More and more learning is happening digitally. From schools moving online during the pandemic to watching YouTube tutorials on home repairs, people of all ages are likely to use technology in their learning process. You may be wondering “is it better to learn with technology or not?” Like any complex question, the answer would have to be “it depends!”
With online school becoming more prevalent, you may be questioning when and how technology can help, and how to maximize those opportunities. Successful learning is the result of many different kinds of activities, each of which can be supported in specific ways. Let’s look at four kinds of activities and dive into how digital learning can help with each.
1. Using Technology in Education to Improve Memory
The use of technology tools in online education is very common. Say you want to work on learning and memory. You could use index cards to make flashcards, and then quiz yourself to learn a bunch of vocabulary words (this is a really effective strategy!). But with digital learning, you could use learning apps like digital flashcards, which have a few advantages:
- If installed on your smartphone, you may be able to study at times you otherwise couldn’t access your index cards.
- Many apps have built-in systems to help optimize when you study, drawing on research that has found that “spacing” your practice time is best for building up your memory.
When you want to create your own flashcards, you can use an app like Pearson Prep, which uses this idea of spacing when deciding what you should study. You can also check out this list of tech tools recommended by a learning scientist for use in classrooms or group study sessions!
2. Skill Development
Let’s think about skill development next. One thing that is key in building up your skills is getting feedback on how you are doing. It is one thing to solve 100 math problems as fast as you can, but if you don’t know if you got any of them right, it is not very helpful as a learning experience!
Technology in education can be helpful in these cases because many learning tools can offer immediate, tailored feedback. If your student is looking to develop or learn new skills, look for tools that:
- Provide lots of practice opportunities
- Offer varied practice (i.e., not doing exactly the same thing over and over)
- Provide immediate, specific, and actionable feedback
- Encourage the user through things like progress bars, badges, and other ways of supporting progress
Many effective learning apps focus on math. In addition, some learning websites use gamification to help make skill development more engaging.
3. Sense-Making: Effective Learning with E-Readers
What about activities that require deeper sense-making, like understanding longer texts? Research has found that people of all ages tend to comprehend less when they read on-screen, as opposed to reading on paper. One reason may be that it is harder for people to “self-regulate” when reading digitally. This means that people don’t keep track of how well they are understanding what they are reading and are more likely to overestimate how deeply they are thinking about the text when reading on a screen.
Another reason could be that the physical components of reading (like seeing where text is on the page, or how far into a book it is) can help develop a better memory of what you read. So, one suggestion would be to consider reading physical copies rather than their electronic versions. K–12 online schools like Connections Academy often use both print and eBooks in their curriculum.
But when print copies are not possible or preferable, there are still ways to encourage better reading behaviors. For example:
- Have your student set a reading goal before starting
- Remind them to check their progress against their reading goal once they finish
- Encourage them to take brief pauses while reading to self-assess their comprehension of the material
4. How to Organize Your Thoughts
Other aspects of sense-making, like building up your own arguments or discussing topics with others, can be optimized with digital learning. Digital note-taking tools that gather ideas from many sources, such as Evernote or Google Keep, can be a big help in the writing process. Discussion boards, similar to the ones used by Connections Academy students in Pearson Online Classroom, or other ways of collaboratively discussing topics, can lead to deeper engagement with the topic. The key is for the technology in education to help the student do the thinking, and not be a way for students to get points simply for interacting with the tool.
Making the Right Choice
Here is a quick checklist of things to consider that will help you make the most of digital learning:
- What type of learning is being done?
If you are trying to improve your recall of certain information or need some additional practice solving certain kinds of problems, consider an app. If you need to critically evaluate some new information, consider using print versions like textbooks or reference guides.
- What kind of digital tool would be the most effective?
Even if you think digital is the way to go, different apps or websites may be best. Look for ones that are well-reviewed and can tell you about how they use research to inform their work.
- On-screen or print version?
Reading is unique for everyone, but the general rule of thumb is that the longer the text, the easier it is to read on paper. So, if there is a big reading assignment coming up, suggest your student steps away from the computer or tablet and picks up the print version instead.
It’s clear why the best online schools typically use a mixture of both print and digital learning tools to educate K–12 students. Some students prefer printed books, some like e-textbooks, and some even use apps to complement their curriculum.
Whatever your student prefers, Connections Academy can help. Learn the difference between online school and school from home, and see if it’s the right fit for your family.