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Can technology improve learning?

Can technology improve learning?

4 min read
  • Phones & technology

With technology being ever present in society, the debate surrounding whether it has its place in the classroom or not continues to grow. As with all emerging technology, there are likely to be pros and cons when it comes to enhancing learning. We have read the latest research in an attempt to determine if technology can improve learning in the classroom is likely to hinder learning.

The case against technology in the classroom

Laptops and note taking

One particular study looked to compare the effectiveness of using laptops for note taking in lessons, rather than the traditional pen and paper. The researchers found that when students used laptops, their performance in a subsequent test was significantly lower than students who used pen and paper. These findings were attributed to students taking notes on their laptop verbatim. This led to shallower learning as it meant that they didn’t fully engage nor partake in the process of carefully selecting the most relevant material to record.

In another study, researchers looked to investigate not only the effect that using a laptop had on the learner themselves, but also on those around them. All students were asked to bring their laptop to a lecture to take notes. However, half the students had to use their laptop to complete 12 short online tasks throughout the lecture e.g. “what is on Channel 3 at 10pm tonight?”. The others were asked to use it only to record notes.

Unsurprisingly, those that used their laptop to multi-task scored 11% lower on a post-lecture comprehension test, in comparison to those who did not have to multi-task. However, more surprisingly, students who had a view of another multi-tasking became distracted by this and performed 17% lower on a post-lecture test.

Mobile phones and grades

Recent research sought to investigate the impact of mobile phones on academic performance. The researchers recorded students’ phone usage over the course of two weeks and looked to determine whether this had an impact on the students’ class ranking. The study found there to be a negative relationship between phone usage and academic performance, such that for every 100 minutes a student spent on their phone, their class ranking slipped over 6 places (an effect that actually doubled when students used their phone whilst attending a lesson).

Similarly, positive effects have been found when schools ban mobile phones, a strategy that has come into force for all in France. When researchers banned the use of mobile phones across some schools in England, this led to positive effects, such that there was a significant increase in student grades, an improvement that was even more pronounced amongst struggling students.

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The case for technology in the classroom

Tablets and student engagement

Some schools have looked to implement policies in which all students are given a tablet. One particular study found that use of iPads in the classroom increased students’ perceptions of their engagement (e.g. “the iPad motivated me to learn more course material”; “I participated more in class during iPad activities than during activities that did not use the iPad”), which in turn had a positive effect on their abilities to work with others to solve problems and master difficult material. Another study demonstrated that having use of an iPad improved student independence, as they were able to research certain information for themselves during lessons.

PowerPoint and teaching

Recent research found that using PowerPoints to present information during lessons can have a positive impact on learning, if students are given access to the slides. It offers them something that they can annotate, hence they don’t have to waste time copying information from slides and can pay more attention to the lesson’s actual material, which in turn leads to more efficient encoding. However, recent research has flagged common PowerPoint errors that teachers should be aware of that actually hinder student learning.

Final thought

It may be that there is no clear answer as to whether technology has a place in the classroom. Instead, it seems as though it may depend on the specific type of technology or perhaps the way in which it is integrated into teaching.

The most important questions are: is it worth the financial cost? And do the benefits outweigh the negatives? In the case of mobile phones and using laptops for note-taking the answer, for most, is probably no.

Find tons of tips and resources for better mobile phone management for students on our guide page.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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