The iPad’s Role in Taking Education to the Next Level

My oldest daughter is about to go to Junior High. One of the schools we are looking into sending her is a one-iPad-per-child school. Each student uses an iPad in every class. The curriculum, content, organizer, notes, and more is all on the iPad. I spent some time talking with the school’s headmaster, students, IT department, and teachers to better understand how the iPad is being used as an educational tool. I concluded without a doubt, there is no tablet or other device on the market better in this context than iPad.

I asked the headmaster of the school something I knew the answer to but wanted to hear his response. I asked if the school still had any typing or “PC literacy” classes. He said they used to have typing and computer classes but no longer once they went all iPad. The headmaster, the students, the principal, all often remarked at how amazingly adaptive and fluent the kids were with the iPad. I observed firsthand a shocking number of students who could type on the glass iPad keyboard as fast, if not faster, than I can on my PC keyboard and I type about 75 wpm. These kids use iPads every day, all day, both while at school and with homework. Their proficiency with the tool to do things I personally would feel more comfortable doing on a PC was amazing. I asked many of the students if they still even use or touch a notebook or desktop PC and the vast majority said no. The common response from those who did were boys, because they played online PC games not available on the iPad. For most of them, the iPad and smartphones are their primary computers.

Utilizing iPad

The school my daughter is in now is a great school and a science and technology magnet in our area. They use Chromebooks for certain tasks. The argument in many schools is Chromebooks are “good enough” and iPads are overkill. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Chromebook sufficed for certain tasks. Their school uses Chromebooks for research, taking tests (math, reading, writing), and they also play approved educational games as well. For this basic stuff, a Chromebook suffices. However, I saw the iPad being used in ways the Chromebook simply can not be.

For example, as a regular part of projects, the kids create iMovies on the iPad. Sometimes this is art, or science, or social studies, and they create movies as a deliverable for a project. They use Keynote and present via Apple TV to the class for presentation deliverables. In Music, they use GarageBand and collaborate on music projects. They take notes on Notability using their fingers (I asked about a stylus and no kids said they used them even though they knew what they were. They said their finger was easier and faster). They input all their assignments directly into their calendar and the most common way to capture homework assignments written on the board were to take a picture of the whiteboard. While a Chromebook can do a few of these things, it was the mobility of the iPad, coupled with the key software being used such as iMovie, Keynote, and a host of applications made specifically for the school, along with its overall simple yet sophisticated user experience, which sets it apart.

As I observed all of this and thought about many of the critiques of iPad in education, it seems those deployments did not integrate with the iPad and use all of its capabilities. If all a school wants to do is have kids use the web, take tests, and a few other things, then yes, a Chromebook will do. However, if a school wants to go above and beyond and take learning to the next level, then an iPad is the answer.

Obviously, iPad’s are expensive and many schools, especially public ones, can’t afford to deploy iPads universally. But the benefits of doing so in terms of return on educational investment are worth it in my opinion. The last point I’ll make on iPad vs. Chromebooks/PCs is of the skill sets we are giving our kids for the future. If we are moving to a truly mobile world, then immersing them in the tools of the future make more sense than having them use the tools of the past. We can say they need to learn how to use a PC, but from watching those kids use an iPad, and arguably more than all of us as a primary computer, I observed them do all I can do on a notebook/desktop and more.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

29 thoughts on “The iPad’s Role in Taking Education to the Next Level”

  1. As with many things, the poorly-run school districts will get stuck with mediocre tools. I don’t hold much hope that the broader “education” community will be able to take advantage of what Apple offers. In the foreseeable future it’s the well-funded, well-run schools that will use iPads to take their students to the next level. The smart get smarter.

    1. Agree and this is very sad and frustrating. I know the costs have something to do with this, and I hope Apple can do something to help public school systems benefit in some way. See my comment above, but I felt I was looking at the future of work when I saw all these kids who had mastered iPads do everything the vast majority of enterprise workers do.

      Another reason this worked so well, was the classes were oriented around group work. The chairs/desks all had wheels so they could easily group up to work together collaboratively. Which also made the iPad a better tool than a chromebook due to form factor.

  2. Fascinating. I have no school-age children, so I’ve wondered how the iPad would actually be utilized in a classroom setting. A school district near me (not in my tax district) went the iPad route. Now I have a clearer picture of the intended purpose, so when my local district inevitably follows suit, I’ll vote for the funding ā€“ much appreciated.

    Mr. Bajarin, do you happen to know the source(s) of the “host of applications made specifically for the school?” Are they off-the-shelf or homegrown?

    1. If you get a chance to observe the school that went iPad only I strongly recommend it. It honestly blew me away how, for them, this tool did everything they needed and wanted to do. The ones in upper grades who have been using it for years had mastered it to the point that I felt like I was watching the future of work and PCs looked antiquated.

      1. Yes! We homeschool our four kids (teenagers now) and the iPad is their primary PC, and an important/effective education tool. I’ve said this many times, but they are like wizards, their fingers dance around the screen, they have no trouble with complex tasks on a touchscreen.

        1. Exactly what I observed by the masses of them. I seriously thought I was an advance iPad user until I saw these kids.

          1. Yep. At least we can take comfort in knowing the iPad isn’t a *real* computer šŸ™‚ What’s the sarcasm tag again?

  3. benbajarin in all honesty this post sounds more like a free pr promo for the iPad, than a real analysis based on observation, when compared to the big picture.

    1. Not even close. You are welcome to read it that way but you are completely missing the big picture. Until you see how proficient these kids are with these devices it makes the PC look antiquated. When you watch young people use tech, smartphones, capable tablets, etc, you see the future. We can not miss this dramatic shift taking place.

