What’s the impact of technology on education?

A question that we are frequently asked (as we happen to work with issues related to young people’s technology mediated practices), is that what good does adding technology to classrooms do? Or more precisely, does technology have a positive impact on learning? However, as i see it, that question is quite irrelevant. In this post i will shortly explain why.

Yesterday i participated in and opening seminar of a new research program funded by the Academy of Finland (TULOS) and was fortunate to be able to here the keynote presentation by Professor Steve Higgings from Durham University. He’s keynote was titled “Technology and Learning: from the past to the future”, and covered a short history of educational technology and it’s impact on academic learning. A few of the points in the keynote were that new technologies are always proclaimed to change the school dramatically, which has not yet happened, and that the impact of educational technologies on learning is complex and not always positive, actually the evidence paints quite of a pessimistic view.

How well you use technology is more important than whether you use it (Higgins, 5.2.2014)

But, then again, the main point was, and this is something that i wholeheartedly share, that technology does not really have an impact on learning, using technology in a pedagogically meaningful way does. This does not mean, obviously, that we should not invest in the use of technology in schools, quite the opposite. Technology is everywhere outside of schools and most of the activities in tomorrows job markets require some level of technological fluency. Sophisticated use of technologies allow people to do more things, more effectively, collaboratively and with less restrictions in time and space. Some of the youth actually develop quite complex practices and skills outside of school, related to their interest and hobbies. Some of them use technology only for entertainment or casual communication. Many of the youth also show less academic engagement and more symptoms of academic burn-out. We suggest that this brings about two types of gaps, one between the school and the students and another between the actively participating students. This is where, as i see it, we need to educational system to step in to bridge there gaps. However, we do not suggest that bridging these gaps is easy, it’s complex. I think that most definitely is a need for more technology use in schools, but not with the expense of pedagogy. Moreover, as Higgins also claimed, technology should not be replacing practices that already work well. Educational technology should always be used to do something better than it was done before. It should be the answer to problems, not the problem itself. However, to really capitalize on the possibilities of modern technologies some practices of school need to change. Collaborative and creative use of technologies does not really fit traditional classroom practices. As said it’s complex. All in all, this is pretty much why i consider the original question stupid. Instead we should be asked, for example “how can we make learning better with modern technologies”? I do not have all the answers yet but I’m definitely going to try to answer that some day.