20 Mobile Technologies and Mobile Learning: How has the use of tablets innovated learning within Secondary School classrooms?

Jennifer Seif


Ontario Tech University


This chapter will examine the use of tablets, within Secondary Schools and their impact on mobile learning. Within 21st century Secondary Schools and learning environments, tablets have been positioned as the popular mobile device of choice to support teaching and learning.  For this analysis a mixture of studies, peer reviewed journals and articles were used to identify key themes that were viewed as having an impact on the usefulness of tablets within Secondary Schools.  Three (3) themes emerged out of the literature review.  The themes were related to how the perception of the usefulness of tablets among teachers and students impact on teaching and learning; how pedagogical supports or lack there of relating to tablet usage within Secondary classrooms impact on teaching and learning; and how an understanding of the 21st century skills or core learning competencies are supported through tablet usage within classrooms. The research suggested that teachers are primarily responsible for how tablets are incorporated into the curriculum and lesson plans.  The general sentiment found within the research revealed that teachers require administrative support and substantial technological training to successfully incorporate tablets into their spaces in order for students to buy-in and use the tablets to their full potential. The findings suggest that there is still much work to be done in this field of study.  In addition, it has been noted that student feedback, relating to recommendations for the successful implementation of tablet use within Secondary Schools, is often based on first hand experiences which has the potential to elicit additional qualitative research that can impact on future mobile device roll out policy and practices.

Keywords: Assistive Technology, Cognitive Load, Didactical Applications, Digital Anthropology, Mobile Learning, Tablets, Tablet Computers in Education, Tablets in Education, and Technology Acceptance Model (TAM).


Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), specifically tablets, have been positioned as the mobile device to support and nurture 21st century skill of knowledge construction, collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking and problem solving (Tkach, 2017).  Within a Secondary School educational context, these mobile devices are used to,

  1. facilitate direct communication between student-teacher or student-student,
  2. create learner-centred knowledge construction,
  3. provide students with differentiated learning experiences,
  4. provide students with a variety of Apps that stimulate creativity and innovation,
  5. provide teachers with the ability to conduct timely efficient assessments,
  6. provide teachers with the ability to provide frequent student feedback,
  7. provide students with the ability to interact with topics of interest inside and outside of the classroom.

The potential positive impact that tablets have on learning requires that students and teachers have some operational and technological knowledge to implement and use the device to its full potential (Winstead, 2017).

The research reveals a shift between the traditional methods of instruction to an educational reform that includes mobile devices that have the ability to transform the learning experience through the use of a technology-enhanced approaches (Montrieux et al. 2015). Hattie (2013) states that, “computers are used effectively (a) when there is a diversity of teaching strategies: (b) when there is a pre-training in the use of computers as a teaching and learning tools; (c) when there are multiple opportunities for learning (e.g. deliberative practice, increasing time on task); (d) when a student, not teacher, is in “control” of learning; (e) when peer learning is optimized; and (f) when feedback is optimized” (p. 16).  Yelland (2006) extends the understanding of this transformation by including the realization that, mobile learning is achievable when mobile devices are used in authentic contexts using technology that has been integrated in meaningful ways that promotes the development of knowledge and the sharing of ideas.

A shift in the pedagogical approach and practice was not the only transformation that revealed itself through the analysis of tablet use within Secondary Schools.  A change in mindset allowing for the adoption of a tablet within the learning environment on behalf of the students and the teachers was revealed.  The research findings suggest that Secondary School student’s attitude relating to the use of tablets outside of the classroom was overwhelmingly positive (Semerci, 2018).  Following the adoption of tablets within the classroom, the research reveals that the attitudes of Secondary School students who participated in the studies changed. In addition, the research identified a need to classify teachers into two (2) distinct categories in order to draw conclusions and offer insights into possible policy reform that could address the aforementioned challenges.  Innovative Teachers are viewed as educators who support the constructivist approach to learning.  They are motivated to adopt tablets and recognize the potential that tablets have within 21st century classrooms.  In contrast, Instrumental Teachers are viewed as educators who operate within a behaviourist approach.  The research reveals that these educators typically use the tablet as an extentention of their traditional ideologies relating to course delivery. “Nevertheless, implementing tablet devices into the classroom is not easy, and requires teacher training” (Montrieux et al., 2015, p. 3). A tablet is much more than just ‘a book behind glass’ (Fokides and Atsikpasi, 2016).

Background Information

This research was conducted using a qualitative meta-synthesis approach that involved integrating, analyzing and evaluating the findings from multiple studies previously conducted by several researchers (Sandelowski, Docherty & Emden, 1996).  In addition, scholarly and peer reviewed journals were gathered and analyzed.  The educational context of focus was limited to public Secondary schools where tablets were introduced into the classroom setting as a tool to promote mobile learning.

