by Glenn O’Farrell

Tablets, phablets and smartphones are perhaps the most significant disruptors of traditional learning we have ever seen. They offer ubiquitous connections to interactive learning content at relatively low costs and are now part of the daily lives of many, including an increasing number of children. Moreover, emerging evidence demonstrates they are critically connected and intimately integrated into the learning experience. Today’s “tablettistes” come to school with completely different learning expectations and learning needs. And as the number of mobile devices grows, there is little doubt they will become more and more significant in the learning experience of Canadians of all ages, as content available on these devices also grows.

Let’s look at the numbers: There are currently more than 1.5 billion smartphones in circulation in the world. That number is forecast to grow beyond the 7.5 billion mark over the next 3.5 years, meaning that there will be more of these devices (including the larger hybrid phablets) in circulation than there are people on the planet. And those numbers don’t take into account the rapid growth of tablets. Over 25% of Canadians currently own a tablet. Now, let’s remember that it was only four years ago that Steve Jobs introduced the iPad to the world. Many industry forecasts are indicating that the sale of tablets will surpass the sales of PCs by 2015. Between tablets, phablets and smartphones, there will be a simply astounding number of touch screen devices in circulation in just a few short years, all of which will profoundly impact what, when and how we learn.

Students, including young children, are already being impacted by this growth. 15% of kids in the US and the UK use their parent’s iPads and almost 10% own their own devices. This high level of adoption is reflected in the growing number of educational institutions that are increasing the focus of their technology policy on tablets. We see this accelerating as shipments of tablets to schools grew 103% in 2012 compared to an average of all devices of only 15.3%.

These are but a few of the forces that are shaping the future of learning. Given the popularity of mobile devices, particularly with younger demographic segments, there is no doubt that we need to investigate how to optimize learning experiences that are specifically developed for touch screen devices. In 2013, 70 billion apps were downloaded and that is a number that will only increase as more devices enter the market. There are currently thousands of apps focused on education, including interactive reading games to promote literacy and instantaneous progress reports for teachers and parents.

Groupe Média TFO (Ontario’s French- Language Televison Network) recently launched a new service, EduLulu, to assist teachers and parents in assessing new educational apps as they come into the marketplace. EduLulu is a guide/index that applies educational criteria to determine the relevance of new apps as learning tools for children. As an open and collaborative Canadian public service, EduLulu seeks to engage parents and teachers in the process of assessing new educational apps made available in French and English.

We believe there is much purpose in developing an ongoing dialogue that enables and informs researchers, content producers and distributors, hardware manufacturers, educators and parents as to the strengths and weaknesses of learning on touch screen devices. In fact, Groupe Média TFO hosted a conference of experts in Toronto last December—Les Tablettistes—to launch that conversation. The event featured a rich stream of research presentations, opinions and exchanges that can be viewed at In the future, we hope to organize other similar events to carry forward the discussion launched in December at Les Tablettistes.

There is little doubt that anytime, anyplace access to interactive learning content provided by touch screen devices, and successor technologies, will be a powerful force for enabling learning audiences of all ages. There is opportunity to trigger a point of ignition for concerting and harmonizing the voices of the traditional and non-traditional education/learning sectors.




Glenn O’Farrell is the President and CEO of Groupe Média TFO, Ontario’s French language educational and cultural public media agency.

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