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Does educational technology help children learn? A research update.

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

In a large-scale meta-analysis released last year, the Reboot Research Foundation analysed the connection between digital devices and learning, looking at both Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data, and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data from 2017.

With constant change and development in educational technology, they have recently replicated the study looking at 2019 NAEP data, for students in Grades 4 and 8 (NZ equivalent Year 5 and 9).

Their findings largely replicated the 2017 results; that there was little evidence of a positive relationship, and some evidence of a negative relationship between student performance and use of technology. Like the 2015 OECD report ‘Students, Computers and Learning,’ they detected a ceiling effect; that a little technology can have some benefits, but more than this was not associated with improvement, or was clearly associated with worse scores.

“One of the striking trends we noted in our earlier work was that fourth- grade students who reported using tablets in “all or almost all” classes scored 14 points lower on the reading exam than students who reported “never” using classroom tablets (a whole year lower in reading asssessment). The same pattern holds in the 2019 data, but the difference is slightly larger at 15 points.“

“We also ran state level data. The overall negative relationship between using tablets and reading scores held true for all states (all of the USA).”

“This trend regarding tablets held true across different school profiles, and while that approach does not fully account for different socio-economic needs, it suggests that student needs are not the driver of the issue.”

“Scores for tablet-related activities, like games and apps, are similarly dismal. For reading-related apps, educational games, and electronic textbooks, more usage is associated with worse scores. This raises questions about the value of these approaches as a basis for instruction. “

“Beyond Tablets. Other areas of technology use that also appeared to have negative ties to outcomes were extensive use of computers for English language-arts work. Students who use a computer for English language-arts work for less than 30 minutes a day score 23 points higher than students who use a computer for English language-arts work for four or more hours a day. This is over four standard deviations — a very large difference.”

They note in conclusion that while this is a complex topic, these are worrying trends, and more needs to be done to deepen our understanding of how technology affects learning outcomes across the board.

For more information on the original report see

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