Applicable Studies

Study #1 Overview (Clark & Luckin, 2013)

In their report titled, What the research says. IPads in the classroom, Clark and Luckin (2013) review the results of a study that was conducted in Flanders, Belgium within a Secondary School who had a mass organizational implementation of tablet devices (iPads) within their classrooms. In 2012, with the explicit consent of parent’s and guardians, Flanders High School setup six (6) focus groups to examine the perceptions of students and teachers relating to the use of their tablets and how they felt it assisted with teaching and learning practices (Montrieux et al., 2015).  Forty (40) students and twenty (20) teachers were invited to participate in a set of focus group interviews.  Students were divided evenly by gender and ranged between the ages of 11 and 18 years old.  The participants committed to a six (6) month study.  The students and the teachers were asked similar explorative questions that dealt with concerns around teaching and learning practices related to tablet use.  Table 1 highlights some of the questions that were posed to the focus groups.

Table 1
Semi-structured interview of students and teachers (Montrieux et al., 2015, p. 6)

Introduction questions (n = 3) ‘Introduce yourself’
‘Sum up pros and cons about using the tablet device during the courses’

React on the statement: ‘Using tablet devices during the courses has an added value’

Teaching practices (n = 3) ‘How do you experience the role of your teachers in the classroom?’ / ‘How did you experience your role as a teacher in the classroom?’
‘How are the courses organized?’
React on the statement: ‘Teachers have adequate skills to teach with tablet devices’
Learning practices (n = 4) React on the statement: ‘By using tablet devices, I achieve better’ / ‘By using tablet devices, the students achieve better’
React on the statement: ‘By using tablet devices, it is easier for the students to catch up the lessons’
React on the statement: ‘By using tablet devices, it is fun to learn’
React on the statement: ‘By using tablet devices, we work more collaboratively with peers’/ ‘Because we use tablet devices, the students work more collaboratively with peers’
Final questions (n = 3) ‘Did some problems occurred by using tablet devices?’
‘What are your expectations for the future?’
React on the statement: ‘Tablet devices should be introduced in every school’

The results of the preliminary findings reveal that there are notable concerns relating to unsupported tablet use within the classroom.  A connection between a lack of support, adaptive materials and technological professional development in relation to the success of mobile learning is evident based on the responses of the participants.  For example, most of the teachers within the study articulated that they did not feel supported in receiving training of how to use the tablet and access adapted digital materials for their classes.  This lack of support left them feeling pressured to be the primary authors of all of their content and instructional materials (Montrieux et al., 2015).  Montrieux et al. (2015) also state that, “instrumental teachers generally have a traditional view on education in which they have a central role in the distribution of knowledge (p. 8).   The resistance to transfer learning to a student centred approach using a tablet to facilitate the progression of mobile learning aligns with Davis’ (1985) Technology Acceptance Model where the users motivation to use technology is connected to the perceived attitude towards its usefulness.

Study #2 Overview (Semerci, 2018)

For this study, a qualitative research method was used to examine the views of high school students on the use of tablets within their classrooms.  Sixteen (16) students participated in a one-on-one semi-structured interview (Semerci, 2018). Twelve (12) of the students were male and the remaining four (4) were female. The following research questions were addressed during the study,

  1. How does the use of tablet computers affect the attitudes of students?
  2. How are tablet computers used in the learning and teaching process?
  3. How does the use of tablet computers affect interaction?
  4. What problems do students encounter?
  5. What recommendations do students make to ensure tablets are used more effectively?

The interviews were conducted in a pre-determined area.  The shortest interview was approximately 8 minutes while the longest interview lasted approximately 30 min.

The results of the analysis revealed five (5) prominent themes that included views on attitude change, views on using tablets in class, views on interaction within the class, problems that appeared and suggestions. Semerci (2018) states that, “all the female participants stated that they felt disappointed shortly after starting to use tablet computers” (p. 108).  Subject 1 expressed her feelings as follows:

S1: “I am sorry to see that nothing has changed since using a tablet computer for a while” (Semerci, 2018, p. 108).

Semerci (2018) further states that, “half of them [subjects] were still hopeful that the project would be successful if they were used correctly” (p. 108).  Table 2 illustrates the thematic findings that were exposed during the study.

