Digital tools boost classroom performance, concludes meta-study

For optimum improvements in learning, say researchers from the University of Munich, digital instruction should be used alongside analogue materials and in-person teaching

A major meta-study has found that secondary school pupils achieve improved results, and are better motivated, when digital tools are used to teach natural sciences and maths.

There is, however, a caveat: the greatest success is achieved when digital instruction is accompanied by teachers and paper-based teaching materials, rather than used in isolation.

So concludes research by the Centre for International Student Assessment (ZIB) at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), after evaluating a total of 92 studies published during the last 20 years.

“Digital tools should be worked into instruction in moderation,” said Professor Kristina Reiss, head of ZIB and dean of the TUM School of Education.

“Getting rid of tried and proven analogue formats would be going a step too far. In addition, we see that even very well-made learning programmes cannot replace the teacher.

“If the new teaching methods can additionally increase the motivation of secondary school students, this will be a great opportunity for the STEM subjects.”

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Digital aids are most effective when it comes to explaining complex and abstract content, concluded the meta-analysis, such as the visualisation of chemical compounds and geometric shapes.

Intelligent tutor systems, configuring levels of difficulty and assistance in response to the learner’s ability, were found to deliver the greatest benefit.  Systems that do not define a learning objective were seen to be comparatively less effective.

For optimum use of digital tools, researchers recommend that:

  • Pupils work in pairs. The ZIB team propose that computer programs play a special role in stimulating discussion, which can positively impact the learning process
  • Teachers accompany students while working with digital tools
  • Digital tools are not utilised in isolation, but as a supplement to the use of traditional analogue teaching materials
  • Teachers should be professionally trained in how best to integrate digital tools into lessons
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