Is the iPad the Correct Tool to Aid Learning in Education?

Many educators have asked me – “Is the iPad the correct tool to aid learning in education?” Having read several articles as well as witnessing first hand the implementation of iPad programs in several K12 educational establishments. I still don’t have a definitive answer, but I suppose it depends on the goals of your educational establishment and the age group of learners and what they need to achieve by using the iPad.

Therefore my own personal answers are Yes and No……..


If you are going to implement an iPad program then the pedagogical style of education in the classroom must change. There is no point in simply giving out iPads to every student and expecting everyone to use it as a tool for learning. I have seen this in action, where a private school gives each child an iPad as part of its admissions; the cost is included in the school fees. “What great marketing”, but no help with the actual learning of the child. The teachers had not been trained to use the iPad; the school infrastructure had not been designed to cope with 200 students using the iPad all at the same time. Parents were asked to purchase and download the apps at home, so loss of control from the school’s point of view, with parents who were not really trained correctly with technology use at home. No thought about the older students who need to type 5000 word projects on an iPad keyboard. No training given to teachers or students about Internet safety, correct usage in the classroom and digital citizenship.  No thought about storage of personal data or even transfer of data, no thought over the applications available on the iPad and whether they are suitable in the classroom.


If you have planned your implementation correctly, considered all the points mentioned above, then your iPad program is likely to be much more successful:

  • Supportive, designed, and managed wireless infrastructure
  • Teacher continuous training and support
  • Introduction of classroom IT Integrators/Innovators
  • Parental workshops to support home use of technology and understanding the use of technology in the classroom
  • Control, centralized and managed downloading of Apps by the school
  • IT pedagogy, how to use iPads to aid learning in the classroom (and at home)
  • A supportive and fully trained IT technical team
  • Data storage and data transfer
  • The correct Apps which will aid learning
  • The use of a LMS or VLE
  • The health and safety issues (how to look after and care for your iPad)

This list is not exhaustive and I am sure we can add several more important points to this list……..

Is the iPad suited for all ages?

This depends on what the iPad is going to be used for in education? I still believe at the moment it is more valuable as a learning tool for use in the Elementary/Primary school sector and that a laptop (MacBook or Notebook) would be more suitable to Middle/High school/ Secondary school, possibly if the budget allowed, an iPad would be useful as a supplementary learning tool. (I can see the benefits, the ease of carrying an iPad or any mobile device, the ease to make quick notes in a lecture theatre or classroom, the use of Science based Apps in 3D etc., the long battery life and the long list of other benefits mentioned in previous blog entries here). The processing power, storage capabilities, number of applications, software and of course a keyboard, simply make laptops currently a far more effective learning tool than the iPad. I have seen the separate keyboard that can be used with iPads as well as the overlay for the keyboard, this maybe a way forward for the future.

Don’t get me wrong; I feel the iPad is a fantastic educational tool, when used in a school environment that has been planned and where everyone fully supports the program. But if a school just gives an iPad to everyone and thinks the magic of learning will automatically take place, I feel that they may be proved sadly wrong.

Please comment and let me know your ideas and thoughts. Things that you have witnessed working well with 1:1 iPad implementation.

I have found this article by Mitchell A. Salerno, Michael Vonhof insightful for US state based implementation of the iPad in K12 education.

Written by Steven David Pearce 20/12/2011 and update 12/10/2014

Implementing a 1:1 iPad Scheme

Planning is always the key to implementing any new mobile device scheme into an educational establishment. Many questions need to be asked and solved in order for the scheme to be successful. Having already implemented a very successful 1:1 Macbook Pro laptop scheme, the ease of implementing a 1:1 iPad scheme is somewhat easier. Like most developments in education it is very important to have your staff (the teachers) on board and willing to adjust their pedagogy style to adapt to new uses of technology and learning in the classroom.

I have tried to include relevant areas to consider when implementing a 1:1 iPad scheme, however this list may change depending your school, the type of establishment and other educational considerations – (especially budgetary).

Areas to consider:

1. Wireless Network – ensure the relevant areas of the school have the correct wireless coverage and that iPads can easily connect to the internet. Ensure you can manage bandwidth by using a management based system (like Aurba), consider the policy management – does it need to be different to other mobile devices that connect to your network? Check that a large number of iPads can connect successfully at the same time to the network, if you already have a 1:1 laptop scheme this will probably cause no concern. Always have a trial time with a specific Year Group to test the system as well as allowing teachers to become accustomed to using the new technology.

2. iPad Device Management – consider how you will securely store and charge the iPads. My suggestion is to use something similar to the Bretford mobility cart as illustrated with the picture below. These carts are strong and well designed and can be easily moved from classroom to classroom if required. (Another good company for storing iPads is Datamation Systems Inc, their storage devices also provide syncing capabilities too). Ensure that some procedures and guidelines are put in place for taking and returning the iPads to the cart and that all teachers are aware and adhere to them. Also host a short training session for teachers on how to use the carts, what to do if an iPad is damaged, how to report the damage or problem, then create a small typed notice which can be put on the inside of the cart door, as a reminder.