      I’m sorry you are are missing the profound impact of who mobile technologies are going to shape the future. I saw a glimpse of it here and it is undeniable. No way a Chromebook or Android tablet have what it takes to service this shift today.

      1. No way a Chromebook or Android tablet have what it takes to service this shift today. @benbajarin:disqus

        How do you know that?, have you done an analysis or a similar observation on the profound impact that can have a combination of Chromebook + Android tablet in school before you come up with this conclusion?

        i am not saying IPad are bad for school but all things considered i don’t thinks is as effective as you assumed

        1. Is a Chromebook suited to take outside to make a movie about a project or hold up and show the class to give a presentation? Do Android tablets have the full integrated software suite for creativity and productivity that is easy enough for a 5th grader to use it?

          You have to look at the user, their technical skill sets, the integrated software solutions, the form factor, etc. to get the full picture about why it is a superior product to advance learning as a tool.

          The issue is not all schools can afford it, but yes, if you read what I wrote, I stated I see my kids who use Chromebooks today in school and the curriculum developed for it, and I observed the iPad only school and it is night and day.

          1. the biggest advantage of Chromebook in school is exactly the fact that unlike the IPad it come with a full fledged list off in integrated suite of application and services from Google that are the most needed in school,

            you seem to not be aware of Google For School platform and all related cloud application.

          2. Yes and its not enough. It is inhibited by the form factor, security, and a range of other things. These schools have their own cloud platforms so Google’s are not necessary. But it is the inhibition of the form factor that I can’t get over. It is a limiter from the kind of advancing educational work I observed.

          3. “unlike the IPad it come with a full fledged list off in integrated suite of application and services from Google that are the most needed in school”

            The iPad doesn’t have an integrated suite of application and services? Are you kidding me?

          4. There are uses for both an iPad and a Chromebook in an educational setting (though it suffers some if kids can write as effectively on a tab as on a laptop.) The important thing is that most of the Google for Schools uses can be set up on an iPad, though it will take a bit more work, and there are many ways–not iCloud–to transfer content between the two devices. Probably the biggest problem is the cost of the iPad.

            By the way, a great way to get free gmail on an iPad is with the free iPad Outlook from Microsoft. So there.

          5. “The biggest advantage of Chromebook in school” is that Google literally supplies them for free along with the cloud-managed services. With school districts as cash strapped as they are, it’s hard to argue with that, but Ben makes a great point that the potential educational value may be fairly limited compared to iPad’s potential.

  4. Ben,

    Thanks for sharing this story and insights. I am curious, does the school lock down the iPads and actively manage them or do they give the students the freedom (and responsibility) to use them freely?

    1. If the kids are issued the iPad they are locked down, no outside games, or anything are on them. If they bring their own iPad they are told they can not play games or do personal stuff during school hours. Random checks are put in place during class time to make sure rules are being obeyed.

  5. Necessity is the mother of invention. It is easy to assume that the computing form factor those of a certain age know so intimately is the result of “anything is possible” thinking. But the form factor we have was shaped by familiarity of other processes and systems. No one thought we would actually _need_ more mobility than a laptop.

    Modern mobility is serving a completely different set of values that was never envisioned as needing to be served, until all of a sudden mobility is now largely _capable_ of serving those values. Not just mobile _devices_, but mobile thinking, mobile behavior.

    Is the PC form factor done? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean the PC form factor is all we need. Not any more.


  6. I have a lot of experience with teaching with Technology from age 12 through to IB students. I don’t see much benefit with students making a video or song with an iPad if it doesn’t have a good deal of curricula relevancy and while I love Apple’s recent ad with the Scorsese overlay I think there’s a much better argument for iPads or even Android tablets.

    its true that Chromebooks are probably better than tablets for stationary students doing routine rote work researching (cough, copying and pasting) on the net for a typed report. Chromebooks certainly have support advantages that are significant to a school.

    What tablets do so much better than Chromebooks is move around. If you’re a GCSE teacher of Human Geography and you take your students out to do a study of the local High Street you can do some incredible work with an iPad (or Android tablet) that you can’t do with a Chromebook. In one central place on a device (eg Evernote) you can photograph or video the high street, call up and fill out your questionnaire of local shoppers, jot notes on general observations related to class discussion and return to class to write up your reseach in prescribed ways. You get training using ral software in the way a professional would use it. If you forget part of the procedure you’re suppossed to follow, well, wherever you are, call up the YouTube video your teacher made. All on 1 device. On the go just like real geographers would do. Or historians or scientists.

    This sort of education that requires mobility to allow students to observe, gather information as text, sketches, photographs and/or video for evidence, collate the gathered info, analyse, draw conclusions and test their conclusions are the things that we as adults do all the time in all professions and if we want kids to to be prepared for that kind of world we have to stop giving them worksheets, “educational” computer games and naff, meaningless homework and start training them to be thinking, analytic human beings. And for that the tablet is the tool of choice.

    1. I think you just made the argument for how tablets can become great productivity devices for adults as well. I’m still hopeful that the Apple/IBM partnership and other forward-thinking developers can create apps that enable those use cases without resorting to the default “desk bound” mode of productivity we’re used to.

      1. Don’t tell people that tablets can become great productivity devices. God forbid you get branded a heretic. That’s considered blasphemy in general tech circles. /s

    2. Looking at your comment, I commend you for using the appropriate “tablet” and including Android, as opposed to the article’s iPad-or-Chromebooks skew, which is disquieting.

      1. I’ve seen no mass deployments of Android tablets in education. Nor do I see any advances in the software ecosystem to cater to education in any way. That’s why I left it out, as it is not even in the conversations from many major national education systems I’ve spoken to. The conversation to date is around Chromebooks or iPads. When it changes I’ll include Android. But this seems unlikely given the state of Android tablets of late.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *