Tablets in Education: Why is 1:1 the best ratio?

Excerpt from ‘Using 1:1 to Unlock Learning’

It might surprise you to find out that actually it is not the best ratio all of the time. But, 1:1 will be the best ratio some of the time.

In terms of the question, “What is the best ratio?”, there is no easy answer to this. It really depends on what it is you are trying to achieve. But it is important to remember that sometimes 1:many (one device for many learners) is fine and that there is also absolutely nothing wrong with a lecture style presentation.

Of course an advantage of all learners having their own device in a lecture environment means that they can provide feedback and ask questions during the presentation (sometime referred to back channelling). Devices can also be used to follow up links that the presenter has mentioned – these can be bookmarked for exploration at a later date or quickly shared with others across social networking spaces.

One important consideration during this type of environment is that this type of interaction, although powerful, does not come naturally to young people – it is a skill that is required to be taught and practiced if it is going to have any real impact.  

As well as 1:many, there are also lots of examples when 1:3/4/5 (one device for three, four or five learners) might be appropriate. These are all good ratios to support collaborative learning and group work.

The use of a tablet or hybrid device can be useful if there is going to be more than two learners to a device on a collaborative activity. A laptop screen can sometime become a barrier to learning and prevent others in the group from seeing what is going on.


Research from Professor Sugata Mitra (University of Newcastle) and others has also proved time-and-time again that 1:2 (one device for two learners) is also another great ratio for learning (particularly for younger children). It’s small enough to allow opportunities for children to get time on the computer without arguing who should be in the driving seat, BUT it also allows dialogue and conversation between children as they work to solve real world problems and consolidate their learning task.

Of course the nice thing about having 1:1 (one device for each learner) is that all of the above can be achieved but children can also work with their own device where appropriate.

Beyond 1:1

Schools who have been making use of 1:1 for a while now are also noticing that in reality many students use at least two devices to help them with their learning. Their main device is normally a laptop or a tablet but increasingly a companion device, such as a smartphone, is also being used.

What we have observed over the past few years is that students tend to use the main device for the bulk of their work. But the companion device is used as a communication tool (to ask questions on social networks etc.) and for its other more portable functionality (for example to take pictures, or to carry out quick web searches). It is important for educators to remember that this is the way that many young people work at home (many adults work in this way as well). Our challenge is allowing young people to work in this way in a school environment.


  Does 1:1 improve standards?

There is no evidence that 1:1 (or any technology for that matter) in isolation improves attainment standards. A weak teacher with great technology will still not deliver the results that our children deserve. However, there is growing evidence that good teachers with great technology can really raise the bar of expectation amongst young people and deliver improved experience and results.

However, I truly believe that a good or excellent teacher, who is committed to professional learning and who is supported by great technology has the potential to transform lives. It is also important to remember that technology is only part of any model for educational transformation.

This chapter was taken from our ‘Using 1:1 to Unlock Learning’ eBook written by Ollie Bray. The full eBook can be viewed/downloaded below.

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