Apple Takes a Bite at Learning

By Staff Report

Jan. 23, 2012

Apple Inc.’s newest blockbuster app, called iBook Author, will allow teachers, scholars and anyone else to create their own graphically compelling audio/visual textbooks.

This will revolutionize the educational and, ultimately, business learning industries. However, in the area of workplace training where behavioral change and not just the delivery of compelling information is vital, it lacks an ingredient that only organizational leadership and commitment can provide.

As to getting a sense of the new app’s strengths, if you have the right Apple gear, download it for free at the Apple store, then install E.O. Wilson’s free Ecology volume entitled Life on Earth, an Introduction. Tap on the cover and watch the science of nature come alive with video, sound and vibrant, full-screen illustrations. Content will be regularly updated, and users can underline key lessons and make notes.

Now, envision history chapters on topics such as the Civil War, which will include not only narrative but also audio segments, maps with 3-D battlegrounds, comments from leading historians and dramatized quotes from long-departed figures. Instead of reading about the assault on Fort Sumter, picture watching a brief video re-enactment complete with war cries, cannon shots, guns blazing and flags flapping. That will be a lot easier to remember than a few sentences of factual text.

Still, for students in the academic world, no matter how dynamic new textbooks become, they’ll be used primarily as part of a course with a distinct start and finish. As of now, the goal in using any e-textbook will be to pass the class and get a decent grade. It’s clear some will be inspired by what they read and experience. Yet for most, a lot will be temporarily learned and quickly forgotten.

In the business world, that kind of education is not of much value. There, the ultimate test of effective learning is not how compelling content looks or whether a quiz can be finished with a passing score. Though both are important, neither provides a return on investment or justifies time away from the job.

Instead, the whole purpose of workplace learning is to provide lasting business benefits. Obtaining this result involves another layer of thought, planning, leadership commitment and reinforcement. A great book—digital or paper text—is not enough.

I have a guitar at home, but can’t play with the passion, skill, and talent of my son John. He has a gift. All l have is an instrument.

I have access to powerful design programs. Yet, no matter how much time I spend, I can’t create an image, graphic or artistic visual display that compares in any way to Amy Gardner’s work, the graphic artist with whom I have collaborated for many years.

In both instances, I also lack the commitment or motivation to develop whatever meager abilities I may have.

For Apple’s latest creation to change the world of workplace education, it must help capture the learner’s attention and highlight simple take-away action steps that are applied on the job. Apple’s app will enhance the experience of learning, but organizations will be responsible for the durability of the messages. Without active leadership at all organizational levels stressing communication, accountability and daily reinforcement, great e-texts won’t change behavior, particularly where workplace conduct and ethics are involved. I’ve watched a lot of fantastic movies but can’t say that most have had a lasting effect on my actions.

What will be just as exciting as Apple’s latest world-rocker will be when the world’s most effective educational devices—humans—deliver learning through their own actions that lastingly impact productivity and proper behavior in our workplaces.

Stephen Paskoff is president and CEO of Atlanta-based ELI Inc., a provider of ethics and compliance learning solutions. He can be contacted at

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