TED and other pioneers in mobile app education

by Phil Hornshaw

If you’re reading this, you probably already know about TED Talks. For the unversed, the acronym stands for Technology Entertainment Design and refers to lectures given through the TED conference, which bills itself as devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The talks, presented by just about anyone from business and political leaders to musicians, technology gurus, educators and almost anybody with a marvelous idea, started with the annual conference and have spread rapidly ever since.

TED talks have become so widespread, there’s even an app that lets you access the thousands of TED talks in the conference’s archives. There are already some 1,400 talks available as streaming video in the app, and more are added each week. That’s a lot of information, and a whole lot of good ideas.

The TED app’s recent update adds subtitles in approximately 90 languages and other improvements, highlights one of the greatest and sometimes overlooked elements of the rise of mobile and app culture: education. Apple likes to bill its iPad as a device that’s great for students and teachers, and it definitely is that, especially as the company has expanded into the world of digital textbooks and similar media.

On a consumer level, TED’s mobile app helps users get information for themselves and makes learning an easy, everyday, on-the-go activity. You can watch a TED talk on the bus, while you wait for a meal, or in many similar scenarios. In this way, mobile devices and apps open us up to learning when we otherwise couldn’t, in the spaces between daily tasks. The iTunes App Store includes a huge number of great apps for helping users learn more and prepare themselves for all manner of situations.

Visit foreign lands, speak the language

One of the toughest things to learn at any age is another language. That might explain the prevalence of apps that teach languages in the App Store.  As most people form symbiotic relationships with their mobile devices, having language learning apps at the ready can be handy.

Among the top language apps is Languages, which is an exercise in practicality. It’s more of a translation guide than it is an app that will actually teach you to speak fluently. For that, you should try Front Row’s language series, but for translation, Languages really helps you learn a thing or two. The app makes it easy to translate words or phrases from one language to another, and provides a lot of context so you can ascertain when certain words are appropriate.

Access the Internet’s compendium of knowledge

Wikipedia gets something of a bad rap. Sure, you shouldn’t use it as a factual source when writing academic papers in high school or college, because almost anyone can edit the online encyclopedia.While Wikipedia can be untrustworthy, by and large, it’s a great source of information. Browsing through the databanks of the huge encyclopedia can quickly teach you a few things on just about any topic, and while you might want to read widely of other sources as well, it’s almost always a good place to start. And browsing through Wikipedia is made very convenient with Wikiweb.

The cool thing about Wikiweb is its presentation of Wikipedia articles in word web form. You’ll quickly move from topic to topic in a fast, organic way, expanding on reading one thing by finding related articles. Not only are you learning about things from Wikipedia’s vast library of information, you’ll be getting additional context, too. If you’ve ever fallen down the Wikipedia rabbit hole where reading one entry leads to another, you’ll enjoy Wikiweb.

There are a ton more great apps focused on broad education in the iTunes App Store, and it’s worth searching around for subjects that interest you. Language learning, encyclopedias, art galleries, historical trivia – pretty much anything you could ever want to learn is represented by some app or another. Like TED and the other apps listed here, they all provide an interactive, multimedia approach to learning that works really well for many people, whether young or old.