Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Benefits of Online Learning for Student Growth and Achievement

The findings of a research project sponsored by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education support the claim that the use of technology in the classroom enhances student learning in a number of ways.

*Summary of Findings

The following is a summary of benefits reported by teachers[1]:

Increased Motivation and Self Esteem
The most common--and in fact, nearly universal--teacher-reported effect on students was an increase in motivation. Teachers talked about motivation from a number of different perspectives. Some mentioned motivation with respect to working in a specific subject area, for example, a greater willingness to write or to work on computational skills. Others spoke in terms of more general motivational effects--student satisfaction with the immediate feedback provided by the computer and the sense of accomplishment and power gained in working with technology. Teachers also frequently cite technology's motivational advantages in providing a venue in which a wider range of students can excel. Compared to conventional classrooms with their stress on verbal knowledge and multiple-choice test performance, technology provides a very different set of challenges and different ways in which students can demonstrate what they understand. In addition, technology provides a more neutral playing field that is less intimidating to timid students. As one teacher put it, "The kids that don't necessarily star can become the stars." Another teacher expressed it as follows: "They have a voice and it's not in any way secondary to anybody else's voice. It's an equal voice."

Technical Skills
Students, even at the elementary school level, are able to acquire an impressive level of skill with a broad range of computer tools. Although the specific tools in use will likely change before these students enter the world of work, the students acquire a basic understanding of how various classes of computer tools behave and a confidence about being able to learn to use new tools that will support their learning of new software applications.
Accomplishment of More Complex Tasks
Teachers for the observed classes and activities at the case study sites were nearly unanimous also in reporting that students were able to handle more complex assignments and do more with higher-order skills because of the supports and capabilities provided by technology.
More Collaboration with Peers
Another effect of technology cited by a great majority of teachers is an increased inclination on the part of students to work cooperatively and to provide peer tutoring. While many of the classrooms we observed assigned technology-based projects to small groups of students, even when each student has a computer and works "independently", teachers note an increased frequency of students helping each other. The public display and greater legibility of student work creates an invitation to comment. Students often comment on each others' work, offer assistance, and discussing what they are doing. One teacher made the point that the technology invites peer coaching. In addition, students' ability to collaborate on substantive content can be further enhanced through the use of computer applications specifically designed for this purpose.
Breaking Down Classroom Walls - Increased Use of Outside Resources
Many teachers cited increased use of outside resources as a benefit of using technology. Not only are more resources available online through internet searches, but social media now enables students to access to peers or experts who can provide information or expertise on the particular subject under discussion.

Improved Design Skills/Attention to Audience
Experiences in developing the kinds of rich, multimedia products that can be produced with technology, particularly when the design is done collaboratively so that students experience their peers' reactions to their presentations, appear to support a greater awareness of audience needs and perspectives. Multiple media give students choices about how best to convey a given idea (e.g., through text, video, animation). In part because they have the capability to produce more professional-looking products and the tools to manipulate the way information is presented, students in many technology-using classes are reportedly spending more time on design and audience presentation issues.

*Similar findings were highlighted in more recent research done by Gulek and Demirtas in their evaluation of Microsoft’s Anywhere Learning Project.[2] Their research demonstrated positive results on student learning and curriculum delivery, as summarized below:

Student Outcomes:
·         Laptops lead to more student writing and to writing of higher quality
·         Laptops increase access to information and improve research analysis skills

Laptop Students:
·         Spend more time engaging in collaborative work than non-laptop students.
·         Participate in more project-based instruction.
·         Become collaborators (interact with each other about their work).
·         Direct their own learning.
·         Report a greater reliance on active learning strategies.
·         Readily engage in problem solving and critical thinking.
·         Consistently show deeper and more flexible use of technology.
·         Spend more time doing homework on computers.

Teacher Outcomes:
·         Teachers who use laptops use a more constructivist approach to teaching.
·         Teachers who use laptops feel more empowered in the classroom.
·         Teachers who use laptops spend less time lecturing.


The rapid development of the internet and social networking in the 21st century has changed the way in which students learn, and potentially the way in which teachers teach. In the short number of years since these studies were conducted, the increased sophistication of online tools and social media have even increased the potential of online technology to enhance student learning. It is therefore critical that teachers become familiar with and proficient in the use of the easily accessible resources that can more effectively engage our students in the learning process - to enhance their classroom experience and to enable them to generate their own learning beyond the classroom.

[1] Most of the information in this paper is taken from this report, which can be found at http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/EdTech/effectsstudents.html.

[2] Geulek, J. C. and Demirtas, H., "Learning with Technology: The Impact of Laptop Use on Student Achievement", Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment 3(2), January 2005, pp. 5-6. Can be found online at: http://napoleon.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jtla/article/viewFile/1655/1501


  1. I agree with the statements vis-a-vis student outcome, that laptops contribute to greater student writing and a higher level of content and that they have improved research skills. As a mother of a child with some learning disabilities, having offered our son in high school use of a computer, propelled him from never being able to take notes, to becoming the one who actually distributed his notes to his peers.
    Also, in this constant technologically advancing society, it not as important how much you know as much as knowing how to research and access it.
    In the classroom, I still prefer human interaction between the children, and between the teacher and the children, however when it comes to assignments, I believe that the quality of the work, and the motivation to complete the work, is enhanced through technology.

  2. The collaboration that occurs via the computer can lead to face-to-fact interactions.