What is it?
The use of digital technologies to support learning. Approaches in this area are very varied, but a simple split can be made between:
- Programmes for students, where learners use technology in problem solving or more open-ended learning, and
- Technology for teachers such as interactive whiteboards or learning platforms.
How effective is it?
Overall, studies consistently find that digital technology is associated with moderate learning gains (on average an additional four months). However, there is considerable variation in impact. Evidence suggests that technology should be used to supplement other teaching, rather than replace more traditional approaches. It is unlikely that particular technologies bring about changes in learning directly, but different technology has the potential to enable changes in teaching and learning interactions, such as by providing more effective feedback for example, or enabling more helpful representations to be used or simply by motivating students to practise more.
There is some evidence that it is more effective with younger learners and studies suggest that individualising learning with technology (one to one laptop provision, or individual use of drill and practice) may not be as helpful as small group learning or collaborative use of technology. There is clear evidence that it is more beneficial for areas like writing rather than spelling or mathematics practice rather than problem solving.
Despite large-scale implementation of digital technology for teaching and learning in Australian schools, there remains a limited amount of research into its impact on student learning and achievement. The available research focuses mainly on the implementation of particular programs within a school or a community of schools, examining changes in student engagement and motivation. A few studies also examine changes in academic outcomes that result from digital technology use. The research results are varied despite some positive impacts observed.
A study published in 2013 used a randomised controlled trial to assess the impact of a computer-based programme on struggling early readers in the Northern Territory. The approach appeared to have a particular impact on the phonological awareness of Indigenous students.
How secure is the evidence?
There is extensive evidence across age groups and for most areas of the curriculum which shows positive impact on learning. However, the variation in effects and the range of technologies available suggest that it is important to evaluate the impact on learning when technology is used. The pace of technological change means that evidence is usually about yesterday’s technology rather than today’s, but average impacts have remained consistent for some time, implying that general messages are likely to remain relevant.
What are the costs?
The costs of investing in new technologies are moderate but they are already part of the society we live in and many schools are already equipped with computers and interactive whiteboards. The evidence suggests that schools may not take into account or budget for the additional training and support costs, which are likely to make the difference to how well the technology is used. Expenditure is estimated at $600 per student for initial equipment costs and a further $1,000 per class ($40 per student) for professional development and technical support.
What should I consider?
Effective use of technology is driven by learning and teaching goals rather than a specific technology: technology is not an end in itself.
Are you clear about how you expect the introduction of technology to improve learning? New technology does not automatically lead to increased achievement.
Technology should support students to work harder, for longer or more efficiently to improve their learning.
Motivation to use technology does not always translate into more effective learning, particularly if the use of the technology and the learning outcomes are not closely aligned.
Teachers need support and time to learn to use new technology effectively. This involves more than just learning how to use the technology; it should include support to understand how it can be used for learning.