Skip to content

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. But does the iPad improve learning too?

  • Teaching And Learning
  • Technology
Kevin McLaughlin 17 December, 2018

I was awarded Apple Distinguished Educator in 2012. I had lauded all things Apple for a few years previous and continued to do so for another two. But then doubts started to creep in when I asked questions about the effectiveness of this technology and whether it was worth the cost and time.

My story starts on the 27thJanuary 2010. The place, Cupertino. Steve Jobs is on stage to announce what many believe will become yet another game changing mobile device in the technology industry. Some also believe that this device will change the delivery of education as we know it. The iPad was rapturously received by the Apple faithful and many parts of the media. The public responded in kind by purchasing more than 15 million of them before the original 1st generation iPad was replaced by iPad 2 just 14 months later.

Back in 2010, the multimedia software platform Flash ruled the edtech world. So many online ‘educational games’ depended on flash to work yet the iPad ignored this apparently bug-ridden platform leaving many edtech influenced teachers aghast. How would their students continue learning from their preferred ‘free to use’ online flash based educational games when their recently purchased iPads would not recognise the format? Some in the edtech community asked searching questions whilst others ignored them and continued to push the device as a tool that would help teachers and students reach educational nirvana for a 21stCentury world. Fast forward to 2017 and Apple promotes the device as a tool that inspires ‘creativity and hands-on learning that makes learning more powerful’ (Apple, 2017). Over 1 million of these devices made their way into educational institutions in the US alone by 2017. By 2018, CEO Tim Cook stated the iPad was the most popular computer in the world with over 400 million sales worldwide (Tim Cook, 2018). Yet, with the latest devices ranging from £399 – £969 can schools be certain that this device is transforming education as Apple would have us believe?

Research around the impact that iPad has had on education is limited and, one could argue, biased. In one case Apple even acknowledges having no idea of the methodology used to collect the data of research published on its own website (iPad in education, 2017). Yet schools continue to buy into the device and its advertised rewards. The overtly positive research into iPad use in Cardiff schools revealed that ‘teachers did not mention any positive correlation between iPad use and academic attainment’ (Beauchamp and Hillier, 2014, p. 25). The Education Endowment Fund recognises that it is ‘unlikely that particular technologies bring about changes in learning directly’ and even one to one programmes promoted by Apple and others ‘may not be as helpful as small group learning with technology’ (EEF, 2018). When other schools start using terms such as ‘more engaged’, ‘more personal’, ‘more understandable’ to describe the iPad and its virtues then we need to ask questions. If a school were to buy into the latest promised iPad educational nirvana and decided on the iPad pro to achieve this illusion they would require over £23000 for a class set of 30.

Let that sink in.


For devices yet unproven in educational contexts.

This brings us to the discussion surrounding any effectiveness the devices have in the classroom. Research has mainly concentrated on increased levels of engagement that the iPad provides (Culen & Gasparini, 2011., Aronin & Floyd, 2013., Kucirkova, Messer, Sheehy & Panadero, 2014., Tay, 2016.) However, engagement is viewed by some to be a poor proxy for learning (Coe, 2013) and ‘the idea that there is any kind of direct link to achievement appears to be dubious’ (Didau, 2015). The apparent resolution lies in more effective training for teachers. Apple has even created its own iPad based curriculum, a set of subject guides that any teacher can use and ‘empower them to be the best teachers they can be’ (Apple, 2018). Through the many conversations I have on Twitter it becomes apparent that the problem doesn’t lie with the technology but with the teachers using it. Teachers need to be better trained in the capabilities that this type of technology could provide them and their students. And this will no doubt be an additional cost to schools. Which brings me back to my initial question – is this focus on mobile technologies such as the iPad leaving schools with ever increasing costs that far outweigh the possible benefits in learning?


Kevin McLaughlin is a senior lecturer in Teacher Development and is interested in the impact of technology in education. He has worked in Primary Education for 20 years as a class teacher and has management experience as a member of Senior Leadership Teams and as a Deputy Headteacher. He is also an Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Innovator.



Aronin, S., & Floyd, K. K. (2013). Using an iPad in inclusive preschool classrooms to introduce STEM concepts. Teaching Exceptional Children, 45, 34–39.

Coe, R. (2013). Improving education: A triumph of hope over experience. CEM. Available at

Culén, A. L., & Gasparini, A. (2011). iPad: A new classroom technology? A report from two pilot studies. INFuture2011. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from

Didau, D. (2015). Does engagement actually matter? Retrieved 2 November 2018, from

EEF found at

Hillier, E., & Beauchamp, G. (2014) An evaluation of iPad implementation across a network of primary schools in Cardiff. BERA found at

Kucirkova, N., Messer, D., Sheehy, K., & Panadero, C. B. (2014). Children’s engagement with educational iPad apps: Insights from a Spanish classroom. Computers &Education, 71, 175–184

Tay, H. Y. (2016). Longitudinal study on impact of iPad use on teaching and learning. Cogent Education, 3(1), 1127308.