3. The iPad – consider how you will protect the iPad, try to find a cover that can stay on all the time, but allows for charging and storage in the mobility cart. The cover needs to be strong enough to protect the iPad from the occasional small fall and all the knocks and bumps from continuous use in the classroom. Install Orbicule Undercover software, in case of loss or theft. (Recently my school managed to retrieve one of our learners 1:1 Macbook Pro’s that was stolen/lost at Heathrow Airport in the UK, within a week , the people who had stolen the laptop were arrested and the Macbook Pro was returned to the learner!). Consider how to identify each iPad, how will you number them? My suggestion is to engrave a unique number (think of a numbering scheme that fits with your establishment) on the back of the iPad, as stickers are easily removed, however, be aware that if you are using an iPad case that covers the engraving it may be difficult to see the number. Also, consider how your learners will use the iPad, will they use the same iPad all the time ( a 1:1 iPad scheme makes this easy) however, many schools will share the iPads amongst a few classes. How will you deal with settings on the iPad such as arrangement of apps, wallpaper images, etc, do you give admin rights to the teachers, learners or the technical department? Do you need to buy a set of Ear-buds? – my suggestion is that the learners buy their own ear-buds and keep them in school, possibly better for health reasons. Although it’s always good for a school to have a few spare pairs, or invest in some larger headphones.

4. Application Management – consider how you will purchase and distribute the apps, will you have one account or multiple accounts? My suggestion (for a school) is that you have one account for each of the age groups, for example in the British Educational system there would be one account for KS1, KS2, Ks3, Ks4 and KS5, this would enable the same apps to be used by the similar groups. As stated in point 3 above, do you allow teachers to install apps on the iPads and therefore block learners from installing apps? (this could be achieved through parental controls and or admin rights). In the USA, remember it is possible to use Apples volume purchasing plan, this gives a 50% discount to bulk purchases of apps. However, as yet the VPP is not available in Asia, although we are currently in discussions with Apple to introduce something similar for education. This is an informative article about syncing by parat solutions.

5. Content Management – consider how will learners/users login to and store their work on an iPad? Will they be able to email their work to another device, computer, laptop. Will they save their work in a cloud based application or both? If learners are given unique school email addresses, then these can be used by the students to move data. However, this is not always particularly practical when we are looking at learners aged 3 or 4 who may need an easier way to save/share their work. I like to use Dropbox for iPad, which allows students to share their content across multiple platforms. Consider also, how often to clear the contents of the iPads, possibly on a yearly basis, iPad storage memories can fill up pretty fast with media based content.

6. Pedagogy, Teaching Styles and Professional Development – introducing any mobile technology device into the classroom, will also require a change or shift in pedagogy. If you already have a 1:1 laptop scheme running in your school you will appreciate how much this changes the style of classroom teaching. Teaching needs to become much more student centered, inquiry based, project based and investigative. The use of ELP (Extended Learning Projects) or CBL (Challenge Based Learning) are great ways to allow students to use mobile devices for inquiry and investigative research as well as creativity using a variety of media for presentations and multimedia. Consider also how much professional development do you provide your teachers, is it internal PD or provided by an external company. I have always found internal professional development more valuable, where the trainer already has an understanding of the learning style and needs of the school. External training or bringing a trainer to the school also has some benefits by giving or providing training from a different view point. I am also keen to link classroom IT usage and pedagogy to teacher appraisal, at the end of the day there is no point employing (or continuing to employ) a teacher who is unwilling to adapt or develop their teaching style in an IT rich environment. The use of Professional Learning Networks (PLN’s) can be a very valuable aid in assisting educators with ideas of using IT (iPads) in the classroom, I would recommend Twitter for this.

7. The Possible Downsides – consider your classroom environment, is it conducive to learning and the use of iPads? Is there somewhere to store the mobile cart or a place where this can be accessible, for example some schools have the same Year Group classrooms on different floors, without an elevator how will you distribute your iPads? Do you have the correct lighting in the classroom, do you have blinds to adjust the light? Sometimes the glare on the iPad screen can make reading difficult. Invest in non-glare screen protectors to avoid this issue. Remember that Flash based applications cannot work on the iPad, there are still many learning games and other web based applications that require Flash, these will not run on the iPad. Just because you have an application on your laptop or desktop computer, doesn’t mean that it will also be available for the iPad, research and test applications well before using them with a class.

8. Costs and the Community – consider the costs of implementing the scheme, will the school purchase the iPads or lease the iPads. Will the learners take the iPads home or leave them at school. Should parents pay for the cost of the iPads, do they need credit facilities or assisting with the purchase. Should you include the cost of Apple care warranty? Does the 1:1 iPad scheme change with different age groups, for example – the younger year groups keep their iPads at school and this is funded by the school (through school fees) and the older year groups purchase outright their iPads and then take them home. Is there any benefit to learners of having both a 1:1 laptop scheme and a 1:1 iPad scheme? (probably not?), although this maybe dependent on age – for example, as learners get older they may need to use a laptop for specific applications. Always inform the community first of your plans, involve everyone in your planning stages, parents, teachers and the board of governors or local authorities.

There are a lot of other areas to consider that I have not mentioned here. This is partly because I have already covered them in my previous article about implementing a 1:1 laptop scheme (please read this to get some additional ideas). Also there is a lot of difference between schools which are government funded and how to plan for an iPad 1:1 scheme, especially when compared to private/independent/international schools.

Please comment with possible areas that I have forgotten or areas that you have found work well in your school or educational establishments.

Check out this document regarding 21 steps for successful 1:1 implementation – an excellent document!

Written by Steven David Pearce 24/03/2011 updated 10/10/2013