The NPR Education team ran an article yesterday summarizing recent research on the connection between technology and learning. In short, a number of recent studies have found that increased technology usage does not necessarily lead to increased learning. Contrary to conventional tech-laden wisdom, researchers discovered that more technology was, in some cases, linked to a decline in student achievement and performance.
If you follow traditional educational news media and venture capital funding, you might be inclined to believe that educational technology was keeping our classrooms and campuses afloat. Innovation and disruption will revolutionize how we teach and learn, or so the narrative goes. In 2015 alone, nearly $2 billion flowed into the coffers of US edtech companies.
Yet, for all of this investment, what have we gained? If we can demonstrate a non-existent (or negative) relationship between the very technology that we trumpet and the student learning that we strive for, where does that leave us? As NPR importantly notes, there are a number of factors contributing to these findings:
- Poor planning and integration: look no further than the LAUSD's disastrous purchase and rollout of iPads and the ensuing fallout. Many institutions are ill-equipped to deal with an immediate influx of new hardware and software. They do not have the technical support staff to handle the inevitable technical hiccups and required maintenance, they do not have the project managers to see the project from initial funding to completion, they do not have the instructional support staff to ensure that faculty, staff, and students are sufficiently prepared to use the technology in a manner that encourages deeper learning and robust, rigorous assessment.
- Poor incentivization: the funding carrot, often tied to standardized test scores for K12 districts, can fuel poor short-term decision making. Quick fixes generally do not exist. Shiny new objects might temporarily distract us from an insidious structural issue impacting student learning.
- Poor training and support: whether it is a new learning management system, a new student information system, a new assessment platform, or a new multimedia lab, institutions often do not invest the resources and time necessary to train their faculty on the why and the how. Likewise, schools must be prepared to support their students at every turn, particularly online and blended learners.
- Poor instruction: no amount of technology can obscure poor teaching, poor instructional planning, or poor curriculum design.
Many K12 districts and higher education institutions are hamstrung by budgeting crises, enrollment shortfalls, and unforeseen externalities. Regardless of learning modality, institutions must address these shortcomings to see results. And even then, we might not see the commensurate gains we have mistakenly associated with technological innovation in educational spaces.
Educational institutions must be leery of drinking the edtech elixir: it is enticing, potent, and ubiquitous, yet expensive, dangerous, and ultimately unsatisfying on its own. It would be hazardous and foolhardy to make it the cornerstone of your daily nourishment.