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The consumable tablet

This post first appeared on the LINE blog on 19th December 2011.

Could the key to making L&D fly in your organisation be giving away iPads to every member of staff? Think about it for a minute.

Intense competition in the tablet sector, with Barnes and Noble piling into the market hard on the heels of Amazon and Blackberry, is causing downward price pressure and driving innovation in a scramble to find the most attractive form factor and feature set – against a background of fast-growing consumer demand. We seem to be looking at a future of ubiquity for readers and tablets.

Which for me raises the question, should businesses perhaps hand out free iPads with every induction pack?

It’s not an entirely random suggestion: we’re seeing it happen in the Education sector, where free tablet devices are being seen by Europe’s top business schools as the ideal way to rev up collaboration, cross-pollinate ideas and encourage group projects. IMD in Lausanne, one of the world’s leading business schools, gives iPads to attendees of its short courses. Many other business schools are following suit, and some universities are also following the trend.

So should you do the same with your workforce?

Apple’s mould-breaking iPad seems to be the favoured device in many of these cases, but I should also say – at the risk of sounding like a BBC presenter – other products are available. Let’s examine three positives about tablets in this situation, none of them device-specific.

Firstly, active use furthers the understanding of novel technology by influencers, future leaders and budget holders. What geeks have today, we’ll all use tomorrow. PVR, phones with apps, cloud services, social networks – geeks had them first. My learning actively uses tools inherent to tablets, when technology changes come to impact a business, they can be viewed by experienced people, in context.

Secondly, these multimedia devices are very useful as collaborative learning tools. Some of their limitations, such as the sub-optimal keyboard and no mouse, actually encourage alternative interaction such as image and video capture, personal annotation, mixed media and audio notes. That is a lot more data capture, with more personal context, than a Word document.

Of course, formal business presentations have their place but this brings me to my final point, apps. Skype, Keynote and other apps, super charged by subscribing to their paid for versions, are very useful collaborative group project tools. Link these with social learning tools, which encourage open comms, collaborative sub-projects, ranking, rating and multimedia comments ¬– all on portable multimedia device with a long battery life? No wonder Europe’s top business schools are giving them away.

Let’s return to my original point, but from a different angle. The financial one.

How much does it cost to print, bind, collate, mail, append, protect and administrate an individual learner’s printed learning materials? In the case of an MBA (particularly as offered within one of the more traditional business schools), over the duration of an entire course the answer is: ‘a lot’. How about in your business? How much do you spend on generating printed materials for an individual during the time they are in the business? More than $600? What if you then consider wrapping, editing, recording and distribution for the results of the course? Then, what if, freed from the shackles of editing documents repeatedly, the valuable experts are freed up to act as assemblers of learning environments in which ideas can grow and flow?

Suddenly, does giving away a tablet computer to everyone makes sense from a commercial point of view, as well as a learning effectiveness one?