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Shazam! Computers alone don’t help

June 7, 2013

Gomer PyleReaders may remember a TV character named Gomer Pyle, who would exclaim “Shazam!” on learning something surprising. The audience always chuckled because Gomer’s revelation was really common knowledge.

A new study confirms what most of us already know: the mere presence of technology doesn’t improve learning. In the research described in Why Computers Alone Won’t Move the Needle, a randomly selected group of school children were given home computers. No training or support was provided and the subjects were apparently not told they had to do anything specific with the devices.

The computer recipients did not learn any better than their counterparts. Shazam!

Would we expect random people who received bicycles to automatically become healthier without incentives? Would we expect people whom we gave a Physics 101 textbook out of the blue to be able to pass the final exam after three months without any type of support or plan for learning?

Technology does not cause learning. When used as part of an well-conceived strategy, a well-chosen tool can help the learning process be more effective or efficient. However, if there is no stated strategy which subjects are expected to follow in a study, there is no way to know if technology helps.

This study may seem like an extreme example, but it’s related to a question I was asked this week: “What are the best technologies for learning?” People seem to want to believe that any given tool is inherently either good or bad for learning.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s my favorite soap box issue:

Here’s the original study: Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren (National Bureau of Economic Research)

[Image source: Wikimedia Commons]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristin Lewis permalink
    June 8, 2013 8:35 am

    Very true! And a good reminder that this applies for any pedagogical tool.


  1. I am a TEACHING geek first! | NspireD2: Learning Technology in Higher Ed.

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