Friday, January 01, 2016

Is the digital learning revolution a waste of money?

Sept. 21, 2015

By Manfred Spitzer

A shorter version of this article was published in New Scientist magazine on 17 October 2015 [Which is where I read it originally.]


there are side effects to information technology in education settings – from childcare to the classroom to the lecture hall and beyond. The IT industry and educational policy-makers repeatedly state that computers are good for learning, and therefore worthy of public investment. But numerous studies have showed no positive impact, or even negative effects.

The latest is a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It highlights that education systems investing most in these technologies saw “no appreciable improvement” in results for exams used in a scheme to compare attainment internationally – the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

What’s more, an earlier study that drew on PISA results and contained data from 250,000 students aged 15 showed that they performed worse at school if they had a computer in their bedroom. In Israel, researchers found performance declined in elementary and middle schools with computers, and in Romania it has been reported that poorer children whose families received money to buy a computer performed worse in school than those without computers.


Why is this so? Given what we know from experimental psychology and neuroscience, negative effects from IT on learning are not surprising: the deeper that content is processed mentally, the better the learning. This is the main finding in the “levels-of-processing” model of memory. IT use when learning tends to cause shallow processing of information in the brain, preventing memory encoding. Accordingly, a study in Science found that information online is less likely to be encoded in memory than that in books or journals.

studies have shown that the presence of laptops in classrooms is linked to decreased performance in tests and assignments, and fails to close achievement gaps between socio-economic groups


In California, students prefer reading from paper rather than an e-book by a wide margin.


Longhand note-taking means that the student has to listen, think and prioritise important material, whereas keyboard users favour verbatim notes.


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