Apple just released iOS 6 last week, probably to the delight and consternation of millions around the world. This of course got me to thinking about the psychology of educational technology. I have no particular problems (so far) with this latest version of the Apple iOS but updates for me are like looking for Christmas presents while driving close to a cliff at breakneck speed – there’s a lot of potential for both good and bad surprises.

Feeling this way, I still look forward to finding out what the latest version of my operating system has in store for me. Will everything still be familiar or will designers and engineers have changed the way I use my favorite techs forever? I suppose I’m like many people, in that I like my updates to be somewhat feature-familiar – but functionally better. For the average user a little change can take some time to get used to, for better or worse. But for classroom educators who are used to certain features being in a certain place with a certain type of functionality, a little change in function and/or form can make updates a risky proposition, especially in the middle of a school year.

My advice for update upheavals – work in genres. That’s right – the functions and features of a particular technology are almost always mirrored in several competing applications, all of them vying for your attention and use. The usefulness of a particular application comes from how well it performs within a certain genre of functionality and the features it has to support it. But just because a certain application does what you want now doesn’t mean an future update won’t leave you exasperated, frustrated, and looking for options. Get to know those options now!

Even if I don’t have the time to try out every competitor to my favorite file-sharing, streaming, or collaborative application, I can still try to see who the competition is and what they’re offering in the way of options. Many software makers now offer trial versions of their software to get people to make the comparisons themselves. A trial let me immerse myself in a particular genre of functionality without making expensive purchases on my own. There are also plenty of blogs, forums, and head-to-head comparison articles that let me know what’s available in case the latest updates let me down.