• Question: There is a lot of discussion amongst english teachers at the moment about how technology is affecting learning- as an English teacher I'm particularly interested in reading. Claims range from ideas like technology in the classroom leads to shorter attention spans, less recall, less deep understanding and less empathy, link chasing, checking behaviour, unhealthy multitasking and reduced social skills, to ideas like technology encourages socialising for shy students, enhances engagement in reading for reluctant readers, creates more opportunities for collaboration and even redefines learning all together. What reliable research is there really out there about the impact of technology on student learning?

    Asked by Andrew to SusannaMarie, Sue, Kathrin, Joe, Iroise, Ian, Emma on 27 Apr 2015.
    • Photo: Sue Fletcher-Watson

      Sue Fletcher-Watson answered on 27 Apr 2015:

      This is a great question and an accurate summary of the key points being made on both sides of the debate.

      The answer is that there is very little research on the impact of technology on learning. In particular, academic research progresses fairly slowly and hasn’t yet caught up properly with the advent of things like the iPad and other tablets. These are fundamentally changing the way technology is used in learning, as they are designed as personal learning devices.

      In the absence of a really convincing body of evidence on these points I’ll just make a few general points and, where I can, highlight a few findings which, if replicated and extended, could help answer these questions.

      1. Not all technology use is created equal. This is probably the most important point. One of the main issues in this debate is the way technology is being lumped together as a single unit, and even combined with TV-watching to create the meaningless ‘screentime’ metric. Using good quality technologies (hardware and software) for the right purposes in a skilled and supported learning environment can do wonders for learning. Teachers need to be prepared to get out in front of their students, learning new skills themselves. IN particular, I think curriculum-based apps (an app for numeracy, another one for literacy) don’t make the best use of tech and instead tech across subjects for making presentations or films, taking notes, sharing discoveries and so on is much better. This blog has excellent tips and information
      and this research report from the Uni of Hull on ipads in primary schools is also excellent reading:

      2. Think of parallels with reading. We all value reading as a skill, encouraging children to read road signs, cereal packets and so on. At one level we want them to read good quality material, but reading is valued as a skill in itself. Given the ubiquity of technology in everyday life, we should start to value and teach tech skills which encompass efficient data searching, online safety, creative use of technology, typing and so on. Even coding is now receiving curriculum emphasis. For a fantastic video from a researcher on getting even very young kids into coding go to this link:

      3. Technology is here to stay. Even in the absence of conclusive evidence, I don’t think anything will be achieved by sticking fingers in our ears and refusing to embrace new developments and put them to use effectively in your classroom. Consider this quote from a headteacher in 1815:
      “student today depend on paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”
      We know as adults how integral technology is to our lives. Our we serving the needs of our children if we educate them in a non-technological vacuum?

      Finally – apologies for the long answer but I feel strongly about this! – let me re-state that while there is certainly not a whole body of evidence to support the use of tech, nor is there anything at all to back-up the various scaremongers who are making spurious associations between screentime and negative outcomes. And we DO have individual, positive examples such as:
      – playing video games can enhance grey matter development
      Kühn, S., Gleich, T., Lorenz, R. C., Lindenberger, U., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular psychiatry, 19(2), 265-271.
      – in a study with 11,000 kids, screentime at 5 years old did not predict social, adjustment or academic outcomes at 7 years old
      Parkes, A., Sweeting, H., Wight, D., & Henderson, M. (2013). Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Archives of disease in childhood, archdischild-2011.
      – ‘exergames’ like Wii sports can contribute to physical activity (and may be particularly useful for children who are reluctant to try sports)
      – e-books don’t result in such good comprehension as paper texts (first citation below) but they can motivate reluctant readers to get started (second citation)
      Mangen, A., Walgermo, B. R., & Brønnick, K. (2013). Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research, 58, 61-68.
      Jones, T., & Brown, C. (2011). Reading Engagement: A Comparison between E-Books and Traditional Print Books in an Elementary Classroom. Online Submission, 4(2), 5-22.

      NB: one last point – this final one about digital books is a great example of the need not to batch technology together as a single unit. Digital books might not enhance learning for competent, motivated readers, but as a way into reading for children with less ability they can make a difference. We need to understand technologies and match them to learning outcomes and learner needs. It isn’t easy but it is worth it!

    • Photo: Iroise Dumontheil

      Iroise Dumontheil answered on 27 Apr 2015:

      The answer is that at the moment, we do not know what are the effects of technology on learning. The different viewpoints discussed by your colleagues reflect the different points of views of researchers, but really there hasn’t been much research done on this at all.

      Kate Mills, a PhD student at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, has been interested in this, with a focus on adolescence. You can see her talk about this here:
      and her review paper here:

      As she discusses there is a lot of scaremongering, but there is also hope that technologies can be used positively to help learning, by for example providing practice and training in a way that is adapted to each child or adolescent.

      An example is how technology may help with people with dyslexia. Annecdotally, I have heard that people with dyslexia make the most of the fact that e-readers enable them to change the font/presentation style of text their read in a way that best work for them.

      This website lists the different aspects of technology that can be used to help people with dyslexia:
      A similar summary is presented here:

    • Photo: Susanna Martin

      Susanna Martin answered on 28 Apr 2015:

      There is a fair amount of research exploring the value of ‘mobile’ and hand held devices, although predominantly I would say it sits in the areas of maths, science and foreign language learning.

      There is quite a bit of evidence for the value of mobile tools for allowing the student to step outside of the traditional classroom and collect their own data, or generate ideas outside of worksheets and classbooks.

      There is also research into the value of technology for helping people with limited social skills as it allows a new forum for them to interact without needing to rely on traditional social cues.

      Both Sue and Iroise have put some really thorough answers and links and i’m not sure that I can add much more as I have mostly focussed on Science rather than English.


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