The impact of digital technology on learning

Front cover of reportI recently saw the following piece of research – “The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning” – pass across my desktop, via DERN (the Digital Education Research Network).


In their intro to this report, DERN states:

“Taking into account the scarcity of rigorous research into the benefits of teaching and learning with digital technologies, [this is] an excellent systematic and comprehensive review. [It] reports on research between 2000 and 2012. It cited 48 studies of the attainment benefits for students aged between 5 and 18 years.”

A review of the exec summary highlights some interesting – and possibly surprising – conclusions. They certainly make the point that drawing a causal link between achievement and the use of technology is a long bow. In several of the studies they reviewed, the use of technology produced slightly lowereffects on achievement than other interventions such as learner feedback:

 “Taken together, the correlational and experimental evidence does not offer a convincing case for the general impact of digital technology on learning outcomes. This is not to say that it is not worth investing in using technology to improve learning. But it should encourage us to be cautious in the face of technological solutions to educational challenges. Careful thought is needed to use technology to best effect.

It is perhaps less of a surprise to read that, although the technology engages learners, the impact on learning was achieved only when technology aligned with intended learning outcomes:

“There is no doubt that technology engages and motivates young people. However this benefit is only an advantage for learning if the activity is effectively aligned with what is to be learned. It is therefore the pedagogy of the application of technology in the classroom that is important: the how rather than the what. This is the crucial lesson emerging from the research.

While this may not be a surprise to us, I see in many schools, where the vision is not yet clear for learning, that technologies are added on and not aligned to learning, resulting in ‘busy work’ and frustration. Most crucially, it misses the opportunity to re-imagine how learning might be redesigned to be more inclusive and personalised (with and without technology) than it might have been in the past.


Trends in the report

children on computersI would recommend anyone involved in weaving technology into learning review the trends outlined in the exec summary, even if you don’t have time to go further into the report.

There are some interesting points made, such as the fact that, pedagogically, collaborative use of technology had more impact on learning than individual use, and impact was greater on writing than on reading or spelling.


So what? Recommendations for educators

The report makes five recommendations for educators that are worth exploring:

  1. The rationale for the impact of digital technology on teaching and learning needs to be clear;
  2. The role of technology in learning should be identified;
  3. Technology should support collaboration and effective interaction for learning;
  4. Teachers and/or learners should be supported in developing their use of digital technology to ensure it improves learning;
  5. Identify what learners and teachers will stop doing.

Have look at the report for yourself, and consider how it stacks up to the evidence you have seen in your own work or in other reports.


Higgins, S. , Xiao, Z., & Katsipataki, M. (2012). Impact of digital technology on learning: a summary for the education endowment foundation. Education Endowment Foundation. Retrieved from

Image credit: San Jose Library:

7 thoughts on “The impact of digital technology on learning

  1. I found this very interesting reading and have passed this onto our principal for discussion at our next staff meeting. Delegating one person to read and summarise for the rest doesn’t really work for us. We found at today’s meeting that by reading through a section each, summarising and presenting these to each other was much more effective. Everyone participated and had something to say.


  2. Reblogged this on Tukua te Manu kia Rere and commented:
    Kātahi anō ka puta i te ao pou iringa kōrero – ko te education blogoshere me kī. Tirohia ēnei tuhinga kōrero e pā ana ki ngā hua o ngā rawa matihiko mō ā tātou ākonga, ō tātou pouako hoki. He whakatūpatotanga anō ki te mea nui – ko te āhuatanga o te whakaakoranga ā ko te ‘pedagogy’ me kī. I te mutunga iho, ko ngā painga o te rawa matihiko, ka hangai tonu ki te pouako, ki te aheinga a te tamaiti ki te whakamahi i te rawa matihiko hei rauemi ako. E pēhea ana tō wheako?


    1. Ka mau te wehi, Whaea:) Thanks you for your comments and I’m glad you found it useful. The collaborative approach to tackling this kind of research sounds very effective. Ka pai. I hope this helps you on the e-learning journey


  3. After all these years I only just found my way to your blog via Jamie’s comment on your post in Google +.

    Part of my job this year to raise achievement of a group of boys particularly around writing, through the use of eLearning tools. I can raise the level of engagement and maybe even self concept as learners and teachers but achievement? I’m not so sure. These are learners that, at the moment, are struggling with print and to print. I am not sure that using an eLearning tool is enough. They are going to need lots of really strong targeted teaching and feedback to make headway.

    I am making this the focus of my teaching inquiry. I will let you know in a while how we are progressing.


    1. Thanks for sharing your thinking here, Allanah. And I think you are spot on. The technology may be a helpful part of the mix but it won’t, in and of itself, result in literacy gains. That responsibility sits with a rich combination of the teacher’s own literacy understandings, deliberate and explicit identification of students’ literacy learning needs, and understanding of how to design activities that will support increased understanding. The technology comes in to support that complex process. I wonder if the focus might be around how e-learning can enable and amplify the deliberate acts of literacy teaching that have been shown to be effective? I would love to hear how your inquiry progresses:)


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