Finding research that definitively proves that the use of computers/technology makes a difference in learning has been difficult, primarily due to the many variables that exist when it comes to how students master content. However, there is one powerful study that proves that technology should be used by students at the lower grades.
What the Research Says: Technology Makes a Difference
This Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Technology on Learning Effectiveness of Elementary Students was released in July 2016 and revealed the following:
This study conducted the meta-analysis by integrating the quantitative findings of 122 peer-reviewed academic papers that measured the impact of technology on learning effectiveness of elementary students. The results confirmed that the technology has a medium effect on learning effectiveness of elementary students.
A meta-analysis examines the quantitative results of several other studies (in this case, 122 studies and more than 32,000 observations) and provides significant insights from all of them. In other words, it looks at a number of other studies and combines their results. Then, an effect size is determined.
As we discussed in our review of John Hattie’s meta-analysis work, an effect size of 0.4 or higher is deemed of value. This study of the use of technology by elementary students found an effect size of 0.546. Thus, it can be concluded that technology leads to effective learning in younger students.
What Else the Research Found
But the research went on to discover other important facts. “First, technology is highly effective for learning general subjects and science, moderately effective for learning language, mathematics, and science and technology, while poorly effective for learning social studies.” (The effect size for general subjects was 0.605, for science 0.727, for language 0.448, for math 0.469). Second, the study found that “the impact of of technology on learning effectiveness of elementary students is high” for long intervention duration of >6 months, as well as for small intervention duration of <= 1 week. This means that technology use of more than six months for continued learning is extremely powerful, but short “bursts” of tech use can also strongly support learning. This has positive implications for districts where students may be sharing devices and so have limited use of the technology.
In addition, the meta-analysis found that the use of technology in “informal settings in a learning environment” (such as home, park, playground, outside, church) ) leads to higher learning effectiveness compared to formal settings (classroom or lab). This was especially true for long intervention duration, while formal settings are more effective for short intervention duration. This has implications for flipped learning or true 1:1 programs where students take the technology home to use.
There are number of implications from the research for next steps:
- The use of technology for learning by elementary students in their general studies and science content should be continued and increased.
- This use can best be done by using a flipped learning model and providing ways for students to do their learning at home where possible. If that is not possible, then using the technology in an outdoor environment provides more effective results than in the classroom or computer lab.
- Where possible, long-term use of the technology brings about the most positive results.