Literature Review on the Impact of Digital Technology on Learning and Teaching

This literature review was commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore how the use of digital technology for learning and teaching can support teachers, parents, children and young people in improving outcomes and achieving our ambitions for education in Scotland


This study provides an assessment of research literature about digital learning and teaching to inform the Scottish Government's intended strategy.


The Scottish Government has ambitions to raise educational attainment for all learners, and to narrow the gaps in attainment between the most and least disadvantaged children in Scotland. Tackling youth unemployment is also a priority of the Scottish Government. It has set a target to reduce the proportion of young people who are not in education, employment or training by 40% by 2020, and Curriculum for Excellence aims to support all children and young people to develop essential skills they will need to live and work in the twenty-first century.

To help pursue its ambitions, the Scottish Government has developed initiatives to support and encourage the use of digital technology in schools, with the vision that 'Scotland's educators, learners and parents take full advantage of the opportunities offered by digital technology in order to raise attainment, ambition and opportunities for all'. One of the main elements of this work to date has been the delivery of Glow, an online learning environment that provides access to a variety of digital tools and resources, funded by the Scottish Government and made available to all schools across Scotland[1].

Education Scotland recently published a report on the digital technology area of Curriculum for Excellence, which found that ICT is 'used as an enhancement to learning' but is 'on the fringes of the main purpose of tasks or lessons'[2]. In some of the 40 case study schools which provided the findings for the report, inspectors found that ICT can have 'a much more significant influence on learning which motivates learners and encourages career ambitions using technologies' but the extent of change in the use of technologies in schools 'has been modest at best'.

The report concluded that there was more work to be done to place digital technology 'at the heart of learning' in Scotland, and that it had confirmed 'beyond doubt that our children and young people need digital skills and technologies to be given an absolutely central role in the learning process - no longer an enhancement or 'bolt-on', but a foundation and a primary consideration for any planned learning.'

The Scottish Government has commissioned this literature review to explore how the use of digital technology for learning and teaching can support teachers, parents, children and young people in improving outcomes and achieving its ambitions for education in Scotland.

Aims and objectives of this study

This study is intended to help inform the development of a strategy for digital learning and teaching. As a consequence its overall aims are to:

  • Identify evidence of the ways in which digital learning and teaching supports improved outcomes for learners and teachers/schools;
  • Identify the conditions that lead to successful implementation of digital learning and teaching so that the Scottish Government's strategic support is founded on what works and will inform any advice to local authorities and schools.

The specific objectives of the literature review are to:

  • Identify the impacts that digital technology has on learning and teaching in both primary and secondary schools; and
  • Identify how digital technology can support and contribute to five specific educational priorities:
    1. Raising attainment,
    2. Tackling inequalities and promoting inclusion,
    3. Improving transitions into employment,
    4. Enhancing parental engagement, and
    5. Improving the efficiency of the education system.

For the purposes of the literature review digital technology is defined as any process in which the teacher or learner uses digital equipment such as a computer (or a smart phone, tablet, MP3 player, or console) to access digital tools such as learning platforms and virtual learning environments (VLEs), and/or digital learning resources (such as lessons, tests, learning aids and games) to improve their knowledge and skills. For teachers this can also be to improve their pedagogical approaches and their assessment of learning. The other definitions used in the literature review can be found in Annex 1.

Structure of the report

The report is structured to draw out the evidence of the impact of digital technology on each of the specific educational priorities set out above. The method is described in more detail in the next section, then sections 3-7 present the findings for each of the five educational priorities. This is followed by a consideration of the evidence about successful implementation of digital learning and teaching in section 8 and conclusions about the impacts of digital learning and teaching activities and what this means for the development of a strategy to help to achieve these in section 9.


Email: Catriona Rooke

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