What do we really know about the impact of ICTs on learning?

knowledgemaps.jpg I’ve just been reading the latest of the Knowledge Maps series from InfoDev, titled KnowledgeMaps: ICT in Education – the objective of the work being to create a “Knowledge Map” of what is known – and what isn’t – about information and communication technology (ICT) use in education. The report makes for sobering reading – and should be of interest to anyone with a research interest in this area, for there are many pointers here to areas that would make for a worthwhile research focus.

The report provides a summary of “what is known” in ten topics that are then grouped into four themes. In the area relating to what is known about the impact of ICT in education the following summary is made:

  • The impact of ICT use on learning outcomes is unclear, and open to much debate.
  • There is an absence of widely accepted standard methodologies and indicators to assess impact of ICTs in education.
  • There is a disconnect between the rationales most often put forward to advance the use of ICTs in education (to introduce new teaching and learning practices and to foster 21st century thinking and learning skills) and their actual implementation (predominantly for use in computer literacy and dissemination of learning materials).

The report writers go on to say that the review of the research on impacts of ICTs on student achievement yields few conclusive statements, pro or contra, about the use of ICTs in education. For every study that cites significant positive impact, another study finds little or no such positive impact. The writers also point out that many studies that find positive impacts of ICTs on student learning rely (to an often uncomfortable degree) on self-reporting (which may be open to a variety of positive biases).

As the footnote to each paper warns, the Knowledge Maps are not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of every- thing that is known (or has been debated) about the use of ICTs in education in a particular topic; rather, taken together they are an attempt to summarize and give shape to a very large body of knowledge and to highlight certain issues in a format quickly accessible to busy policymakers. They are intended to serve as quick snapshots of what the research literature reveals in a number of key areas and are not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of everything that is known (or has been debated) about the use of ICTs in education in a particular topic.

Read with this in mind this compilation of papers will benefit anyone getting into the field of research about the use of ICTs in education, or anyone who is involved in the formulation of policy at a local or national level.

2 thoughts on “What do we really know about the impact of ICTs on learning?

  1. The lack of certainty here is a bit of a mute point to me as “the technology” doesn’t ask if we are learning. It just allows as to read, see, interact, discuss, reflect yada yada yada. Robert Sylvester talks about tech as an extension of the brain etc. I agree with him here.To me technology “just is”. My guess is that people have the opportunity to improve learning, deep learning and operacy etc (using tech). Let’s hope our Education systems and communities help this to happen.

  2. Dear Derek,
    your focus on what we really know about the impact of ICTs on learning has many facets that are still to be explored and yet the outcomes of the type that may be significant are to be found in several areas of training and subsequent learning that have been observable for years. If we use the term ICT in its broadest sense then flight simulators used extensively in the training of pilots and car simulators used to train drivers would certainly be included. The cognitive fidelity of those has been matched to reality with a high degree of precision and the outcomes of their success in terms of the development of the accomplished operational judgement of the learner are implicit. Clearly such degrees of learning have never been recorded as having been achieved from manuals, face to face dicussions, diagrams or pictures.

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