Higher Education

Tablet or Laptop: Which Device Do Students Prefer for Online Learning?

By Henry Kronk
February 10, 2020

In higher education, video recordings of lectures have become all but standard in many departments. Many researchers have demonstrated that students perceive them to add value to a course, and some have even observed jumps in pass rates by including video lectures. But how do students view these videos? Do they prefer laptops over tablets or mobile phones? And how does it affect learning? In a study published this week, researchers displayed results from a two-cohort study.

Choice of device to view video lectures: an analysis of two independent cohorts of first-year students,” was written by Jesca Namuddu and Paul Watts from the School of Health at the University of East London. The study was published on February 5 in Research in Learning Technology.

Investigating Student Preferences for Laptops, Tablets, and Other Device Types for Viewing Online Lectures

Researchers have, to a limited extent, compared devices of choice for online learning in higher education in the past. But their results typically turn up very low tablet use compared to laptops or mobile phones. This study differs in that its subjects were given tablets to keep as part of their studies. As Namuddu and Watts write, “A limitation of previous studies has been that device choice has been examined when not all students have open access to both mobile devices (i.e. tablets) and personal computers. Therefore, these studies may be susceptible to confounding by demographic and socio-economic factors related to device access.”

To study device use in their class, the researchers uploaded all course lectures to YouTube and kept them ‘unlisted,’ so only those who had the link to the video could view them. Then, using the YouTube Analytics API, they were able to track the type of device used to view a given video, along with numerous other metrics like amount of views, view duration, which videos were viewed to completion, and more.

This research occurred over the course of two 26-week courses. The first spanned semesters in 2016-2017, and the second followed in 2017-2018.

Over both cohorts, the researchers encountered an interesting phenomenon. Tablet views initially far outpaced that of laptops. At first, tablets represented over 65% of device use in both cohorts. But as time went along, laptop use started eating into tablets’ share. By March in both years, laptop video lecture viewing overtook tablet use.

Different Cohorts, Strikingly Similar Results

As the researchers write, “One explanation for these findings is that the novelty of a new tablet device is not long-lasting, and tablets become a second choice for viewing video lectures after around 6 months. However, there are several potential alternative explanations for these findings.”

The researchers speculate that it’s possible that the appeal of having a portable device to study declines over the course of the class. This is, in part, supported by the trends in mobile phone use. In both cohorts, it started at roughly 10%, but then declined below 5% by January of each year. However, during the second cohort, mobile phone use jumped back up to just under 10% in March, before declining again. This bump did not occur during the first cohort.

While a few factors may have led to the decline in tablet use over the course, there’s another complicating metric. Students using tablets recorded more total view time, longer average view durations, and higher “average proportion of the video viewed.”

As the authors write, “This suggests that tablets may be the preferred device when watching videos for a longer period of time. Alternatively, tablets may be the more effective device for maintaining student concentration or attention.”

These conclusions indicate that how students learn and digest online content may vary importantly depending on which device they’re using. There is a great deal of opportunity for further research into this subject.

Read the full article here.

Featured Image: Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.