Learning and Teaching Toolkit

Digital technology

Moderate impact for moderate cost, based on extensive evidence.

What is it?

By digital technology we mean the use of computer and technology assisted strategies to support learning within schools. Approaches in this area vary widely, but generally involve:

  • technology for students, where learners use programmes or applications designed for problem solving or open-ended learning; or 
  • technology for teachers, such as interactive whiteboards or learning platforms.

How effective is it?

Studies consistently find that digital technology is associated with moderate learning gains: on average, an additional four months’ progress. However, there is considerable variation in impact.

Evidence suggests that technology approaches should be used to supplement other teaching, rather than replace more traditional approaches. It is unlikely that particular technologies bring about changes in learning directly, but some have the potential to enable changes in teaching and learning interactions. For example, they can support teachers to provide more effective feedback or use more helpful representations, or they can motivate students to practise more.

Studies suggest that approaches which individualise learning with technology (such as one to one laptop provision where learners work through learning activities at their own pace, or individual use of drill and practice software) may not be as helpful as small group learning with technology or the collaborative use of technology.

There is clear evidence that digital technology approaches are more beneficial for writing and mathematics practice than spelling and problem solving, and there is some evidence that they are more effective with young learners.

How secure is the evidence?

There is extensive evidence of positive effects across age groups and for most areas of the curriculum. However, the variation in impact and the range of technologies available suggest that it is always important to monitor the impact on learning of any new approach.

The pace of technological change means that the evidence is usually about yesterday’s technology rather than today’s, but average effects have remained consistent for some time, suggesting that the general message of – on average – moderate positive impact is likely to remain relevant.

In 2016 the Scottish Government published ‘Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology’, which sets out the Government’s objectives for successful digital learning, teaching and assessment.

What are the costs?

The total costs of using digital technologies – including all hardware and infrastructure – can be high, but most schools are already equipped with hardware such as computers and interactive whiteboards.

Digital technology approaches often require additional training and support for teachers which can be essential in ensuring the technology is properly used and learning gains are made.

Expenditure for an average programme is estimated at £300 per learner for new equipment and technical support and a further £500 per class (£20 per learner) for professional development and support. Costs are therefore estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

Effective use of digital technology is driven by learning and teaching goals rather than a specific technology: the technology is not an end in itself. You should be clear about how any new technology will improve teaching and learning interactions. 

New technology does not automatically lead to increased attainment.

How will any new technology support learners to work harder, for longer, or more efficiently, to improve their learning?

Learners’ motivation to use technology does not always translate into more effective learning, particularly if the use of the technology and the desired learning outcomes are not closely aligned.

Teachers need support and time to use new technology effectively. This involves more than just learning how to use the hardware or software; training should also support teachers to understand how it can be used for learning.

Challenge questions to support collaborative self-evaluation

  • How well do we currently deploy a wide variety of innovative and creative resources and teaching approaches including digital technologies?
  • To what extent are learners enabled to select and make use of high-quality resources and equipment including digital technologies?
  • How effective are our approaches to securing equity of access and learning for all learners?
  • Does the use of digital technologies enhance learning and give learners the skills, individually and in groups, to understand, apply and create new digital solutions of their own?

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