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

Conditions to bring about effective use and integration of digital technologies

Key findings

The literature identifies factors that bring about successful implementation of digital learning and teaching; these factors are:

  • Training and support not only to use equipment but to exploit digital tools and resources for teaching;
  • Overcoming teachers anxieties about digital teaching, not just about the use of the technology but also the use of different learner-centred pedagogies;
  • Allowing teachers to experiment with technology;
  • Networking with other teachers and schools; and
  • Maintaining and upgrading equipment and using tools that are compatible across many systems.

If these were adopted, more effective implementation of digital technologies should be expected to increase efficiency.

This section focuses on the conditions (not specifically related to the key educational priorities discussed in the previous sections) that can bring about effective use and integration of digital technologies in learning and teaching. The main conditions identified to support this (training and support; overcoming resistance to changes in teaching approaches; and, networking/ team working) are discussed below.

Training and support

Studies show how training and support for teachers to use digital tools and resources can improve their confidence and capabilties, their effective use and understanding of their benefits.

According to a recent Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) (OECD 2015), approximately 60% of teachers report moderate or high development needs in ICT for teaching. A lack of initial teacher training on how to use technology can lead to teachers feeling unprepared in how to use it effectively in their teaching practices (Blackwall, 2013).

There is promising evidence that the use of blended learning (online and face to face) in initial teacher training can lead to increased use of technology in the classroom (Foster 2012). Equally, Masters et al (2012) found in a controlled study that online training for teachers compared to other approaches brought about better outcomes in the classroom for the learners they subsequently taught. Urban-Woldron (2013) also found that long-term blended learning for teachers is more effective than one-off face to face teaching sessions at fostering teachers' abilities to integrate technology into the classroom.

Abar and Barbesa (2001) found in a study which examined maths teachers' engagement with online learning in Brazil that the effective integration of technology in education involves issues beyond teachers' control such as school organisation and support material, which are essential first steps for the usage of new technologies.

Harris (2006) suggests that time efficiencies for teachers do not seem to become significant until at least the second year of course delivery, when developing blended learning (e-learning plus classroom delivery). As such, it is very important to facilitate frequent dialogue about teacher workload and to find ways to provide short term additional preparation time and support.

Overcoming resistance to changes in teaching approaches

In their meta-analysis, Cheok and Wong (2015) found that characteristics of teachers (attitude, anxiety and self-efficacy) are closely linked to teachers' satisfaction and engagement with technology. They conclude that: "Organisation support in terms of; training, technical and management, are all important factors necessary in initiating teachers into adopting new innovation." Reimann et al's (2009) study of rural teachers in Australia suggests that in order to bring about effective and efficient use of digital tools and resources (including sharing knowledge across educational institutions), teachers need to 'adapt their professional identity (or attitude) to include the role of innovator' and that to do so, they need space and time to adapt to new methods.

Petko (2012) indicated that computer and Internet applications are more often used by teachers in the classroom when:

  • Teachers consider themselves to be more competent in using ICT for teaching;
  • More computers are readily available;
  • The teacher is more convinced that computers improve learner learning; and
  • The teacher more often employs learner centred forms of teaching and learning.

This was corroborated by Goodwyn (2009) who states that 'digi-teachers (teachers who have a capacity to integrate ICT into everyday learning), have strong motivation to connect with their learners' lives and have normalised digital technology in the classroom - however, for the most part they are self-taught'. He suggests that they provide excellent role models for colleagues and should be given time off to improve their practice and support others.

Parette et al (2009) in a US study concluded that schools need to provide more support by showing teachers how they can integrate technology into their curriculum if it is to be used effectively. Fredricksson (2008) found that allowing teachers to take risks and trial small scale innovations as well as sharing practices of what works and does increases their motivation to implement innovative uses which may reduce teachers' resistance under time pressures.

Blackwall (2013) found that even over extended time periods with technology, there are limited changes in teachers' approaches to teaching and learning as a result of having technology in the classroom (Lindahl and Folkesson, 2012; Tondeur et al., 2008). He concluded that technology itself may not necessarily shift early childhood educators' internalised teaching practices and philosophies. Many of the studies examined (e.g. OECD 2015; Younie and Leask 2013) conclude that teachers who hold constructivist beliefs about their job (i.e. those who see themselves as facilitators of learners' own inquiry, or see thinking and reasoning as more important than specific curriculum content) are more likely to understand the pedagogical benefits of using digital learning and teaching (and other active teaching techniques) and will use it in the classroom.

According to Plomp et al (2009), three different stages have been identified in the effective development of the use of ICT in schools:

  1. Teachers use digital tools and resources to support traditional methods of teaching, such as drill-and-practice, text orientation, whole group lectures and desk work;
  2. Teachers gain confidence and use technology as part of more innovative instruction, including, team teaching, inter-disciplinary project based instruction, and individually pace instruction; and
  3. Teachers enter an inventive stage in which they experiment and change the use of technology to support active, creative and collaborative learning.

Networking/team working

Studies indicate there is little in the way of online collaboration (between teachers in a school, betweeen schools, between countries), even though examples of this (e.g. Fredricksson, Reimann et al and various EU projects) indicate these can be useful for teachers/schools to increase the effectiveness of their use of digital teaching.

Younie and Leask (2013) predict challenges in collaboration, knowledge-sharing and transferability of teachers' skills where schools implement different learning platforms which may not 'talk to each other'. Informal peer support for teachers through communities of practice are considered the most effective model for networking and collaboration outside the practitioners' settings based on their success in the higher education sector which provide examples of good practice (Dawes, 2001; Leask and Younie, 2001; Younie, 2007).

Provision and maintenance of equipment

Financial resources are cited in many studies as a barrier to effective implementation and maintenance of ICT infrastructure to support teaching and learning. Fredricksson (2009) and Goodwyn (2011) concluded that as far as sustainability is concerned the budgetary consequences of introducing computers into schools, the maintenance of the existing infrastructure, and upgrading both hardware and software have to be absorbed.


Email: Catriona Rooke

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