Children and young adults today, including those now in graduate school, have grown up in a digital world. With connectivity levels what they have been across the world over the past decade, almost every child in education will have had some access to the Internet.
Internet access, however, is not enough to have a positive impact on educational outcomes.
For younger generations, access to the web on smartphones, tablets and laptops is as normal as TV and radio to older age groups. Students from kindergarten through to graduates have grown up in a digital world; this doesn’t automatically result in improved grades.
Investing in educational software and online learning tools, on the other hand, can cause positive outcomes. In America alone, spending on education technology now exceeds $13 billion. In this article, we look at how innovation is improving the educational experience for students and teachers.
Does education technology improve education?
J-PAL North America, based at MIT have published a recent and exhaustive publication reviewing 126 studies of how technology helps learning.
J-PAL North America have focused on the impact in developed countries. They have evaluated these 126 peer-reviewed studies across four categories:
- access to technology;
- computer-assisted learning or educational software;
- technology-enabled nudges in education, and;
- online learning.
Overall, the impact of technology on the educational experience indicates positive “areas of promise.”
Technology, whether learning software or computers, can have a positive impact in and outside of the classroom. Education is gradually moving to embrace a new digital future, and in many cases, in many schools and classrooms, this is already a reality.
However, access to computers and using software in the classroom don’t always make a noticeable impact on students’ grades. We have to look at this in the wider socio-economic context.
Benefits of using technology in the classroom have time limits. For students to achieve useful digital literacy they need access to the same educational resources at home too. If that isn’t the case, due to economic disparities, students with 24/7 access to the Internet will be ahead of their peers who can only get online in the classroom.
Does educational software have a positive impact?
More promisingly, the review of these 126 studies found that educational software “have shown enormous promise in improving learning outcomes.”
Also known as “computer-assisted learning”; this is where software is tailored around the learning needs of a particular student or class, and in some cases this can be attuned to focus on specific subjects, such as maths. With tailored classroom software, apps and systems, teachers can align teaching more closely around the needs of those they’re teaching, and they can make quick syllabus changes according to progress being made or extra support some students need.
Learning in the traditional format, without the support of online teaching software, is more limiting. Classes often have a wide range of abilities, making it more difficult to accommodate the needs of everyone in the class. Struggling students can feel left behind, whereas high achievers can get bored quickly. Software can solve both of these problems, resulting in better outcomes for everyone.
From the J-PAL review: “Of all 30 studies of computer-assisted learning programs, 20 reported statistically significant positive effects.”
Outside of the classroom, whether studying independently or doing homework, online courses can play an important role in education. However, perhaps surprisingly, online courses without any in-person teaching result in weaker academic outcomes. Online studying is only effective when combined with classroom-based and peer-supported studying.
Harnessing information technology in education can play numerous other positive roles too. Web and mobile-based systems help teachers and administrators keep in closer contact with parents. Learning Management Systems (LMS) make it easier for teachers to manage assignments and mark homework, and provide students with quick access to online resources.
Software and hardware are making numerous positive inroads and changes to the educational system. Students at every age are benefiting from software tailored around learning needs. Schools, colleges and educational groups would benefit from looking at current and future challenges and determining what they need to solve these.
While the importance of digital technology in education is undoubted, on its own, access to computers and the Internet doesn’t improves academic performance. However, harnessing the advantages of educational software, such as facilitating personalized learning for students, has shown a significant positive impact on educational outcomes.