Although technology in the classroom is becoming common, its long-term impact on learners is still unknown.

Technology in the classroom has the potential to do great things and has already started to change the educational landscape. Tablets and e-readers offer a new way for students to read assigned material and can offer huge savings to school districts and college students by replacing expensive text books. Technology’s ability to foster remote learning can utilize time that would otherwise be lost to snow days and absences.

Initiatives to provide public school students with tablets have only recently become feasible as portable electronics have become more affordable.
According to The Washington Post, K-12 spending on tablets increased 60 percent between 2013 and 2014. “Before, it was more sit and get,” said Leslie Wilson, chief executive of the One-to-One Institute.

technology in the classroom - girl using tablet“In this transformed environment, students can direct their own learning,” Wilson said.

This illustrates another benefit of having technology in the classroom— it allows students to learn at an individualized pace. For instance, websites like Khan Academy offer free lessons to anyone with access to a computer. Khan targets everyone from primary school through college students and beyond. It even allows teachers to view when learners are having trouble through a dashboard application. Through this and other sites like it, students can get extra help when they are struggling and move ahead to new topics when they are ready to be challenged.

Some remain skeptical regarding the role of technology in the classroom, however. Laptop distribution programs in Costa Rica produced unfavorable results with test scores dropping after students received personal computers. Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study where they interrupted test-takers with instant messages that provided them with important additional test instructions. When compared with a control group, students faced with these distractions answered 20 percent fewer questions correctly. A second experiment observed 263 students as they attempted to study for 15 minutes. Even though they knew they were being monitored, the students quickly turned to social media and texting instead of doing the assigned work.

Unsurprisingly, technology doesn’t appear to help much if there’s no clear way to incorporate it into the curriculum. When effectively integrated and managed, however, the use of technology in the classroom can help to engage students and differentiate their learning. The outcome of including technology in the classroom isn’t black and white, but it is clear that simply having a computer isn’t a guaranteed path to learning.

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The Washington Post, Bloomberg Business, NBC News