Making the Invisible Visible: Technology’s Impact on Teaching and Learning

Making the Invisible Visible: Technology’s Impact on Teaching and Learning

In a previous article, I suggested that “technology’s greatest success, which is making itself invisible, is in fact the main reason why at least some teachers question vociferously its impact and value in education”. This a concept that I would like to explore further.

When focusing on how mobile technology would impact teaching and learning, a good place to start would be the classroom. Research, in this case from Hattie and Yates’s Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, shows that lessons are most effective when they are structured thus:

  • An initial review of prior knowledge
  • A formal presentation
  • Guided practice
  • Initial feedback
  • Independent practice
  • A follow-up review

Those of us experienced in the use of technology in the classroom can immediately see how all of these aspects of a lesson can be supported and, in some instances, instantly improved by the application of technology. With this in mind, it is possible to begin to plan the integration of mobile technologies into the daily business of teaching and learning by taking into account how lessons are most effective and put in place the means and support to enable teachers to use technology in such a way that the quality of teaching and learning in their lessons is enhanced by its use, when it is possible and appropriate. And knowing that it may not always be so!

Studies by the Education Endowment Foundation have identified classroom interventions for which there is a substantial evidence base of positive impact on student outcomes, which they have measured in months’ gain (see main image, above). As you can see, though moderately impactful  – four months’ gain according to the same research – digital technology does not make the top eight pedagogically profitable interventions. This apparent lack of impact is often seized upon by those who insist on placing educational technology in opposition to academic rigour, as if they were mutually incompatible concepts and you had to have one or the other. This is nonsense and does not stand up to any form of serious scrutiny because, as anyone knows, context is crucial. It is simply not good enough to ask where the evidence is, what we need to ask is what evidence is there for X in Y context?

So, at first glance, it appears that what research there is on the use of digital technologies to support teaching and learning suggests that its impact is so close to neutral that it may not be a sound investment compared to other, more impactful interventions, and that the cost incurred in using the technology is much greater than the benefit received – this is a concept referred to in microeconomic theory as opportunity cost. The problem with this analysis is that it assumes erroneously that technology is itself an intervention, rather than a mediator and facilitator of more impactful interventions, and that effective technology and good teaching are concepts that can be looked into separately, rather than flip sides of the same coin. Put simply, a lot of the stuff that’s shown to work makes some use of technology to help it do so. These things aren’t cleanly separable.

If you would like to download the Effective Interventions poster, please tap or click on the image, below:




  1. I think that’s exactly the point Jose. Technology doesn’t have to be the innovation or the intervention in itself, what the poster or research doesn’t do is question how many more months may be gained if technology is leveraged to enhance those elements of education. I can confidently say that my feedback must have improved by about 50% in the last few months. Put into the context of time, I could possibly be adding a year rather than 8 months if that is true.

    Measuring technology as a raw standalone entity is almost impossible if done well, because the aim of the teacher is to embed it into the culture of the classroom and as you rightly point out, decide when is the right moment.

    • Thanks for your comment, Adam. I would go as far as to say, having been involved in attempts to measure the effectiveness of a number of interventions throughout my teaching career, that there are no reliable ways to measure the impact of technology at any large scale, because it is impossible to measure without taking into account contextual factors, which then make an accurate comparison impossible. Bear in mind also that quite a lot of the research underpinning the findings about the effectiveness of technology as an intervention in schools dates back to as far as the eighties, and had tried to measure how well computers could teach, rather than facilitate the processes involved in teaching and learning. Applying these findings to what we are trying to achieve today feels very much like comparing apples and pears.

      Having said that, there may be ways to triangulate, using the above interventions as proxy indicators, how technology can – to use court room terminology – “in all probability” impact positively on student outcomes and maybe even give an idea of how big (or small) that impact might be. I’m currently giving this a lot of thought as we embark on the design of a process that, we hope, can measure tech impact credibly.



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