This is part of a series of posts that document some of my personal thoughts on some of the myths surrounding 1:1 learning (one device per learner) and 1:1 deployments in schools and school systems.
Myth 4 – 1:1 is the best ratio for learning
I can’t disagree that 1:1 isn’t a good ratio BUT sometimes other ratios are a lot more appropriate. Just because you have the capacity for 1:1 in your school doesn’t mean that it is the best ratio to use all of the time.
Indeed, when we look at learning from 3 years to 18 years a significant amount of thought needs to go into when you would like to achieve 1:1 (if you do at all). This is particularly the case when you don’t work within a 3 – 18 school. I know of a number of examples where 1:1 has been integrated successfully and purposefully in the upper primary (elementary) school yet when the children move to secondary (high) school this provision has not been continued and as a result has a regressive impact on learning.
So, what are the optimum ratios? In short, 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 absolutely nothing wrong with a lecture style presentation.
Of course the advantage of learners having their own device in this type of environment means that they can provide feedback and ask questions during the presentation (sometime referred to back channeling). 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. Tablet technology can have a real advantage here.
There is something about children working around a tablet device that seems to make it more collaborative – could it be that in physical collaborative learning scenarios the screen can actually act as a barrier to learning. Despite their cost the role of the Interactive Table should also not be underestimated in developing collaboration and problem solving skills.
Research from my genius of a friend 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 tasks.
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.
Photo: Fearghal Kelly
Now, in my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that is often made in 1:1 deployments is that people aim for a 1:1 ratio and provide teacher professional development for learning and teaching at this ratio.
Of course (particularly for older children – but increasing younger ones as well) the real ratio that we should be aiming for is at least 2:1 (two devices for each learner). I see this more and more in the forward thinking progressive schools and systems that I have the pleasure to work in from time-to-time.
In this scenario, learners are supported by a main device (it could be a desktop, laptop, netbook, hybrid or tablet) and their handheld (normally their phone).
Many of the people reading this article will probably already work this way. For example, I’m writing this blog post on my Laptop (my choice is to use a keyboard for extended writing) but I’ve got an eye on twitter on my iPad that is next to me and 5 minutes ago I replied to a text message on my mobile phone.
The wifi voucher that I was given by the hotel receptionist allowed me to connect 5 personal devices to the hotel network.
Now, I only had 3 with me (laptop, tablet & phone) but that is not the point – the point is in the business word and increasingly in the education world we are required to be connected by a variety of devices most of the time, in order to do the tasks we are set (and set ourselves) to the maximum efficiency.
As you start to develop 1:1 learning scenarios in your school / system don’t forget to develop other scenarios in parallel that involve other ratios and other types of technology integration.