Tablets accounted for more than one-third of all client devices shipped to education institutions in the United States in the last calendar year. That volume represents a doubling of tablet purchases from the previous year, according to a new report released last last month by market research firm IDC. And the growth won't stop there.
The report, Tablets Changing the Education Sector in the United States, Major Momentum Underway, found that overall client device shipments to U.S. education institutions hit 8.5 million total units in calendar 2012, up 15.3 percent from the previous year. Those devices include notebooks, tablets, and desktops. But shipments of tablets were up much more — a full 103 percent year-over-year, representing about 3 million total units, or 35.4 percent of the total. In 2011, they represented 19.4 percent of the total.
According to IDC, tablets are just getting started.
"While tablet sales to the education sector doubled from 2011 to 2012, we are only seeing the beginning of a much greater push that is likely to last for years," said David Daoud, research director, personal computers at IDC, in a prepared statement. "As a result, we remain highly optimistic about sustained tablet growth in education, particularly as prices decline due to greater competition."
What's driving that growth? According to IDC: "The impetus to go digital in the education sector can be found among virtually all U.S. education institutions as well as around the world. Government mandates from all levels to digitize education, the relatively low cost of tablets, and a proliferation of funding sources are providing an enormous push to tablet adoption, effectively bringing the concept of one device per student closer to reality."
Part of that success is also being fueled by manufacturers that work with institutions "to execute strategies that encompass educational content as well as the content delivery platforms. In this context, IDC expects to see a new set of stakeholders emerge as new ideas and partnerships enable them to offer more than just hardware."
In particular, according to IDC's Tom Mainelli, research director, tablets, K-12 schools will be at the forefront of that effort.
"Tablet vendors that expect to compete in the education market need to be thinking beyond just hardware speeds and feeds," he said. "We expect K-12 in particular to be at the center of new innovations where partnerships between hardware makers, content owners, solution providers and others will lead to many new educational opportunities."
In total, the 8.5 million client devices shipped to education institutions in 2012 represented about $5 billion in equipment.
I think that we should expect this growth to continue, that this is just the beginning.
The gaining momentum across education to purchase digital instead of printed textbooks is going to drive a topology change in each institution. For each student to have a digital textbook, they need a device to use it - and a lab or two of expensive desktops in the school just isn't at all suitable ... each school needs a device for each student, it is unavoidable.
The rate of acceleration in adoption is going to be directly dependent upon the availability and quality of digital texts. Printed textbooks can't compare to their digital counterpart. But, a school can't retarget their purchasing to a digital text if one isn't available for their curriculum.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the text publishing arena ... can the companies that know how to make printed texts remake themselves? It seems likely that if they cannot, they won't survive. If they don't, who will be the new publishers? States and school districts are setup to make text purchases from huge corporations, who have sales and business support mechanisms to make that happen. Will there be an emergence of indie text publishers (similar to the latest iteration of indie game developers)?
There is another issue at work here too ...
I think that what may be most profound impact of the rise of tablets and instant mobility is that they will cause a paradigm shift in education that will be similar to the emergence of the Web in education the late 90's. Mobile learning isn't just elearning made small ... mlearning is a completely new animal ... since the 90's, it has been a long, painful learning curve for education to come to grips with the fact that using the Web for education isn't taking traditional text resources and shoveling them into HTML. Mobile learning will now present a new requirement for professional development to accompany this migration.