Mobile Device Access for U.S. Students in Grades 4-12 on the Rise, as Some Schools Struggle With Wi-Fi Connectivity

Pearson Survey Reveals New Findings on Mobile Device Ownership and Use in Schools

New York, NY — A new survey released today by Pearson, and conducted on its behalf by Harris Poll, finds that while student ownership of mobile devices continues to increase, Wi-Fi connectivity at school lags woefully behind home. Nearly all the students in grades 4-12 (96 percent) surveyed reported having Wi-Fi access at home. However, only 68 percent of those same students said they can connect to Wi-Fi at school.

“Schools are responding to students’ enthusiasm for mobile learning by integrating the devices into the classroom,” said Alfred Binford, managing director, Pearson North America. “Yet, in many instances, students lack a critical tool to make those mobile devices most effective: Wi-Fi access. To truly realize the power of mobile learning, it is crucial that we support schools as they extend Wi-Fi connectivity to their students.”

The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Pearson between Feb. 7, and March 11, 2015, among 2,274 students in grades 4-12. The survey was part of a larger study that also included U.S. college students.

According to the survey, smartphone ownership among students in grades 4-12 has risen since last year, and increases with grade level. For example, 8 in 10 of high school students own a smartphone. Even with that high level of personal smartphone ownership, high school students are nearly eight times as likely to prefer laptops, notebooks and Chromebooks for learning (38 percent to 5 percent).

The proportion of students learning in a 1:1 environment—where each student has access to a device—rose to 19 percent, up from 16 percent in 2014. The survey also revealed that African American and Hispanic students are much more likely than White students to say that it is important for their schools to provide each student with a laptop or a tablet for use at school.

“This year’s survey provided interesting insights into the relationship between students’ ages and the devices on which they think they learn best. Elementary and middle school students most enjoy doing schoolwork on tablets. High school students and college students prefer laptops, notebooks and Chromebooks,” said Liane Wardlow, Ph.D., senior research scientist, Pearson Research & Innovation Network’s Center for Learning Science & Technology.

Findings illustrating this trend in popularity include:
  • About 50 percent of elementary and middle schools students (grades 4-12) most enjoy working on a tablet, while fewer than 25 percent of high school students most enjoy working on a tablet.
  • First- and second-year college students are even less likely to prefer tablets. Among college students age 18 and 19, only 8 percent use a tablet every day. They are much more likely to use laptops daily for school work (66 percent) than tablets.
  • Adult students like and use tablets more than younger college students. About 1 in 4 college students age 25 and higher use tablets every day for school work.
As expected, with increased ownership comes increased use. Use of both tablets and smartphones (at home, school or elsewhere) has risen across all grade levels.
  • In 2015, nearly 80 percent of elementary students reported using a tablet regularly compared with 66 percent in 2014. Smartphone use increased only 9 percent during the same period (from 44 percent to 53 percent).
  • Nearly 70 percent of middle school students used a tablet regularly in 2015 compared to 58 percent in 2014. Similar to elementary students, the survey saw only an 8 percent increase in smartphone use for middle school students from 2014 to 2015 (from 58 percent to 66 percent).
  • Almost 50 percent of high school students use a tablet on a regular basis versus 42 percent in 2014. High school students also saw a very modest gain in using smartphones for learning of only 3 percent from 2014 to 2015 (from 75 percent to 82 percent).
  • Among the 16 percent of students in grades 4-12 who use two or more mobile devices during a typical school day, they primarily use laptops (73 percent), followed very closely by smartphones (68 percent) and tablets (66 percent).
  • Students in grades 4-12 who use only one device during a typical school day are more than two-and-a-half times as likely to say that the device is a laptop than a tablet (59 percent vs. 24 percent) and nearly four times as likely to say that device is a laptop than a smartphone (59 percent vs. 15 percent).
About the Survey
The survey interviewed 2,274 students in grades 4-12, and 1,211 college students, about the types of mobile devices they own, how they use them for school work and how they expect to use them in the future. The survey results are weighted to represent the U.S. population of students in grades 4-12 and college. The survey also explored students’ attitudes towards mobile devices for learning, with a special focus on tablets, asking what devices they felt they learned best with; and which devices they prefer for reading, studying, taking notes and doing other school-related activities.

The full report is available at Pearson will also make the complete tabulations and full methodology, including weighting variables, available upon request.
About Pearson
Pearson is the world’s leading learning company, with 40,000 employees in more than 80 countries working to help people of all ages to make measurable progress in their lives through learning. For more information about Pearson, visit Pearson's website.
About Harris Poll
Over the last five decades, Harris Polls have become media staples. With comprehensive experience and precise technique in public opinion polling, along with a proven track record of uncovering consumers’ motivations and behaviors, Harris Poll has gained strong brand recognition around the world.  For more information, contact