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Is the iPad the future of learning?

While it's still a little early to decide if it's the future of computing, the iPad tablet is certainly receiving a warm welcome. Last week, Apple announced that they had sold over 1 million iPads in the first month of its release.

With additional fine-tuning - and hopefully a hefty drop in price - there's no saying how much of a game changer the iPad will end up being.

In February, researchers asked whether the Kindle might be the future of the college textbook. Many students' responded that the addition of a few features like a touch screen would greatly improve the experience and make it a must-have device. Essentially, the iPad adds all those features and then some, making it the front-runner for a new kind of computing experience in the huge - and profitable - educational market.

In an early demonstration of its appeal, early iPad owners have begun to download hundreds of educational and creative apps textbook publishers are falling over themselves to strike deals with software companies to develop apps from their material.

Perhaps the most hyped educational application is The Elements, created by scientist and entrepreneur Theodore Gray. Packed with scientific material, this interactive app gives users the ability to delve much deeper into the subject matter than they could hope to with ordinary reference manuals.

Unlike a static picture in a textbook, users can virtually pick up objects and rotate them to understand the science from all sides. If a book has "a picture in it, it's got to do something," Gray said in an interview with ParentDish. "If it's a book about a musician, I'd better be able to hear something rather than read it."

A similarly interactive learning app, named one of the "5 Sweet Apps to Break-In Your iPad" by Wired.com, is Beautiful Planet HD. It features over 570 images of locations all over the world that can help even the most home-bound students dive headfirst into geography. They can also zip around the heavens just as fast, learning constellations and planets with GoSkyWatch Planetarium.

The size of the touch screen lends itself naturally to Brushes, a scribbling, drawing and painting app that will allow budding Picassos to explore art without the mess. Originally designed for the iPod and iPhone, it's much more sophisticated than you might expect; the application was even used by the artist who drew a cover for The New Yorker magazine.

There are also apps to learn languages from Hello-Hello.com. The Spanish language app was available at launch and the company plans to add additional languages in the near future. The app was developed in conjunction with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and includes 30 conversational lessons recorded by native speakers.

Despite its fast start, the future of the iPad will largely depend on how we decide to use it.

"It's kind of like when television came out," Gray said. "People thought that it could be the greatest thing in the service of mankind ever. Instead we ended up with sitcoms and reality shows. And that had nothing particularly to do with the details of the technology one way or the other."

Comment by Patti Mendoza, posted 5/11/2010, 1:00 PM:

I thought I had this iphone all figured out. Clearly because I don't own one, not even an iphone I wasn't getting the "picture". Thanks for showing us this perspective. As I was reading your article I imediatly started to think what this tablet can do for my kids and their how they can be exposed to better and higher quality of education. For instance I thought if there is an application to "simulate" a piano keyboard so my dd can practice piano lessons on the go.. I bet there is!
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