An Inkling of Things to Come for the iPad

The cat is only just out of the bag, and still there are iPad-related websites, accessories, and apps being promoted across the web. Some were clearly just waiting to create something for whatever Apple (s aapl) released, and some appear to have been potentially been in on the secret for quite a while, unless they just have a very fast, talented graphics department.

Inkling is one of those that had a very slick website apparently waiting to go, since its updated site design went live shortly following the announcement, complete with mock-ups of the new iPad running its yet-to-be-released software. And Inkling covers a blind spot in Jobs’ iPad announcement, one which may have been created by a McGraw-Hill faux pas: education.

Billing itself as “the world’s first end-to-end platform for mobile learning content,” Inkling aims to go beyond the traditional textbook before traditional textbook availability has even really been discussed as an iPad advantage. As of yet, details about what that means for an actual distribution product aren’t that clear, though there are some promising suggestions about what it could mean.

First of all, there’s interactivity. It may seem like an obvious detail, but truly interactive independent learning education material is actually quite hard to come by. I can count on zero fingers how many times I cracked the seal on the CD cases that came bundled with my university textbooks which promised interactivity through software applications.

I think the iPad has a better chance at accomplishing true interactivity for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the potential for sharing learning experiences between iPad devices. As Inkling’s site points out, learners and educators will be able to network using the devices and share what they’re working on. Research and comparing notes could actually take place with an ongoing element of synthesis, instead of via periodic check-ins, which could change the way we learn in a fundamental sense.

Right now, Inkling is mostly vague promises about a fairly Utopian view of a futuristic educational environment in which every student and every educator has an iPad, all of which can be connected. The scenario effectively eliminates the need for paper textbooks, and promotes collaborative work and healthy competition between students. I’m not naive enough to imagine that this is how things will look in June, or even in a few years following the iPad’s release, but I am glad to see people thinking this way.

If I’d had an iPad when I was a student, I probably would’ve paid a lot more attention to my studies. I definitely would’ve been more organized, since I wouldn’t have been using a single padfolio to organize all of my course notes. And I might’ve become a better group learner and worker, which would definitely be beneficial in the long run. I may not be sure about how useful the iPad is for everyday use, but it definitely has a future in education, so long as Apple makes a concerted effort to cultivate that future.