Why Educational Technology Isn’t Working

The OECD has just released a report that concludes

There is little solid evidence that greater computer use among students leads to better scores in mathematics and reading.

Researchers tracked students in 31 OECD countries (including the U.S.) and measured their educational outcomes, as well as their use of technology at home and at school (including computers, Internet connections, and educational software).

I’ve been arguing for years that most Ed Tech is useless, and it’s because the companies that develop the apps don’t know anything about the learning sciences. The problem isn’t computers, or the Internet; the problem is with the pedagogical techniques and theories that are embedded in the new software. The OECD report supports my argument:

We have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.

The report doesn’t say much about how to align new educational software with the new science of learning, and with the reformed pedagogical approaches that work best to provide students with the deeper learning and thinking skills that graduates need. That’s why I’ve created a new master’s degree to teach how to combine learning sciences research, innovation, and software development (applications are open right now!) This study shows that we have to change the way we develop educational software, and ground technology in the science of learning.

8 thoughts on “Why Educational Technology Isn’t Working

  1. You are correct when you say that in general technology doesn’t impact effective learning. BUT (1) it can and does help some students learn more effectively while (2) those helped are too often almost by accident. To me, the real problems are these: (A) We rely too much on ‘experts’ telling us what the technology is useful for – often not having justification for those claims; (B) we tend to obtain one or two of the many optional technology – based upon sales pitches; and (C) we suggest or assign struggling students to use the purchased technology – because we have it, NOT because it best matches the students’ needs!

    It’s kind of like this: Suppose you had a need for a specific piece of furniture to store some items. But you were told to go to the attic and get furniture from what’s there to use. Will all of them pretty much have a configuration with a surface for your items? Probably… But will the piece of furniture really addressing the needs be there? Highly unlikely… Conclusion: Don’t use furniture to store your items…

  2. You’re right, the OECD report examines “general technology” but my claim is about educational software specifically. Of course, there’s some good, learning sciences-based educational software, and there’s evidence that it works. But those designs generally have trouble getting sold into schools, and that’s due to lots of non-software factors, such as the pedagogy, assessment, et cetera that are used in schools.

    1. One good example of learning-sciences based software is WISE out of Dr. Linn’s lab in Berkeley. Another is Knowledge Forum, out of University of Toronto. Many more are described in THE CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES. For a broader view, the IES has published a meta-analysis of which ed tech products had demonstrated student outcomes, and the new company LearnTrials is building a database for use by teachers and school leaders.

    1. No current plans to do this online, but that’s a long-term option (3 to 5 years). No one has yet been able to do entrepreneurship education effectively online…let me know if you find a place that’s doing it well online.

      1. Thanks Keith. I received your email as well. I really appreciate your response. I took a EDx MOOC from the Berkley School of music that created one on Creativity and Entreprenuership. It had some hiccups but it was great.

      2. Thank you so much Keith. We spoke briefly thru email months back. I do agree although I did love the creativity and entrepreneurship course on edx. It was pretty sweet yet it didn’t show an entire program could make this happen.

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