How can education technology enhance learning outcomes?
By Qiyang Zhang, Johns Hopkins University
As the COVID-19 pandemic forces schools to turn to remote teaching, education technology is being regarded as a promising tool to maintain education quality despite school closures, and this is adding to interest in educational technology in general. However, learning scientists often argue against computers’ benefits for students by saying that computers are “oversold and underused.” Focusing on developed countries, researchers from the Abdul Latif Jamel Action Lab (J-PAL) presented a systematic review to evaluate education technology and its promise.
J-PAL’s review solely included studies with large samples and rigorous causal designs to ensure review quality. In total, 126 randomized controlled trials and regression discontinuity designs were included. Major findings were:
  • Equipping students with a computer and internet access yielded mixed results. At the K-12 level, computer distribution generally had no effects on academic outcomes.
  • Computer-assisted learning programs were effective in mathematics but not in reading.
  • Customized learning experiences was one reason for educational software’s effectiveness.
  • Technology-powered nudges (e.g., text message reminders, school-parent communications, social psychology interventions) have positive but small effects on education-related outcomes. Given their extremely low cost, these interventions can be very cost-effective if designed well.
  • Compared to face-to-face courses and blended learning, purely online courses had negative effects on students.

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