Impact of digital technologies on learning

BECTA_impact_ICTI'm often asked to provide evidence of the impact of ICTs on learning in the work I do – particularly when working with policy developers, some of whom remain skeptical and unconvinced that ICTs in education are worth the investment.

What makes the response to this sort of question difficult is that the real benefits can really only be demonstrated in the longer term, and are seldom (if ever) revealed in the short-term, "standards-based accountability" measures that are often used. In addition, many of the benefits of well-crafted technology use identified by researchers can equally be argued as occurring in well-managed, non-technology supported learning situations.

In 2003 BECTA published a report called The big pICTure that reported on the impact of ICT on attainment, motivation and learning in formal school settings. This report summarized a number of large-scale studies available at the time, and provided some of the earliest quantitative evidence of what these impacts are.

So it was with interest that I had the opportunity over the holidays BECTA's (Nov.2009) review of the evidence of the impact of digital technologies on formal education, titled “The Impact of Digital Technology. This report is similar to the previous one in that it provides a review of a number of large-scale studies – but in this case, the writers take into account that the impact of digital technologies on learning is just as likely (if not more-so?) to occur out of school settings.

While the quantitative analysis of impact on learning in the various curriculum areas is of immense interest to me, it is this issue of context that is particularly significant IMHO. It is summed up well in the introduction on page 4:

“The ICT revolution is a deep cultural revolution changing all modes and patterns of our lives and hence bound to lead to dramatic changes in education. It is characterised by its recognition of two basic facts:

  1. ICT has a powerful defining impact on all important aspects of our lives and hence our culture (in terms used often in this context: it is a ‘defining technology’)
  2. The ICT revolution is a part of a group of intertwined revolutions that in the past 20 years have been transforming Western culture from a modern into a postmodern culture."

As we look forward to the changes that are likely to take place in our education mileu here in NZ in 2010, particularly with the roll-out of the advanced network, it is important that education leaders, researchers and policy makers are cognizent of the issue of context in relation to what the impact of all of this might be on learning, and take care to ensure that any evaluation or research design takes this into account.

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