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The Great Debate: iPads vs. Chromebooks

July 29, 2014

Posted by Jonathan Cohen



The iPad vs. Chromebook question has been steadily accumulating debate in the edtech world as teachers, technicians, and administrators try to determine which device can yield the highest benefit for their students.

There is no easy answer to this question in a complex educational environment full of competition. However, the most critical factor to consider when making a technology purchasing decision is to ask, "In what setting will this device be used?"

The setting is a critical factor because both devices have different strengths and technical capacities, and because of this they fulfill varied services. In the iPad vs. Chromebook debate, due to the inherent design and included features of each device, the Chromebook has developed into a valued asset for high school and college-aged education, while the iPad has become the optimal tool for elementary and middle school education. 

Chromebook Strengths for High School & College

The Chromebook is a well designed, functional, and polished product. Its top features include the Chrome operating system (which includes all of the most popular Google productivity suites, such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Drive), and a full keyboard and trackpad. Due to the efficient productivity suite, the Chromebook allows users to create content easily and connect to others without a headache, which is of vital importance in modern education marked by interconnectedness.

For high school and university students, the Chromebook is the most affordable and logical device choice. Chrome’s operating system makes it extremely simple to write documents, create presentations, and share and edit work in real time with other users. With the Chromebook, students can digitally work, interact, and collaborate from different locations while increasing productivity and effectiveness. This practicality is essential for students whose daily lives revolve around taking notes, completing assignments, studying for tests, and giving presentations. It highlights how the Chromebook is an ideal device for many high school and college-aged students.



iPads Excel in Elementary & Middle Schools

The iPad has a completely different, yet highly valuable, set of strengths that allows it to fit a different educational niche: the K-8 educational segment. Because of a higher quantity of educational apps available in the iTunes App Store, and because of the sensitive touch screen, the iPad has grown to be the most useful device for K-8 education.

The iPad is the premier K-8 educational tool because of the industry leading quantity of educational content in the iTunes App Store. To determine which device had a higher quantity of learning apps aligned to specific math skills in their respective stores, we completed two searches for apps with multiplication and decimals. For multiplication, the Apple App Store came out with 508 apps, while the Chrome Webstore returned just 48 apps. For decimals, the Apple App Store had 234 learning apps, while the Chrome Webstore only had 35. These are just two examples that reflect the overwhelmingly higher quantity of educational apps on the App Store than the Chrome Webstore.

Most importantly, the elementary and middle school period is the base of cognitive development for most students. The iPad complements this by providing the simplest and most intuitive interface for students to engage with educational apps. The very act of touching, dragging, and swiping is highly effective to stimulate K-8 learners. This touch interface is vital to engaging young students for long periods of classroom time.

Finally, when evaluating the advantages of the iPad vs. Chromebook battle, it’s important to understand that the iPad has considerably more research regarding the academic impact that it can make in blended learning environments. While the Chromebook debuted in 2011, it was not a viable product at that point in time and didn’t start to gain traction in the edtech space until recent improvements to quality and product design. Because of this, there simply isn’t as much research on the Chromebook’s impact in classrooms as compared to the iPad. There is extensive research on the positive benefits that stem from using iPads in blended education environments, such as former Harvard education researcher Maya Lopuch’s white paper, The Effects of Educational Apps on Student Achievement and Engagement.


And Debate Honors Goes To…

Given the divergent needs that modern education presents, it is no surprise that different devices fit contrasting learning models best. In the iPad vs. Chromebook discussion, it is clear that the two devices distinguish themselves to be useful in varied settings. While the Chromebook is best for content creation and collaboration, aspects that are important in older education, the iPad has proven to intensely drive learning and development, which is most important in K-8 education.

This correlates with what Tim Holt, ed-tech writer and El Paso ISD Director of Instructional Technology, incisively expresses in his article, Why We Are Misunderstanding the Chromebook-iPad Debate. Emphasizing the utility that the iPad offers because it can adapt its interface to meet a user’s needs, Holt maintains that the iPad is student-centric and promotes learning in ways that the Chromebook, and laptops in general, simply cannot because of the variety of ways that it can be used.


Four Steps for an Effective iPad Program Looking for More Information?

Explore  to see how we help districts leverage iPads in K-8 education to augment traditional learning in a blended learning format. To learn more about initiating personalized learning plans with iPads, check out eSpark’s webinar on 4 Steps for an Effective iPad Program.




Topics: Elementary Education  Middle School Education  Tech Education News


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