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Public, Private Sectors Push New Education Technologies

AT&T, Khan Academy, McGraw Hill, and others have stepped up their digital learning initiatives.

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Educators across the country are increasingly embracing digital learning these days—especially after the Obama administration's push last month for all schools to transition to digital textbooks within the next five years. Last week, a group of technology advocates took another major step when it announced the formation of the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission. Cochaired by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and other officials, the Commission will also receive input from the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Education on advancing the transition of digital learning in American classrooms.

Reaching the goals of the LEAD Commission will take some time. The Commission first plans to create a fact base of current efforts, trends, cost implications, and obstacles of current education technology. It will then evaluate how technology has enhanced other sectors, and finally the committee will recommend policies and funding vehicles to ensure schools can successfully integrate technology. The Commission "expects to release its findings and a blueprint for action in late 2012," according to its website.

[Learn more about technology in the classroom.]

In the meantime, the transition to digital learning is happening through many technologies, including the mobile app. Last week, the popular online learning platform, Khan Academy, released a free iPad app that allows users to access the website's thousands of lectures offline. Educators who use Khan Academy resources in the classroom can use the app to more easily transition away from textbooks.

This morning, AT&T also entered the mobile learning industry when the company announced its $250 million "socially innovative" approach to increasing high school graduation rates and boosting workplace readiness among teens, partially by using education technology. One aspect of AT&T's plan is to sponsor challenges and contests for app makers to create innovative ways for students to learn.

Other companies are creating educational apps by throwing a tech spin on a classic study tool: flashcards. Last week, QRscanit Inc. announced its FlashCardQuizzer iPhone app, which will be available at the end of April. With this app, students will be able to create flashcard text by either uploading simple files through iTunes, typing the words into the phone's keypad, or by using the iPhone's speech-to-text feature.

[Read why some teachers use cell phones in the classroom.]

And through Quizlet.com, students can access flashcard apps for other kinds of mobile devices, such as Android and Windows phones, as well as the Nook and Kindle Fire tablets.

Meanwhile, longtime textbook giant McGraw Hill has switched gears to digital tools as well. Through one of its latest initiatives, the company offered five free math apps on Pi Day—March 14 (3.14). And apps may even be creeping into what seems to be one of the few digital learning holdouts—physical education. Some P.E. teachers are using apps to teach students exercise concepts and techniques, reported KQED public radio last week.

With government forces demanding a transition and corporations marketing education technology, it's unlikely that digital learning will disappear anytime soon.

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Corrected 3/20/12: An earlier version of this post misidentified the Federal Communications Commission.