Computer Use Leads to Poorer Learning Outcomes

With the arrival of computers, smart phones, and the internet, there was great optimism that technology could finally enhance learning. People easily bought the idea that students would learn better with these new tools and the world wide web was introduced to classrooms all over the globe. With available data, one could now examine if indeed learning had been improved by computers. And the clear answer is "no". Students are in fact performing poorer in both reading and mathematics with the advent of technology in classrooms.

(Please see a previous post on this blog right after the OECD study was published: "Technology Can Amplify Great Teaching But Not Replace Poor Teaching")

In Students, Computers and Learning, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) reports that basic literacy and numeracy skills must come first before students are able to benefit from technology. The use of computers and smart devices both inside and outside the classroom correlates with lower scores in both reading and math. And even top-performing countries like Singapore are showing this trend.

Above copied from
The Straits Times

The OECD report on how computer usage correlates with learning outcomes is summarized in the following figures (all are copied from Students, Computers and Learning):

In mathematics:

In reading:

The negative correlation is significant and when one looks at the frequency of computer usage, the trend becomes clearer even in the new testing area of digital reading:

Mathematics is likewise negatively affected by the use of technology:

Computers obviously can never be a substitute for effective teaching.

And in the past, I did spend my own money to provide computers to elementary school classrooms in the Philippines. I was part of a non-government organization that wanted to help schools in the town of Paete, Laguna. My objective, however, at that point, was not about teaching students computer skills. My goal was to encourage collaboration between students, teachers and parents, which could be made easier with the internet. It takes basic skills to use the internet wisely. Browsing needs to be smart since there are now so many pages on the internet that carry wrong information. Technology can still help improve learning in classrooms, but not in a way where it replaces the teacher. The OECD's summary of their findings are worth keeping in mind: