of their value.
But it doesn’t work. To create an engaging experience that is native to a tablet it needs to be built from the ground up. The app needs to embrace the UX affordances (touch, orientation) and device capabilities such as camera and recording. And the design needs to look great and be responsive (meaning natively coded as opposed to ported in some mechanical fashion).
Thankfully there are now startups focused on creating just these kind of experiences. One example is New York based Learn With Homer, which released their comprehensive reading app today. It is beautifully designed and super engaging using simple touch and recording elements. Throughout it feels completely native as opposed to something obviously imported from a different world (with one caveat: the signup process is a bit wonky as they want to be COPPA compliant and be able to communicate with parents).
Another and quite different example are the apps designed by the team at Curious Hat. Their Oh No Fractions app is super simple but uses touch to illustrate different fractions in a way that makes them quite literally “tangible.”
It is great to see these native applications emerging and going directly to parents and students. I am saying that not just because we are going back to homeschooling, but because I firmly believe that this is how learning innovation will spread from here on: bottom up through kids, parents and teachers and no longer from the top (states, districts, etc).