Should Tablets Replace Textbooks in the Classroom?

By Rob KlindtTablets Replacing Textbooks?

While there’s no question among educators that tablet technology has become a valuable tool in today’s classrooms, there is some debate about whether tablets should completely replace textbooks.

While tablets are the new tool in the K-12 classroom shed, traditional textbooks are still an $8 billion a year industry with some heavy backers behind them, including publishers McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin.

Meanwhile, shipment of tablets into the nation’s classrooms was estimated to be about $5 billion in 2012, according to The Wall Street Journal. Leading tablet manufacturers, including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and others, are focusing on growing their share of the education market, which they estimate was at 35 percent in 2012.

Both offer advantages – but in different ways

coe-online-medTextbooks have been a mainstay in K-12 classrooms for generations. Among their chief advantages are easy portability and the presentation of material in an easy-to-read and structured format. Textbooks also come in a wide assortment of sizes, allowing  the inclusion of large photos, graphics and charts. Larger books, particularly picture books, are especially helpful for younger students who are developing manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination.

New to the classroom scene are digital tablets like the iPad or Kindle Fire. These devices offer most of the features of traditional textbooks, but in a different way. Tablets are light, portable, and more robust in the quantity of content and their ability to display it. They also display photos, offer animation and let users interact with some of the content.

Weighing the pros and cons of tablets

Because tablet use in classrooms is growing quickly, teachers need to be ahead of the curve in knowing how best to incorporate these devices into their curriculums. A good start is by examining the tablet features and how they work.


  • Lots of storage. With anywhere from 8 to 64 gigabytes of storage space, a single tablet can hold hundreds of textbooks. Tablets also can hold quiz materials and animated illustrations, and students can even highlight text.
  • Fast updates. Electronic textbooks on tablets can be updated quickly and efficiently; students can always have the latest versions of textbooks.
  • Personalization. Teachers can customize student learning using tablets with hundreds of educational apps designed for iPad and Android devices.
  • Ease of learning. A study by the National Training and Simulation Association suggests that using a tablet helps students learn material faster.
  • Collaboration. Students can easily work together in online blogs, wikis and education-focused social networks.
  • Increased reading. According to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, students who own tablets tend to read more books than those who don’t.


  • Distractions. Using a tablet in class can invite digital distractions as students may be tempted to surf the Web, check email, chat on social media or play online games instead of focusing on classroom work.
  • Health issues. A report by the American Optometric Association suggests that students who use tablets and computers may be at increased risk of computer vision syndrome, which includes eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes. Moreover, there may be a higher risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and neck and shoulder pain.
  • Technical problems. Tablets can break if dropped, or software may freeze and make the device — and homework assignments — unavailable. They also are subject to possible malware attacks from the Internet.
  • Battery life. The length of the battery charge varies widely among tablet devices, and finding enough electrical outlets in the classroom to charge several tablets at once can be difficult.
  • High cost. Initial startup costs for schools to introduce tablets into classrooms can be high. After buying the tablets and the software, schools then need to install a secure Wi-Fi network and hire support staff, then train teachers how to use the technology.
  • Apps not compatible. Not all apps or software will work on all tablets. Many iPad apps use proprietary software written for Apple products and won’t work on Android-based tablets like the Kindle Fire. Also, some software, notably Adobe Flash, won’t work with Apple products.


While the benefits of using tablets in K-12 classrooms are many, it’s too early to close the cover on traditional textbooks. Smart teachers look at both as a valuable resource tool and know how to take advantage of the best features that each has to offer.