The iPad: Changing Education for the Better?

In the brilliant, and certainly emotional, ‘Year One’ video at the launch of the iPad 2, Apple would say that the arrival of the iPad in 2010 was the arrival of a new category of product – something significantly different to what has come before.

Something different should make a difference.

Apple highlighted the dramatic effect that the iPad has had in a huge variety of industries; from the medical profession, right through to education. Is this change for the better, or is money simply being wasted on gadgets that would be better spent on textbooks (50 textbooks to 1 iPad).

Can the iPad be a profoundly positive influence within the education system?

Laptops for All

When I was at secondary school (high school) my school decided, in its wisdom, to begin bringing laptops into the classroom. In certain lessons throughout the day these hulking trolleys of thick grey machines would be wheeled in and we’d fight to make sure we got one – there were always a couple of kids left wanting.

Me, being a studious child, would inevitably endeavour to write up notes and begin essays – only occasionally being distracted by the web (partly due to the shocking regularity of wireless cards failure). Nonetheless, I can categorically state that the introduction of laptops dramatically reduced productivity in the classroom and hindered our education.

I’m not ungrateful, I understand the good intentions of those behind the scheme, but the presence of those heavy, and distractingly loud, ‘portable’ computers was a call to anarchy for many in the class. In addition, the upright angle of the screens made it almost impossible for the teacher in charge to get the attention of the class, let alone maintain control…

The Difference

In what way would the mass introduction of iPads have a more positive effect? If technology got in the way before, surely it’s not worth the transistors it’s comprised of – at least in the educational sphere.

There are, of course, a significant number of important differences between the laptops I have described and the iPad (and iPad 2). Before I analyse the potential impact of the iPad in the current educational field it’s worth noting a few things that would make a huge difference in the classroom:

  • Battery life. 10 Hours is more than enough for a full school day, what could be more annoying than having to find a handful of chargers in the middle of a lesson!
  • Maintenance. The beauty of the iPad is that it needs almost no tech support once it’s up and running, schools and teachers would be in sole command of their technology.
  • Intuitive interface. The iPad is ridiculously easy to pick up and use, particularly in comparison with the kind of laptops described earlier – children would be at home in minutes.
  • Saving. Almost every app on the iPad is effortlessly forward-thinking when it comes to saving, there are no save buttons. There is virtually no way of losing work!
  • Self-contained. The simplicity of the iPad would be immensely valuable in an educational setting, the usability of its self-contained system is at the fore.

For the Better?

Looking at every argument for and against bringing the iPad into education would be a daunting task, and for the purpose of coming to a more definite conclusion I’m going to leave one key point out of the equation.

  1. Cost. Obviously this matters, school budgets are notoriously tight. Are the benefits worth the outlay? Will buying into rapidly developing technology look like a mistake in a years time? These are questions for another occasion.

In comparison to any other technological advancement over the past ten years I believe the iPad stands out as the most perfectly suited for education.

It’s personal, but not large (or bulky) enough to truly be a barrier to teaching from the front. The sheer scope of quality applications available is stunning, as is the potential for entirely contained projects – students creating presentations and creative projects seamlessly.

iWork Lineup

The simplicity of the technology, as regards the maintenance and intuitive interface, makes it ideal for any length of lesson. While some children will inevitably get distracted in the classroom, I truly believe that the iPad (properly configured, without Angry Birds) is an engaging enough piece of technology that it will, in most cases, enhance the attentiveness of students.

There will always be fundamental arguments over the most effective methods of education, and that’s a good thing – we should be protective over the education system, many of the changes made now will only be seen in evidence in many years time.

Even in light of this I, personally, think that bringing the most inspiring and intuitive elements of technology into the classroom can hardly damage the thinking of students and teachers alike – as W.B. Yeats once said:

Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.

Your Thoughts

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts – simply post a comment below! Do you think the iPad can change education for the better? Are there some huge drawbacks I’ve missed?

This discussion has barely scratched the surface, a look into the specific positive applications of the iPad and the rapidly developing range of educational apps available will have to be for another time…

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  • Paul de Medeiros

    I myself am very busy trying to convince my school to introduce iPads. Here is what I’ve found:

    – iPads are definitely better than laptops
    – iPads really, really work in school when used properly (I use one myself daily)
    – iPads are information devices; they greatly increase the amount of information input I get every day; from the web, from other students, I even learn more from myself.
    – those ten hours of battery life really work, I can use it without charging for two days.
    – typing on the iPad is perfectly fine, although I tend to say that the max is 2 A4 sides.
    – the iPad can really increase productivity. Normally I’d play games in a gap hour, but just last week I found myself filming an interview for a project, something that was not necessary, but made fun and intuitive by the iPad. After filming it I went on to make a presentation with the interview integrated. All in school, all on the iPad.

    My conclusion; the iPad is perfect for education. It offers a new medium of bringing knowledge to the students. No longer are textbooks still objects, they can be interactive and use the huge amount of information that’s on the web.

    I have already convinced the teachers and the principals, now the only ones who are against it are the parents. They think that their child will spend too much time behind a screen, and they don’t think it’s necessary. In time, though, they too will see that the iPad (or a different tablet) is just the next step in the evolution of education.

