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Education Technology Research Asks Laptops or Tablets?

By Dr. Malia Hoffmann

Assistant Professor, Concordia University Irvine, CA

I came across this Pearson’s education technology research study stating that college students across America still prefer laptops over mobile devices. Eighty-seven percent of the 1,211 in this Pearson study preferred laptops, Chromebooks, or Netbooks, etc. (Poll, 2015).

This was no surprise to me since my research last year was looking at how mobile devices were used for learning amongst undergraduate students.

Although there were several ways in which those students used mobile devices to further their learning; when students were asked whether they prefer mobile devices or laptops, 42% who participated in that study stated they preferred laptops (Hoffmann, 2015).

With the ubiquity of mobile devices this is surprising. The question is ‘why do students still feel this way?’     

The Pew Research Center found that in 2011, 95% of Millennials (ages 18-34) owned a cell phone, 70% owned a laptop, and 5% owned a tablet (Zickuhr, 2011).

Since the iPhone was about four years old at that time and the iPad was only one year old, it makes sense that phones would be more popular (“iPhone”, n.d.; “iPad”, n.d.). However, it begs the question ‘If mobiles are more popular, why do they prefer laptops?’

That answer can be inferred based upon the findings in my education technology research. 

When students were specifically asked in relation to doing school work, they opted for a laptop.
— Dr. Malia Hoffmann

When students were asked in what ways they used their devices for learning in class, they reported applications and methods that mainly referred to consuming, referencing, and/or searching materials (Hoffmann, 2015).

These methods of inquiry are most quickly done on a mobile device especially a smartphone. However, when students were specifically asked in relation to doing school work, they opted for a laptop.

They reported that it was easier to take notes or write lengthier work on a laptop than it was on a mobile device. If students need to write a paper; they will opt for word processing tools.

If they are to create a presentation; they will choose a presentation software, and if they are going to create a multimedia project; they tend to still want to sit in front of a computer. It is the nature of the assignment and that changes the tool.

Students are still more comfortable working longer on a laptop. Yet, mobiles still have their place in the classroom, they just need to be integrated in more creative/deliberate ways.

laptops over tablets

Educators can inspire more creative use of mobile devices by seeking out and deliberately integrating use of mobile applications in their classes.

Students stated that they were afraid to use mobiles in their classes because they didn’t want their instructors to think they were not on task (Hoffmann, 2015). If their instructors are guiding the students in these uses, this fear can be diminished.

But how do you as an educator access or know which of the millions of applications to use in your course?

You have three options: 1) Talk to your students. Find out what they are using. You may spark a creative match that can be paired with your academic goals.

2) Search the app store. They have a good list of Top Charts. Read the reviews, look at the screenshots, download a lot, and play. Start with the free and take personal recommendations on paid apps.

And finally, 3) Use your Professional Learning Networks (PLNs).

Crowd source the information you want. For instance, post on Twitter Looking for an interactive Geometry app for my students, suggestions? #apps #Geometry.

Someone might respond with Geometer’s Sketchpad (within seconds I might add). Be sure to use those hashtags to search your social networks as well.

The purpose of the chosen device by students isn’t because one is better than the other. It comes down to the nature of the activity in which they are performing.

With some careful selection and deliberate integration of mobile applications, we may see a shift in this preference.  Education technology research cant' all be wrong?


Hoffmann, M. M. (2015). An exploratory study: Mobile device use for academics (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (Publication no. 3685662)

iPad. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2016,

iPhone. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 10, 2016,

Poll, H. (2015). Student mobile device survey 2015. Pearson. Retrieved from

Zickuhr, K. (2011). Generations and their gadgets. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

*If you are concerned with Wikipedia as a reference, Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia by Joseph Michael Reagle Jr. (2010) states that Wikipedia is reviewed and edited more than any other encyclopedia in the world. It has the most up-to-date information because it does not need to wait to go through publication. It is written, reviewed, and edited by experts around the world constantly (Reagle, 2010). Education Technology Research

Reagle, J. (2010). Good faith collaboration: The culture of Wikipedia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.