Table 2
Emergent themes and codes (Semerci, 2018)

Views on attitude change Views on using tablets in class Views on interaction Problems Suggestions
Positive Purpose of use Student-teacher interaction Technical problems About effective use
High Expectations Inconsistent use Student-student interaction Internet access About teachers’ training
Neutral Teacher’ skills-qualifications Educational Information Network (EBA) Contents Slow internet connection About students
Negative Lack of information E-books Fear of tracking About EBA content
Disappointment Motivation Other training sources Effects on health About Internet use
Hope Motivation Other training sources Effects on health Other suggestions

Application of Tablets

According to Ricoy and Sánchez-Martínez (2019):

Ubiquitous learning should attempt to address new educational demands, using its strengths; the flexibility to learn in different places and times, the possibility to customize learning outcomes and improve motivation, the opportunity to strengthen or consolidate competences, the potential for autonomous development, and the promotions of interactivity and connection between academic learning and non-formal and informal learning (p. 2).

Tablet usage within Secondary Schools has the potential to prepare students for the rapidly developing world.  The research supports that, aside from infrastructure, software and hardware aspects, other issues include national education policies, appropriate implementation strategies and the attitudes and perceptions of both teachers and students must be addressed (Semerci, 2018).  While the research in this field of study is still in its infancy, the evidence relating to the effectiveness of tablet use within Secondary School classrooms, when used to its potential, is compelling.  Studies have shown that their use facilitates collaboration, motivation, personalized learning, creative work, improved quality of students’ and teachers’ presentations and greater access to a variety of resources and learning materials (Karsenti & Fievez, 2013). The tablet as the all-in-one device requires a finessed approach in successful implementation.  The research suggests, when adequately mastered for the purposes of teaching and learning, that the full potential of user and tablet can be achieved meeting individual learning and teaching objectives through this mobile device.

Next Steps

The educational experience requires attention to the variety of activities that happen inside and outside of the classroom.  A schools ability to follow curriculum goals while leveraging mobile technologies is dependent on a multi leveled governance structure that acknowledges the interests of all participants in technological facilitated educational journeys. Ricoy and Sánchez-Martinez (2019) state that, “it is important to encourage activities through the use of innovative technological applications and resources given that, despite awareness of their functionality and potential” (p. 1).  A blanket adoption approach incorporating tablets within a Secondary School proves to be unadvisable without understanding some of the limitations and challenges associated with their use.


Gikas and Grant (2013), indicate that mobile devices, specifically tablets, pose as a distraction for students.  In addition, Gikas and Grant (2013) suggest that rapidly evolving technology requires constant updates to resources, materials and the skills required to access and use them.  According to Ricoy and Sánchez-Martinez (2019), maintain that many teachers continue to reproduce outdated methodologies when they incorporate digital media into the process of teaching and learning (p. 2). Bill Gates, as cited by Haslam (2012) states that, “the difficulty with tablet devices is that you really have to change the curriculum and the teacher” (p. 1). The research further suggests that the current understanding of the potential  and usefulness of the tablet is based on scarce learning experiences and insufficient scientific studies in schooling contexts where difficulties are linked to paucity of digital devices and/or deficient training of teachers in digital competence (Garcia-Sanjuan, Jurdi, Jaen, & Nacher, 2018). Therefore, students and teachers require a level of comfort interacting with their tablet as a mobile learning and teaching tool.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

Tablets have several educational uses that include providing access to electronic textbooks, word processing tasks, school portals where students can manage schoolwork and they allow students to network and work collaboratively. Understanding the needs of the teachers who embed these mobile devices into their lesson plans is imperative.  Table 3 offers a list of questions that teachers can ask themselves before integrating tablets into their classroom (Heick, 2012).

Table 3
10 Questions to ask yourself before integrating tablets in the class (Heick, 2012)

1. What are the goals for tablets in the class? 6. What changes could you make to allow the tablets’ integration into the classroom seamless?
2. What learning problems does the tablet solve? 7. What is the role of the learning in tablet use? Can the learner choose which Apps they use to solve a problem?
3. What instructional planning are you using? (project-based learning, game-based learning, traditional units or other) 8. Is the learning environment you design student-centred?
4. How should your instructional design and lesson planning be revised because of the tablet? 9. How can you experiment with new instructional styles to take advantage of mobile learning devices in the classroom?
5. What is your own comfort level with technology? 10. How committed are you to overcoming unforeseen challenges?

Teachers require the time and supports to research, find and adapt teaching materials.  A responsibility to develop policy that recognizes the needs for adequate professional development to use tablets resides with school administrators.  Teachers need to develop adequate skills to deliver their materials effectively.  Vali (2015) draws our attention to several of the personalized learning and teaching options that tablets have to offer which include,

  • changing how we perceive computing,
  • providing collaborative spaces,
  • facilitating the gamification of educational concepts,
  • providing real-time feedback between teacher and student or student and student, and
  • providing hands on learning opportunities.

Further research is required to understand which types of interactive learning content is compatible with the mobile devices such as tablets within a Secondary School educational setting.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 by Jennifer Seif is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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