Ultimate Guide to the Paperless Classroom

Many top educators and administrators view the idea of a paperless classroom as an inevitability in education. In today’s digital age, these educators believe that a paperless classroom promotes a more efficient and organized classroom while preparing students for the practical world outside classroom walls. In other words, if every facet of life is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, then why not equip students accordingly?

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student’s and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time,” said esteemed author and educator David Warlick. “It is the lens through which we experience much of our world.”

This sentiment is shared by many educators, administrators, and parents in the educational community, and for good reason. However, implementing a plan through technological mediums still necessitates the same care and mindfulness of creating a conventional lesson plan, and transitioning to online platforms isn’t without its own unique hurdles.

Practical First Steps (and Challenges) for the Paperless Classroom

Image via Flickr by mortsan

According to a recent article by Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, using a simple visualization Web tool — such as Stat Planet for creating infographics — coupled with a document-sharing tool like Google Drive is an excellent first step to explore the potential of paperless teaching methods. These Web tools deliver key concepts to students while promoting collaboration and improving classroom efficiency, both of which are demonstrable advantages of the paperless classroom. By utilizing and mastering a few online tools (and not introducing too many at once), educators can explore paperless benefits and transition slowly into a completely paperless classroom.

Before introducing these new elements, however, it’s vital that educators are knowledgeable and comfortable with administering all Web tools to be used in the classroom. A lack of in-depth educator training will inevitably cause hiccups in workflow, cause undue teacher and student frustration, and compromise classroom efficiency.

Access to devices and adequate Internet bandwidth are also practical needs for making the switch to a paperless classroom. Needless to say, some schools are more readily equipped to transition than others. Budget allocation is always a hot topic, particularly for public schools, so creating line-item budget plans with administration for the paperless classroom is a crucial first step. However, as devices become less expensive, implementing a paperless classroom is becoming more financially practical.

When these simple first steps are introduced and conscientiously implemented, transitioning to a paperless classroom is a results-proven option and not an experimental, theoretical proposition.

Learning Management Solutions and Classroom Websites

Increased classroom productivity and efficient time management are key aspirations for any educator. When properly used, a learning management solution (LMS) is the virtual classroom that enables educators to better meet these goals. These online ecosystems allow students to interact with teachers and peers, access assignments, explore content, and more. While there are hundreds of learning management solutions, Moodle and Blackboard are two popular platforms because of their flexibility, ease of use, and robust features.

Although implementing an LMS is a popular option, many educators also choose to create their own website, either through a simple blog platform or by constructing a template. Google recently introduced an easy-to-install, Open Source (Apache 2.0) Course Builder for educators. Through a comprehensive process, an educator can set up and customize his or her classroom’s site.

Whether you choose an LMS or build a website, the online platform will serve as the backbone for your paperless classroom. Working in tandem with your platform, educational apps will offer administrative services, organize documents, and facilitate collaboration between teacher and students.

Helpful Apps for Interaction and Collaboration

To manage a paperless classroom, the right apps are very important. When it comes to organizing, sharing, and collaborating on documents, Google Docs is an excellent paperless classroom tool. Instead of running your red ink dry, Google Docs offers multiple ways to offer critiques and allows teachers to have a dialogue with students in real-time. Teachers simply highlight and comment on a section, and students have the ability to comment or request clarification. For educators, Google Docs also features research tools, allowing teachers to easily add images, graphics, or any other relevant content to an existing document.

Many educational guides, first-hand teacher accounts, and articles (including this article by Edutopia) cite Evernote as a ubiquitously useful tool in the paperless classroom. Evernote is a note-taking application that can organize lesson plans, manage workflow, clip content from the Web, and much more. Simple to use, free, and compatible with virtually all mobile devices and desktop computers, Evernote automatically syncs across multiple platforms, allowing teachers to share information with students effortlessly. With Evernote, students can take notes, store and share information, and organize assignments.

