How Apple is changing the future of e-Learning

One of the frustrating aspects of supporting people in their e-Learning experience at a university — faculty and students — is that far too often support calls boil down to help with technical issues. They can be Java, browser (Firefox, Safari, and/or Internet Explorer), Flash, Microsoft Word, or PDF issues causing people fits. It’s a drag because we’d rather be helping faculty develop better courses, which means more effectively communicating with students, not tracking down browser incompatibilities with a certain version of Java and Blackboard.

That’s why Apple’s continuing battle against certain technologies that can gum-up the works on the Web is interesting to a guy like me. Because of Apple’s dominant market position in certain sectors — mobile computing, through its iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and laptops — it can turn the Web around to it’s way of thinking.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. In an interview the Starbucks Chief Information Officer, Stephen Gillett said that

iDevices from Apple are used more in its stores than any others. How important is that? Well, Gillett wanted to use Flash on the social network, but there wasn’t any way he could because of Steve Jobs’ refusal to support Flash. Even today Apple is refusing to include Flash in its laptops and desktops.

Apple is trying to transition away from using the Adobe Flash technology because in many instances it slows down the Web experience, and it’s not a very accessible technology for people with disabilities. There are alternatives that Apple does support on it’s iPhones and iPads.

And now the same situation might be happening with Apple’s support of Sun’s Java technology (read here and here for more details and commentary). Until now Apple has included an installation of Java in it’s operating system; Java was distributed and updated along with the Mac OS X operating system. That won’t be happening anymore, according to Steve Jobs, because Sun can spend the money to update Java for the Mac, not Apple.

Getting back to the topic at hand, what does this all mean for the future of e-Learning? There are two forces at hand that will define e-Learning technologies into the future: open, cross platform Web technologies that Apple and others are promoting; and the move towards mobile computing using smart phones and tablet computers. Those forces mean companies like Blackboard will have to eventually transition away from technology like Java that is proprietary and adopt open standards. That’s a good thing because, in time, it could probably lead to many fewer support calls from people pulling their hair out over a Java issue in Blackboard.