Educational software designed to help students develop particular skills at their own rate of progress has “shown enormous promise in improving learning outcomes, particularly in math.”
In the last couple of years, EdTech companies have filled the airwaves with headline after headline. It is a must that the public understands the how and why EdTech is the future. Industry companies are coming out with continuous announcements of huge VC investments, bold claims to revolutionize how we learn, and public declarations to solve the skills gap in our economy.
Making the Case for EdTech
Critics of EdTech have been equally vocal, demanding that these self-proclaimed saviors of education show concrete evidence that more technology in our classrooms can really turn our underperforming educational system around. Admittedly, authoritative research on the effectiveness of EdTech in schools has been difficult to come by, as rigorous studies often take years or even decades to produce conclusive results. And as skeptics love to tout, “the absence of evidence is often the evidence of absence.” Well, that is, until now.
The Results Are In: EdTech Is Improving Student Learning Outcomes
In February of this year, J-PAL North America released a report titled, “Educational Technology Evidence Review,” which analyzed 126 randomized evaluations of EdTech and its effectiveness in improving student learning outcomes. On the “About Us” page on its website, J-PAL describes itself as “a global research center working to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.” It is also “anchored by a network of 171 affiliated professors at universities around the world,” and “conducts randomized impact evaluations to answer critical questions in the fight against poverty.”
Results of J-PAL’s Study Found That:
- Educational software designed to help students develop particular skills at their own rate of progress has “shown enormous promise in improving learning outcomes, particularly in math.”
- “Technology-based nudges that encourage specific, one-time actions—such as text message reminders to complete college course registrations—can have meaningful, if modest, impacts on a variety of education-related outcomes, often at low costs.”
- “Combining online and in-person instruction can work as well as traditional in-person only classes” and that “students in online-only courses tend to perform worse than students in in-person-only courses,” which suggests blended learning may be a cost-effective approach for delivering the most effective instruction.
- There is “some evidence to suggest that [educational software] can boost scores by the same amount as effective tutoring programs.”
- Software has the potential to overcome traditional classroom constraints by customizing activities for each student. Educational software programs range from light-touch homework support tools to more intensive interventions that re-orient the classroom around the use of software.
J-PAL also concluded that more research was needed to truly confirm the results of the study, but that EdTech looked promising in the aforementioned key areas.
EdTech Is More Effective at Later Stages of Student Development
One interesting finding of the study was that exposure to technology seemed to have a greater benefit to students at the postsecondary level than at K-12. According to the study, “initiatives that expand access to computers and internet generally do not improve kindergarten to 12th-grade students ‘ grades and test scores, but do increase computer usage and improve computer proficiency.” However, at the postsecondary level, J-PAL found stronger results:
- “Colleges can increase application and enrollment rates by leveraging technology to suggest specific action items, streamline financial aid procedures, and/or provide personalized support to high school students.”
- “Distributing laptops to low-income students at a northern California community college had modest but positive effects on passing rates, graduation rates, and the likelihood of taking a transfer course for a four-year college.”
- “Laptop distribution also increased computer skills. Computer skills rose more meaningfully for minorities, women, lower income, and younger students.”
- “Programs to expand access to technology have been effective at increasing the use of computers and improving computer skills.”
One possible explanation for these results could be that adults have greater levels of discipline, motivation, and concentration to use technology solely for learning purposes, but the reason still remains to be established. Regardless, the study shows that the implementation of EdTech at the university level has been highly successful.
In Parts I & II of the series, we established the two-way interaction between the fields of education and technology while concluding that the US educational system is severely outdated. As a nation, we spend more yet underperform in every key metric when compared with other nations around the world. We also went on to examine statements from today ‘s tech legends and review their thoughts on the future of education. Finally, we made the claim that EdTech may be the quickest and most cost-effective means by which to bridge the skills gap.
In Part III, we looked to the evidence to verify our claims. J-PAL ‘s thorough investigation of 126 independent studies from around the globe shows huge promise for EdTech and its ability to improve student outcomes and impart tech skills. As J-PAL confirms, more research is necessary to establish concrete figures, but promising results from early studies reassure both educators and investors that EdTech is indeed leading the future of education. As the adoption and implementation of EdTech in the classroom increase over the following years, we can expect to see an influx of evidence supporting the use of new educational technologies.