When Edudemic covered digital student portfolios last year, we found that Evernote is also useful for creating an e-portfolio to document a student’s progress. By accessing an organizational application such as Evernote, parents can easily follow the classroom curriculum, and both teachers and parents can track students’ progress.

Recent Trends Toward the Paperless Classroom

In 2013, PBS LearningMedia conducted a nationwide survey of K-12 educators to provide a snapshot of the technology being used in the classroom and to gauge teachers’ overall attitudes toward classroom technology. Of the educators surveyed, approximately 75 percent considered technology beneficial to multiple facets of learning. Educators stated that technology allowed information to be reinforced and expanded while accommodating various learning styles. In addition, roughly half of teachers reported using technology for online lesson plans, and a bit under half reported using digital devices for online games and activities.

The growing trend of using technology to go paperless is due, in part, to the increasing access to devices. In fact, the PBS LearningMedia study showed that more than one-third of teachers now use a tablet or e-reader in their classroom —a 20 percent increase from 2012. According to a survey by EdTechReview, 94 percent of educators also reported that students demonstrated improved learning and achievement when technology, such as a tablet, was integrated into the classroom. EdSurge also recently published a piece about how students feel about going paperless, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

A paperless classroom offers students an interactive, resource-filled platform that also strengthens practical skills. Such skills as technological know-how and peer collaboration are crucial in the modern world. As teachers continue to acclimate to new educational technology, paperless classrooms will continue to redefine teaching methodologies. With the right technology and careful implementation, the paperless classroom can create boundless possibilities for future education.

What do you think of paperless classrooms and what are your experiences? Get in touch through Twitter @Edudemic or talk to us on our Facebook page!


  1. Deborah

    October 23, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    I can’t believe that you left out Edmodo and Otus as paperless learning platforms.

  2. Andy

    October 29, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Great article thanks. Its amazing what is now on the horizon for “going paperless” Schools and hospitals now really are on the edge of making it reality after to many years of talk about how it can be achieved.

  3. Sam Sinclair

    November 2, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    A practical article. Starting small is a smart approach, and allows the Early Adopters on the staff team to sell the concept to everybody. My biggest issue has been functionality: too many obstacles in getting access to sites/apps, with safety filters etc blocking much of the features of the apps, making the whole process frustrating. I used to use Google Drive and have started using Google Classroom / GAFE, but still it is crashing regularly. Really frustrating, as it is free!!!!!
    Training also needs to be embraced by senior management: with schools routinely spending upwards of £30,000 /$47,000 on printing and photocopying each year, training for staff is an invaluable (if inconvenient) investment.

  4. Piyush

    December 1, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    This is very good article on online learning and its feasibility, According to my experience paperless classroom is one of the best innovative technology that came around in the recent years, with the evaluation of Learning management systems (LMS) in the field of education this technology changed the way of teaching and teaching environment. These LMS provide Quality of education at the cheapest available prices and most of them are free of cost, Hence as a it is easily and readily accessible. I agreed with your comment on the bandwidth, that earlier we don’t have such high bandwidth and cheap devices to access internet but now with availability of these resources it is easy to access paperless learning. But, the content creation and the sharing tools provided on the internet and LMS’s makes this education much more easier and easy to spread among students and learners. You can easily share content with the help of diagrams, audio’s and videos as a reference. Further want to add, and most important tools that help to promote and access online learning is collaborative learning and social media tools, these tools took the paperless classroom learning to the point where this type of education will became a requirement of the student learning and need of an hour for better learning.

  5. Vinit Badrike

    December 10, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    A good summary of the ways in which paperless classroom can be achieved. However I feel that you have emphasized more on the tools to implement paperless classroom and also the advantages a better approach would be to have a study of how each technique or tool would be eventually used by students and gauge the effectiveness. It would be wrong to assume that just because the tools are available students will use it, usually some form of need or motivation is required to effectively use it.