Apps are not really a new medium. The iPhone launched more than a decade ago. However, the fact that (in education) this medium is still being used like the old one (books and classes) shows that people really still have not grasped how this medium could be used. For clarity purposes, the current way that education is using apps is to put the content that used to be in books and now it is digitally available. This is a slight improvement.
The idea that we do not have a good grasp for how to use a new medium should not surprise us. Just consider what television looked like when it was first available. The first shows, such as I Love Lucy, were really the same shows that had been on the radio previously, just in a new medium. However, in the 1960’s, the funeral of JFK and Martin Luther King as well as Lance Armstrong walking on the moon forever changed how this medium was thought of. You could now visualize what an event was actually like in a way that you never could with radio.
As we look at apps and education, there are many ways in which a new experience, and a better experience, can be had. The primary one is customization. As you answer questions, an app can learn more about what you do and do not know. This means we can specify where your knowledge gaps are, and then provide content to fill those gaps. Of course the ability to fill those gaps exists with a book or lecture, but the process is very inefficient. You might tell me to read chapters 1-3 by Thursday, but really what I needed was to read pages 43-46. I already knew the rest of the stuff. Or you lost me on page 2, and I need to go over some of the basics from the previous textbook. Customization can fix all of this.
This new medium can also much more easily release dopamine from our brains. We can turn learning into a game in which there are point animations and visual interactions after you achieve something like mastering a topic or answering a certain number of questions. If done creatively, this can lead to a much more engaging process. A book or a classroom never offered this.
There are other possibilities too, like how to use location based services, calendars, how to recognize free moments in a persons day, and even how to integrate VR into an education app. We are really at the I Love Lucy stage, and it’s exciting to think about what the future will bring for apps and education.