The term one-to-one is applied to programs that provide all students in a school, district, or state with their own laptop, netbook, tablet computer, or other mobile-computing device. One-to-one refers to one computer for every student.


Given that computers, technology, and the internet are rapidly redefining nearly every area of modern life—from education to communications to careers—one-to-one programs are generally motivated by the following rationales:

  • Today’s students need consistent, at-the-ready access to computing devices throughout the day and, ideally, at home.
  • Teachers can only take full advantage of new learning technologies and online educational resources when all students are equipped with a computing device.
  • Teaching technological literacy and computing skills needs to be a priority in today’s schools.
  • Equipping all students with computing devices and incorporating technology into every course is the surest way to take full advantage of new learning technologies and produce students who are technologically skilled and literate.

Most of today’s schools have some form of computing technology available to teachers and students—such as computer labs (classrooms with computer workstations) or mobile computer stations (typically carts filled with laptop computers that can be wheeled around a school and shared by teachers and students)—but one-to-one computing environments are seen by many educators and reformers as the next logical step for schools. In schools without a one-to-one computing program, teachers may need to schedule computing time in advance, and—depending on a school’s computing options and computer supply—scheduling conflicts can arise. Teachers may also need to postpone or modify certain lessons, and valuable instructional time can be eroded because students may need to be moved to a computer lab, it may take extra time to get shared computers configured properly, or the computers may not have the required software, for example.

In addition to avoiding many logistical issues associated with more limited or restrictive computing options, one-to-one programs may give teachers greater flexibility in how they can use computers as instructional resources. For example, one-to-one programs:

  • Allow all students to work online simultaneously in a class or to work collaboratively on a project that is hosted in the cloud.
  • Allow teachers to use interactive, technology-assisted teaching strategies that require students to have a computing device. For example, teachers can pose questions to a class, and all students can respond using an online survey system. Instead of asking a question and picking one student to give an answer, teachers can get answers from all students in real time to see who has understood the material, who hasn’t, and who made need extra help.
  • Make it easier for students to save work on their own computer or for teachers to load specialized software programs on every computer used by students in a particular class.
  • Allow teachers to use “course-management software” to organize a class or assign long-term projects or homework that require students to use a computer. Otherwise, if some students do not have computers at home, teachers would have to assign homework that does not require computers, or they would have to modify expectations for students without access to a computer.
  • Make it easier to find cheaper or more up-to-date learning materials for students (for example, textbooks can be expensive and can quickly become outdated) and to diversify the types of learning tools, materials, and readings teachers make available to students, such as interactive e-textbooks, digital simulations, self-paced online tests, video-editing applications, or multimedia software, for example.
  • Make it easier—or possible—to use new or more innovative teaching strategies such as blended learning and “flipped classrooms” or to incorporate online courses into the learning options schools make available to students.


One-to-one computing is frequently the subject of debate—most commonly because one-to-one programs cost significantly more than alternative options in which students and teachers share a smaller number of computers.

In addition to the potential benefits described above, the following are representative examples of the kinds of arguments that may be made by advocates of one-to-one programs:

  • One-to-one programs are a long-term investment. While the up-front costs may be significant, the long-term benefits outweigh the costs.
  • The computers allow teachers and students to work more efficiently, more effectively, or in more innovative ways. Advocates may also argue that technology can increase student motivation, engagement, and interest in learning, and that students will be able to learn more and learn in more exciting ways.
  • One-to-one programs provide more equitable access to technology. Students from lower-income families may have little or no access to computers, which places them at an educational disadvantage when it comes to acquiring technological skills and literacy.
  • Increasingly, more and more learning materials are being converted to or produced in digital formats, often at a cheaper cost, including a growing number of free and open-source educational resources. If teachers and students do not have computers, they won’t be able to take full advantage of these new learning tools and materials.
  • More standardized tests are being administered online. If students are not confident using computers or fluent in their use, students in schools without one-to-one programs will be disadvantaged when taking standardized tests, which can have consequences for both the students and the schools. For related discussions, see computer-adaptive test, test accommodations, and test bias.

The following are representative examples of the kinds of arguments that may be made by critics or skeptics of one-to-one programs:

  • The cost of purchasing and maintaining the devices is too expensive. In addition to the up-front costs entailed in purchasing devices, the long-term maintenance costs—from technical-support specialists to device repairs to software and network upgrades—can be significant.
  • Inadequate technical support can lead to myriad problems. If a sufficient number of computers are broken or malfunctioning, it can disrupt, delay, or derail classroom lessons and student projects. A poorly supported one-to-one program could become a major source of irritation and frustration in a school.
  • Students are not responsible enough to be given such devices. Portable devices are likely to be dropped or broken, especially by younger children, and students will use the computers in unsupervised settings, which can lead to dangerous or harmful online behaviors, from visiting social media sites to viewing inappropriate material to engaging in cyberbullying.
  • The computers may not be used effectively, or they may not produce the desired results or benefits. For example, the computers may end up being used as expensive word processors, not as the transformative learning tools they were advertised to be. If teachers do not embrace the new technology, if they are not provided with adequate training, or if they use computers to teach in the same traditional ways, then one-to-one programs are unlikely to produce the desired benefits to or changes in teaching methods.
  • The computers will erode instructional time. Teachers may need to spend more time managing online behaviors and distractions, while technical glitches, broken machines, and other problems can eat up valuable classroom time.

In addition to the points above, another potential source of debate is whether or not students should be allowed to take one-to-one devices home. Since transporting mobile devices back and forth from school every day increases the likelihood that devices will be broken, and given that students who take home devices will be using the computers outside of secure in-school networks or adult-supervised settings—which increases the potential that students may engage in harmful or irresponsible online behaviors—one-to-one take-home policies are frequently debated or criticized.

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