Rapid advances in technology during the last few decades have provided a multitude of new options for teaching and learning. Although technology is being widely adopted in education, there is a shortage of research on the effects that this technology might have on student learning, and why those effects occur. We conducted a comprehensive review of the literature on various uses of digital technology in educational settings, and the effects of that technology on students’ objective learning outcomes. We interpret these effects within the context of empirical research on effective principles of learning, and the extent to which the affordances of technology permit opportunities for increased engagement with the material, retrieval practice, and spacing. Results revealed that technology is neither beneficial nor harmful for learning when used primarily as a means of presenting information (e.g., information viewed on a computer screen vs. on paper), but can be beneficial when it involves unique affordances that leverage effective learning principles. We discues these findings in light of the ever-increasing availability of technology in education, and the importance of evidence-guided criteria in decisions about adoption and implementation.
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Even with the same instructor across all conditions, there is a possibility that some instructor-related factors could change across conditions or across time (e.g., instructors could improve their teaching effectiveness from one term to the next, or have difficulty implementing a new technology). Notwithstanding these possibilities, instructor-related factors that could influence student learning are likely to be greater when there are different instructors across the conditions (e.g., bringing differences in teaching style, personality, grading practices, or experience), such that the potential influence of these factors was minimized by ensuring that the same instructor taught all students.
In these studies it cannot be determined whether the immediacy of the feedback per se was responsible for the learning gains. Some studies have directly explored the timing of feedback and have found that feedback can be more beneficial for learning some types of materials—particularly those involving non-overlapping materials—when it is delayed rather than provided immediately (Carpenter and Vul 2011; Corral et al. in press). In the studies reviewed here, however, the answer to any one item (such as a math problem or grammatical rule) could have informed students’ answers to subsequent problems of the same type. Beyond the timing of feedback per se, therefore, the immediacy of the correct answers could have changed the way that students approached subsequent questions of the same type, increasing the likelihood that they would apply the correct answer.
A third group was included that used 3-D printers but did not receive the same type of lecture-based guidance from the instructor. Due to the difference in instructional procedures, this “experiential learning” group is not included in the comparisons.
* indicates articles included in the review.
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Conflict of Interest
Shana Carpenter has received grants from the National Science Foundation (DUE 1504480) and the James S. McDonnell Foundation (220020483).
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
This material is based upon work supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative in Understanding Human Cognition, Collaborative Grant No. 220020483. We thank Sierra Lauber, Luke Huber, and Kyle St. Hilaire for their help in locating articles.
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Yeung, K.L., Carpenter, S.K. & Corral, D. A Comprehensive Review of Educational Technology on Objective Learning Outcomes in Academic Contexts. Educ Psychol Rev (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09592-4
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