Does technology improve learning? This is the issue at the heart of institutional and personal decisions related to adoption of technology-infused teaching and learning.
Few would argue that an understanding of computers is necessary in today's
workplace. For that reason alone, many argue, students should
become familiar and proficient with computers from an early age.
In its year four report,
"Key Building Blocks for Student Achievement in the 21st Century,"
the CEO Forum argues that the current emphasis on assessment must
also take into account the importance of acquiring "21st century
learning skills." These skills include inventive thinking, digital
literacy, effective communication, teamwork, and the ability to
create high quality products. Acquisition of these skills is facilitated
Technology, particularly the Internet, is a tool well-suited to learning. Our understanding of how people learn has advanced tremendously in the last 30 years. In How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, LINK: http://www.nap.edu/html/howpeople1/ the authors contend that the Internet provides an ideal learning environment that allows people to learn by doing, to receive feedback, to refine understanding and build new knowledge, and to visualize difficult concepts through modeling and visualization software.
Although our understanding of how we learn has advanced tremendously in the last 30 years, research on the impact of educational technology on learning is lagging. A review of the literature by several groups has concluded that technology has great potential to enhance student achievement and teacher learning, but only if it is used appropriately.
Specifically, technology can be used to:
- bring exciting curricula based on real-world problems into the classroom;
- provide scaffolds and tools to enhance learning;
- give students and teachers more opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision;
- build local and global communities that include teachers, administrators, students, parents, practicing scientists, and other interested people; and
- expand opportunities for teacher learning.
The International Society of Technology in Education's (ISTE) "New Learning Environments" model is a response to the recent research that shows that student-centered, constructivist and collaborative learning is more effective learning than the traditional top-down, lecture-based, text-driven model.
ISTE's New Learning Environments:
|Traditional Learning Environments
||New Learning Environments
|Factual, knowledge-based learning
||Critical thinking and informed decision-making
|Isolated, artificial context
||Authentic, real-world context
A problem has been that this kind of learning does not measure well on the fact-based standardized tests that have become ubiquitous in K-12 education today. The CEO Forum argues that traditional assessments do not measure the full range of 21st century skills, are not aligned with state standards, and in many cases, emphasize lower order thinking skills rather than higher order critical thinking and problem solving skills.
In its December 2000 report to Congress and the President, the Web-Based Education Commission strongly advocated funding for additional research in learning outcomes associated with web-based learning. The Commission reported that in 1999 less than 0.1 percent of the money spent on K-12 education went to research into what techniques work in education and how to improve them, far below the research and development averages for other industries.
The Milken Exchange on Education Technology
analyzed five large-scale studies of educational technology to discern positive and negative findings. While it is not possible to draw "thumbs up-thumbs-down" conclusions between these studies, the analysis concluded that students with access to any of the following showed positive gains in achievement on research constructed tests, standardized tests, and national tests:
- computer assisted instruction
- integrated learning systems technology
- simulations and software that teach higher order thinking
- collaborative networked technologies
- design and programming technologies ("smart software")