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Since the days of writing on wooden shingles with charcoal in one-room school houses, an increasing array of objects – pencils, paper, scissors, paste, books, and microscopes, to name a few – have been routinely used in classrooms to help students deepen understanding and record and communicate what they learned.

Digital tools, such as mobile apps and educational games, are the newest additions to the teacher’s toolbox. When used appropriately, these tools can help educators create learning environments that incorporate key research-backed principles shown to underlie effective learning in the following ways:

 

Supporting personalized, differentiated and self-paced learning

 

It is well known that individuals construct new knowledge based on what they already know, that they learn differently from one another, and that they learn best when they are asked to perform appropriately challenging tasks. Given the variation in students’ knowledge, skills and learning strategies, it is difficult for educators to provide each unique student with the best opportunity to learn.

Today’s technology allows teachers to generate and monitor personalized learning plans for their students. Digital curriculum offers videos, games, and simulations that support multiple ways to learn new material. Routine digital formative assessment can help educators establish each child’s zone of proximal development and set challenging but reachable individualized goals, so students can spend more time on the exact areas they need to develop.

 

Supporting a positive emotional climate, and social and emotional learning

 

The social and emotional aspects of the classroom environment affect student learning. Social and emotional learning plays an important role in improving students’ academic performance. Students proficient in social and emotional learning can recognize and manage their emotions, set goals, and build healthy relationships.

When used effectively, technology can help educators create a positive emotional climate that excites and engages students. Digital curriculum can make practice private, which reduces students’ fear of giving a wrong answer and allows them to persist through problems until they get it right. Teachers often report getting to know students better using digital tools because interaction is more frequent and students feel safe sharing their hopes, difficulties, and fears.

Various digital learning tools can help students develop social and emotional competencies such as self-awareness, social awareness, and responsible decision-making. For example, in GlassLab’s Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy EDU, students must make decisions about building and governing a city on Mars.

 

Supporting authentic, real-world learning

 

Students’ learning behaviors, such as persistence, intensity, and direction, are affected by their level of motivation. And motivation increases when students view a learning activity as relevant to their personal goals and interests.

Technology helps individual learners by connecting the classroom with the outside world. The limits of time and proximity disappear in online communities, and students can connect with real people, situations, and problems in their neighborhoods, cities, countries, and around the world. Students can embark on virtual field trips guided by experts who can respond and react to questions or changing events in real time.

Learners can also help solve real-world problems with access to more information and expertise than ever before. Using apps like EcoMOBILE and digital tools, students can collect and analyze data similar to that used by professional scientists.

In addition to making learning relevant, these situations allow students to practice skills and build knowledge in varied contexts – known conditions for deeper learning and transfer of learning from one context to another.

 

Supporting collaborative learning

 

Learning is enhanced by social interaction, which requires students to actively retrieve, organize, and communicate what they know rather than passively acquire information. Numerous studies have shown students in collaborative learning environments outperform those in competitive or individualistic learning settings.

Technology supports communication and collaboration via email, blogs, and digital apps, among other tools. Many applications allow students to collectively produce multimedia projects and share them with peers, teachers, subject-matter experts, and parents. These tools also increase social interaction by creating spaces for students to reflect, share aspirations, and try new learning strategies.

 

Supporting data gathering, analysis, and timely feedback

 

Timely and accurate feedback is essential as students master skills and build new knowledge. Numerous studies have shown that rapid feedback considerably improves student performance. Educators can more efficiently and effectively provide feedback through tools such as Google Docs, for example, which gives teachers insight into a student’s thought process while writing via a revision history function.

Technology-facilitated data collection and analysis can also help teachers answer questions about students’ learning and take a scientific approach to their own instruction. Conversations with colleagues and researchers around data-driven discoveries can also help teachers build on these findings to improve their practice.

These are just a few of the numerous arguments supporting the importance of technology for learning in the 21st century. While it is crucial that digital learning tools be tested for efficacy in real-world environments, technology offers new ways to create learning environments that support students.


About Aubrey Francisco

Aubrey is the Director of Research at Digital Promise. You can follow her on Twitter at @aubreyfrancisco.

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