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Education

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You must be thinking about how schools and teachers are using technology these days. It seems like everyone is talking about digital learning and how it’s the next big thing in education. We are also super interested in whether all this technology actually helps students learn better.

So we decided to do a deep dive on the research around digital learning strategies to see what the evidence says. Do these high-tech approaches Accelerate Professional Development or are they cracked up to be or just flashy bells and whistles? Let’s investigate.

Now, before we get into the details, let us know what we mean by “digital learning.” We are talking about any kind of learning experience that uses technology like computers, mobile devices, or educational software. So things like online courses, adaptive learning programs, digital textbooks, games or simulations for the classroom—anything that brings tech into the teaching process.

Some examples are students doing self-paced math lessons on a laptop, science classes using virtual reality to explore the solar system, or social studies projects researching online and creating multimedia presentations. Basically any time technology is used to help teach and enhance the learning experience.

What Does the Research Say?

To find out if these digital learning strategies live up to the hype, I took a deep dive into the latest research. And there are some extensive scientific studies on this topic.

Meta-analyses (studies of studies) have compiled data from hundreds of individual research projects on digital learning in recent years. This gives us some solid big picture findings.

The overall consensus from the data is that technology in education does have a positive effect on student learning, but a modest one.

For example, one meta-analysis of 96 studies of K-12 classrooms found that digital learning led to an average 13% gain on standardized test scores. Not too shabby. However, another analysis of 51 studies of college students reported only about a 6% increase in average exam results from using digital tools.

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So while tech-based approaches do seem to give students an advantage, the benefits tend to be small to moderate based on empirical studies. This is true across different subject areas and age levels.

Now these are just average effects, so some strategies work better than others. But in most cases, technology alone isn’t a magic bullet. The greatest gains are seen when digital tools are combined with effective teaching practices. Makes sense when you think about it.

Why Aren’t We Seeing Bigger Benefits?

If digital learning has so much potential, why aren’t these tools revolutionizing education? Why aren’t we seeing dramatically bigger gains?

Researchers have found several common challenges that prevent technology from being used to its full advantage:

  • Need for teacher training. Most teachers just don’t have the technical and pedagogical skills needed to effectively integrate technology in the classroom. Proper training is key.
  • Student skills gap. Students need guidance on becoming self-directed learners comfortable with online tools. Some struggle without enough support in developing those skills.
  • Technical difficulties. Even the best lesson plan can get derailed by computer glitches, connectivity issues, lack of devices, etc. Gotta have backup options.
  • Poor design. Many edtech products aren’t designed with learning sciences in mind. How students actually absorb info has to come before flashy features. Substance over style.
  • Unrealistic expectations. Some school leaders think tech will magically fix learning issues. But digital tools have to be part of a bigger strategy, not a cure-all.

Strategic Implementation Matters

So what does this all mean? Based on the research, technology-based learning strategies do have tons of potential if thoughtfully implemented.

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It’s not that digital tools don’t work. They just have to be integrated strategically.

Bottom Line on Digital Learning

After diving into all this research, here’s my take as an educator and parent:

Digital learning strategies definitely have tons of potential to transform education for the better. But only if schools put in the work to implement them thoughtfully and strategically.

Adding technology just for technology’s sake won’t cut it. But if used purposefully, with teacher training and strong pedagogy at the core, digital learning can be a really powerful tool to enhance instruction and help our kids develop the skills they need.

For any parents or teachers reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. What’s working at your school? What challenges are you running into? Let’s keep the conversation going.