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

Digital learning and improving transitions into employment

Key findings

There is promising evidence for secondary age learners that digital tools can, where effectively used, build skills valued by employers: interactivity, collaboration, critical thinking and leadership. There is promising evidence too that for secondary age learners, digital resources coupled with digital tools can increase knowledge and understanding of career pathways, applying for work and working environments. These can make it easier for employers to provide help and support to learners.

In addition to the skills that teachers require to harness digital tools and resources to building learners' employability skills, it is evident that they need to be prepared to develop learner-centred learning approaches while schools need to enable learners to have access to digital equipment beyond the classroom.

Alongside literacy, numeracy and wellbeing, Curriculum for Excellence emphasizes the development of skills for 'learning, life and work'. These include thinking skills, skills for enterprise and employability, and skills for health and wellbeing (which include personal learning, planning and career management, working with others, and leadership). These are broadly transversal skills which underpin learners' work readiness and contribute to successful transitions to employment. A survey conducted by Eurydice (2010) found that ICT can be, but is less often, used to teach skills of leadership and responsibility, as well as critical thinking through active and experiential learning with digital tools and resources.

There is not a great deal of research literature which has measured how digital learning and teaching has made a difference to acquiring these skills. There are a few small scale studies which show promising evidence that digital teaching approaches may be more effective than other teaching approaches in building these skills in secondary aged learners.

Improving children's transition between education and work

Digital learning can be an effective means of developing learners' cooperative learning and working skills. Higgins et al's (2012) meta-analysis of impact studies shows that collaborative use of technology (in pairs or small groups) is usually more effective than individual use in developing skills around interaction and learning through their peers. This draws on the conclusions of Lou et al's meta-analysis (2001) which found that the majority of studies of group work using digital tools and resources had a greater effect size than individual use.

Digital tools on VLEs have enabled learners aged 14-18 to develop skills in research and enquiry, independent learning, collaboration and interactivity which mimic a work environment.

Jahnke (2010) reported that an on-line discussion forum created for International Baccalaureate learners preparing their extended essays increased their understanding of the requirement and extended the help which could be provided from their peers. This resulted in the learners being better able to undertake the research to complete the essay, and the teachers finding it easier to respond to needs, 'build a group understanding of the requirement' and engage a larger number of learners.

Jun and Pow (2011) reported that a group web log provided small teams of learners with the means to undertake a collaborative inquiry task which required group working and critical thinking. The feedback from the learners who took part in the task and the teachers' observations from the results identified that the learners improved their research skills and gained experience of working in team under a leader.

Digital resources, such as games and virtual worlds, can also enable learners to achieve these skills. Di Blas and Paolini (2014) found consistent positive results from four similar projects in different countries where computer games had been used to improve learners 'capacity to work in groups'. These all used teacher and learner surveys and before-and-after tests of learners to assess skills gained. Biagi's (2013) finding of a consistently positive association between intensive use of ICT for gaming and PISA test scores suggests that gaming might indeed stimulate desired skills, competences and abilities - such as problem solving, strategic thinking, memory, fantasy, interaction, adaptation, etc.'

Digital resources have also enabled learners aged 14-18 to gain knowledge and understanding of work and employability skills where there are limited opportunities for gaining these from work experience in a sector in which they are interested. Fowkes and McWhirter (2007) reported that computer assisted careers guidance is widely used, though they need active learning strategies to increase learners' knowledge and understanding.

ICF (2014) reported positive benefits for learners in Scotland who participated in a pilot of the Get In Get On (GIGO) on-line course on the financial services sector. This covered pathways to work in the sector and employability skills needed, with access to an on-line mentor to respond to questions and provide feedback. The positive benefits included:

  • Understanding the pathways to jobs in the sector (24 out of 25 survey respondents) and courses required (22 out of 25 agreed);
  • Focus group participants largely recognising the course was relevant to their needs to understand more about employability skills they needed, and that they have gained these (making an impression, meeting deadlines, presentation);
  • Schools recognising that it was as effective if not more so than providing and supporting a work placement for a week.

Digital resources can also foster independent learning. Barker and Gossman (2013) found that among around 250 17 year-olds in upper secondary education in England, over half reported that the use of Moodle had helped to develop these skills. This was related to having control over the time and pace of learning.

Ingredients for success

Teachers' knowledge and understanding of how digital tools can work to provide employability skills inside and outside the classroom, to groups of learners and to individual learners, appears to be essential to exploiting their use.

Infrastructure was found to be crucial (e.g. VLEs, access to resources, broadband width, access to laptops/tablets). Where schools do not have access to this infrastructure it is important that they can identify ways in which digital resources can be used safely when supplied by third parties.

With employability skills, access to employers and their employees can be facilitated by digital tools and resources since it makes it easier for them to volunteer time and resources to providing help and support to learners.


Email: Catriona Rooke

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