Technology makes a difference

Interactive tools engage learners
I have often heard the argument that there is no evidence that technology improves learning. This is a vacuous claim that is either a) based on ignorance of the available research literature, or b) possibly the result of a deep seated fear, mistrust or dislike of technology in general. My usual response to such a claim is that children with special educational needs are a classic example of technology improving learning. For children with special educational needs, especially those with physical disabilities such as deafness or vision impairment, technology not only improves learning, it actually enables it to happen. Without adaptive technology, many disabled children could not access certain types of education and would be marginalised from learning.

But there is a larger mass of evidence to show that technology is not only making the difference for all learners, it is actually creating new and previously unattainable opportunities for learning. Technology does make a difference. Let's start with widening access. Children (and adult) learners all over the globe are accessing content that allows them to learn. Even if we disregards the highly successful phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses, there is an ever expanding menu of content that covers just about every subject and theme under the sun, available for free online. Further, social media and social network services can connect anyone with internet access to experts in any academic discipline for real time content sharing and discussion.

But what about the question of whether technology improves learning? There is a wealth of evidence that indicates technology can make a positive impact on learning outcomes. Below are just two of the available research reports (you can search for others on the Web).

A research study at Durham University in the North East of England suggests that multi-touch, multi-user surfaces can improve the learning of mathematics. 400 children were involved in the study, which demonstrated that 'smart tables' enabled better collaboration and problem solving during maths lessons. Class teachers receive a live feed of output from the children's interactions on the surface, and can intervene when necessary. Research has shown that the touch surfaces enable children to discover a range of alternative solutions to maths problems, simply through interacting with each other in new ways.

A meta-study from ARCC in the United States reveals that technology, when appropriately used can make a significant difference in learning outcomes in all subjects. The evidence from the various studies has a recurring theme: that technology can make improve student achievement if they are integrated appropriately into teaching and learning. When what technology can do best - offering online access, interactive capabilities and a vast range of options on content - is made available and meaningfully integrated into teaching, the results are undeniable.

Photo by Edward on Wikimedia Commons

Creative Commons License
Capturing the moment by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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