    Oh, also, why is the iPad better than other tablets? Two reasons:

    The OS is much more intuitive. This might seem strange to most of the readers; it’s really say to use etc. But I know from experience that most people don’t know anything about computers or tablets, and all they want is to get a clear picture of what they can do. They don’t need anything extra.

    The OS is closed. Yes, this might seem as a disadvantage in some cases, but in this case it is a great advantage. It gives the school more control over what students do with their tablets.

    P.S. Where do you find textbooks of 10 bucks? Mine cost five times as much! (some even ten times)

    • Joel Bankhead

      Thanks for the fascinating response! It’s great to hear the specifics of how the iPad can make a difference.

      I certainly agree about the intuitive and closed OS making the iPad perfect for schools!

      P.S. I haven’t bought many textbooks recently, it was a conservative estimate – more expensive textbooks would make the iPad an even more sound investment!

  • Emmanuel

    I answer in french every week on this website :
    See you !

  • MikeD

    The iPad would only be of benefit to the classroom if there was a REASONABLE way to eliminate distractions (I’m talking to you, Angry Birds). Out of the box, what’s to stop your average slacker from playin games when he should be concentrating on his studies, only to hit the Home button as soon as the teacher catches sight of him in the back trying to withhold his giggles?

    On the other hand, the iPad is certainly an excellent way for students to consume content. For a great example of this, bring up any video on Khan Academy’s site on your iPad and view it full screen. It’s like having a tutor right there next to you when you’re doing homework. Our house has 2 iMacs and 2 iPads, and I don’t foresee ever really expecting to buy another regular computer again. By the time my ten-year-old needs a computer of her own for school, it will likely be a tablet.

    Ironically, my ten-year-old’s math text book is completely online (she brings home sheets full of problems, and often dear old dad will have to bring up the pages online just to understand how to help her with those problems), however the pages appear to be Flash-based and completely incompatible with the iPad.

    • Richard

      When you say “average slacker” are you saying that these kids are inherently lazy or is it that they are not engaged? There is a big difference. All kids want to learn but their teachers have to create an environment where they are engaged and where they can use their brains to create, solve problems and work together. Its the teachers who are “slackers” because they are not changing their way of teaching and continue to presume that bleating facts to rows of kids is helping them. Remember the bad kids in super nanny, who is that gets all the training from the nanny?? Also, the iPad is not just for consumption but is an excellent creation device which is one of the key 21st Century skills that these “slackers” need to be successful in their lives ahead.

  • ipad dad

    I found an useful app that helps my elementary son to to practice additions and subtractions. It runs on ipad too.

  • Richard Cygnus

    The advantage of the iPad is that it has specially made apps available for it that can be used for education. The touch interface just makes it so much easier to use these applications, especially for children and the intuitive way in which they work.

    At Cygnus Mobile, we ponder these things at

  • Catherine Azzarello

    As a new iPad2 owner and mother of 2 college students + 1 high schooler, I totally see the usefulness of iPads for higher education.

    Nevermind all the amazing multi-media apps, etc. Just look at how PERFECT iPads are for replacing $$$$, heavy textbooks. Add to that, texts can be interactive–linking directly to websites/videos/etc.; that texts can be updated w/o reprinting; AND enjoy substantive cost difference between ebooks vs. traditional–now you’ve got the perfect portable reading/notation device that fits in a purse (or mssgr bag!).

    Even better, give students the option of renting the digital texts. Depending on student’s classes, the text savings alone could pay for the iPad in one or two terms.

    BTW…by the time they’re in university, students can manage their own Angry Birds time. 😉

    • Joel Bankhead

      Thanks for your thoughts! It’s always great to hear personal examples.

      It’s fascinating to me in how many situations the iPad actually comes out as the cheaper, more economical option!

  • respo21

    It will definitely change education for the better and there is no doubt about it. It’s convenience for reading and, especially, interactive reading changes makes it so easy for everyone from 2 to 82 😉

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  • Matt

    There are a lot more educational apps for teachers lately. I just bought two more, one called My LessonPlan, which allows you to create and save lesson plans all on your iPad, and GradeKeeper. I use both and my students get a kick out seeing me use and present with my iPad in the classroom.


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  • Corrine

    I haven’t had a lot of experience using iPad in the classroom, but as a technology user and mother of two children, I can tell you that having iPads in my home has transformed my tech use for a few reasons. First, the sheer portability of iPad makes it so that I can use the tech that I use the most (internet, social media, e-mail, etc.) easily and efficiently. The ergonomics of using iPad over a laptop are much more preferable as well…I can carry my iPad around the house like a book, back and forth in my purse and pick it up and use it comfortably anywhere. The long battery life is a definite plus as well. My kids use their iPads more than they probably should :) The ease of use factors I’ve experienced myself are also big positives in their world–essentially they can access awesome media, books and really great apps anywhere anytime. My guess is once the price-point is less of an issue and applications like flash, etc. are no longer an issue, the iPad will definitely be the technology of choice for students.