Does Technology Help or Hinder Learning?

By Sandra Quinn

Twenty years ago, using the internet to research educational projects for school or university was just coming to the fore and it was something people were slowly but surely adjusting to – now you have educational institutions using interactive whiteboards, online sharing forums for assignment submissions, dedicated email servers for each institution and some institutions have embraced the movement by eliminating books and using iPads for students.

While all of this is to be welcomed as it sees the education sector bringing education into the modern world, there has been widespread debate about whether the use of technological aids will help or hinder when it comes to learning and development.

No matter what way you look at it, technology is never intended to replace the teacher, but instead to enhance the way that learning takes place and to compliment the teaching practices within the classroom and home environments.

Looking at the teenagers of today who communicate with each other on things like Snapchat and watch YouTube videos or Netflix for entertainment rather than conventional television, perhaps they would relate to a topic easier and take in the information on a deeper level if their textbook material was supported by a short video or an interactive online tool.

Recent research from NBER in the form of a working paper looking at education technology, examined this topic looking at things like, access to technology, computer assisted learning, technology-based behavioural interventions and online learning (see full review here; https://www.povertyactionlab.org/sites/default/files/publications/NBER-23744-EdTech-Review.pdf).

They found that educational software could be used to great advantage to help students to develop skills in particular subjects, such as maths. This was because the software can adapt instructions to a student’s learning level and ability letting them work at their own pace, provide useful feedback to teachers and could be used as a tool in the classroom or as a homework support.

It was also found that simply providing computers to students did not help with their learning methods or education, but that using them as tools to enhance learning methods was highly beneficial.

In terms of online courses, the review paper found that those learning in a classroom with instruction and tuition from teachers outperformed those learning in isolation in an online classroom, while students in blended courses where online and classroom learning are combined perform just as well as those in a classroom environment.