The arrival of digital devices in schools has sometimes been blamed for the decline in educational outcomes. Research shows that digital devices do not explain the decline in learning outcomes, but that technology is used in schools particularly as a tool for differentiation.
The DigiVOO study, carried out jointly by the University of Helsinki and Tampere University, looked at the impact of digitalisation on learning situations, learning and learning outcomes.
For the study, nationwide longitudinal data was collected from 7th-9th graders in 83 schools across Finland in 2021 and 2022 using survey data, observational and interview data, as well as data collected in previous studies.
Lower-achieving pupils reported using a lot of digital technology
The arrival of digital devices in schools has sometimes been blamed for the decline in the skills of young Finns. However, the study found that the use of digital devices did not reduce pupils’ performance in problem-solving and mathematical reasoning tasks. Instead, digital technology was targeted at pupils who were experiencing different learning challenges.
Pupils with support needs, pupils from an immigrant background, and lower achievers reported using digital technology at school more often than other pupils.
“The results suggest that digitalisation is used to differentiate education for pupils with support needs and pupils who do not speak the language of instruction as their home language,” says Professor Mari-Pauliina Vainikainen from Tampere University.
Digital technology was rarely used in schools
Teachers reported very little use of digital technology in their teaching. Digital technology that requires basic skills, such as educational games, were only used about once a month.
Lessons using digital tools were usually pre-designed by the teacher, and learning was mostly focused on drilling and repeating learned contents. Students were rarely active agents in using digital tools in the lesson.
“Completing the ‘digileap’ would require supporting teachers’ own digital skills, actively sharing good practices and conducting more research on the possibilities of adopting and using digital technology,” says Professor Risto Hotulainen from the University of Helsinki.
Digitalisation can boost motivation
Based on lesson observations, learning situations using digital devices and environments did not differ significantly from those without digital devices.
However, the digital delivery of the lesson had in many lessons a positive impact on the group dynamics and motivation of the students in the lesson.
The use of digital devices increased the interest in mathematics lessons, while in mother tongue the digitalisation of the lesson increased pupils’ effort.
“For example, supporting the development of mathematical thinking is possible by developing learning environments that adapt to the student’s level of competence, allow them to monitor their progress and check the tasks they have solved. The more often the pupils checked their solutions, the stronger the development of mathematical thinking during the school year,” says Sanna Oinas, University Lecturer at the University of Turku.
-Digitalisation enables a new way of differentiating learning. In the future, it would be important to focus on developing digital environments that support different ways of thinking and provide appropriate challenges, for example, for students learning at different speeds.
-Digital learning can also be used to increase positive cooperation and a sense of belonging between students. Therefore, developing pupils’ basic digital technology skills and understanding how they are linked to reinforce pupils’ social inclusion is important when considering what digital skills pupils need now and in the future.
The first results report of the project was published on 6 February 2023 at 12.00-14.00 in hall 107 of the University of Helsinki Athena building (Siltavuorenpenger 3A). The report can be read here: https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-2780-4.
The actual research report will be published later after the peer review.
Sanna Oinas, University Lecturer, University of Turku
+358 50 340 5573
Mari-Pauliina Vainikainen, Professor, Tampere University
+358 50 437 7303
Risto Hotulainen, Professor, University of Helsinki
+358 50 520 1664