UK Study Offers Lessons on Technology and Education

In addition to Secretary Duncan’s recent call to replace print textbooks, states around the U.S. have put in place initiatives to increase technology in the classroom. Before jumping in, though, educators and legislators should look at results from other large infusions of tech in the classroom. A new study commissioned by Nesta shows that while the UK has spent almost £1 billion pounds on digital technology from interactive whiteboards to tablets, there has been little evidence of substantial success in improving educational outcomes. The report, “Decoding Learning,” definitely sees a place for technology in enhancing the learning experience, but concludes that, “the context in which digital technology is deployed needs to change if we are going to drive better educational outcomes.”

Rather than looking at technology independently, the researchers identified eight effective learning themes.

  • Learning from experts
  • Learning with others
  • Learning through making
  • Learning through exploring
  • Learning through inquiry
  • Learning through practicing
  • Learning from assessment
  • Learning in and across settings

Then, the researchers studied how technology could improve student learning when applied to these learning practices. For example, the report highly rates solar Stormwatch, created by the Royal Observatory Greenwich, a website that provides real–life science information and encourages learners to contribute to the project by helping to identify solar storms. The ability to connect with experts in the field and contribute students’ own observations engaged the learners more deeply in the lessons. The key is that the lesson does not begin and end with the website—teachers must continue classroom discussions and evaluate students’ work and progress.

In addition, the report talks about the training needed for teachers to effectively implement digital technology. Geoff Mulgan, the chief executive of Nesta, said to The Telegraph, “A tablet replacing an exercise book is not innovation – it’s just a different way to make notes.”

More important, the report emphasizes that different technology fits different learning needs; teachers must be willing to use the learning tool that fits the situation. The authors call on the education community to view technology as tools that support innovative practice rather than as a cure for student achievement deficits.

More information

“Decoding Learning: The Proof, Promise, and Potential of Digital Education”
By Rosemary Luckin, Brett Bligh, Andrew Manches, Shaaron Ainsworth, Charles Crook, and Richard Noss
November 2012

“Teachers’ obsession with technology sees gadgets worth millions sit in cupboards”
The Telegraph
November 15, 2012

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