The Impact of Media and Technology in Schools


There are two major approaches to using media and technology in schools. First,

students can learn “from” media and technology, and second, they can learn
“with” media and technology. Learning “from” media and technology is often
referred to in terms such as instructional television, computer-based instruction,
or integrated learning systems. Learning “with” technology is referred to in terms
such as cognitive tools and constructivist learning environments.
Regardless of the approach, media and technology have been introduced into
schools because it is believed that they can have positive effects on teaching and
learning. The purpose of this report is to summarize the evidence for the
effectiveness and impact of media and technology in K-12 schools around the
world. A limitation of this report is that the vast majority of the published
research on the effectiveness of media and technology in schools was conducted
in English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom,
and the United States of America.
For the purposes of this report, media is defined as “all means of communication,
whatever its format.” In this sense, media include symbol systems as diverse as
print, graphics, animation, audio, and motion pictures. Technology is defined as
“any object or process of human origin that can be used to convey media.” In this
sense, technology includes phenomena as diverse as books, films, television, and
the Internet. With respect to education, media are the symbol systems that
teachers and students use to represent knowledge; technologies are the tools that
allow them to share their knowledge representations with others. Unfortunately, it
is common to confound the meanings of media and technology in education, and
they are often used synonymously.
One of the major reasons for the widespread attention focused on media and
technology in education today is the enormous financial investment being made in
media and technology in education around the world. For example, a recent
Presidential report in the USA recommends that “at least five percent of all public
K-12 educational spending in the United States (or approximately $13 billion
annually in constant 1996 dollars) should be earmarked for technology-related

Learning “From” Media and Technology

The foundation for the use of media and technology as “tutors” in schools is
“educational communications,” i.e., the deliberate and intentional act of
communicating content to students with the assumption that they will learn
1 something “from” these communications. The instructional processes inherent in
the “from” approach to using media and technology in schools can be reduced to
a series of simple steps:
1) exposing students to messages encoded in media and delivered by
2) assuming that students perceive and encode these messages,
3) requiring a response to indicate that messages have been received, and
4) providing feedback as to the adequacy of the response.
Television and the computer are the two primary technologies used in the “from”
approach. The findings concerning the impact of television in education can be
summed up as:
• There is no conclusive evidence that television stultifies the mind.
• There is no consistent evidence that television increases either hyperactivity
or passivity in children.
• There is insufficient evidence that television viewing displaces academic
activities such as reading or homework and thereby has a negative impact on
school achievement. The relationship between the amount of time spent
viewing television and achievement test scores is curvilinear with
achievement rising with 1-2 hours of television per day, but falling with
longer viewing periods.
• The preponderance of the research evidence indicates that viewing violence
on television is moderately correlated with aggression in children and
• Forty years of research show positive effects on learning from television
programs that are explicitly produced and used for instructional purposes.
• Most studies show that there are no significant differences in effectiveness
between live teacher presentations and videos of teacher presentations.
• Television is not widely in classrooms because teachers experience difficulty
in previewing videos, obtaining equipment, incorporating programs into the
curriculum, and linking television programming to assessment activities.
The findings concerning the impact of computer-based instruction (CBI) in
education can be summed up as:
• Computers as tutors have positive effects on learning as measured by
standardized achievement tests, are more motivating for students, are accepted
by more teachers than other technologies, and are widely supported by
administrators, parents, politicians, and the public in general.
• Students are able to complete a given set of educational objectives in less time
with CBI than needed in more traditional approaches.
• Limited research and evaluation studies indicate that integrated learning
systems (ILS) are effective forms of CBI which are quite likely to play an
even larger role in classrooms in the foreseeable future.

• Intelligent tutoring system have not had significant impact on mainstream
education because of technical difficulties inherent in building student models
and facilitating human-like communications.
Overall, the differences that have been found between media and technology as
tutors and human teachers have been modest and inconsistent. It appears that the
larger value of media and technology as tutors rests in their capacity to motivate
students, increase equity of access, and reduce the time needed to accomplish a
given set of objectives.

Learning “With” Media and Technology 

Computer-based cognitive tools have been intentionally adapted or developed to
function as intellectual partners to enable and facilitate critical thinking and
higher order learning. Examples of cognitive tools include: databases,
spreadsheets, semantic networks, expert systems, communications software such
as teleconferencing programs, on-line collaborative knowledge construction
environments, multimedia/hypermedia construction software, and computer
programming languages.
In the cognitive tools approach, media and technology are given directly to
learners to use for representing and expressing what they know. Learners
themselves function as designers using media and technology as tools for
analyzing the world, accessing and interpreting information, organizing their
personal knowledge, and representing what they know to others
The foundations for using software as cognitive tools in education are:
• Cognitive tools will have their greatest effectiveness when they are applied
within constructivist learning environments.
• Cognitive tools empower learners to design their own representations of
knowledge rather than absorbing representations preconceived by others.
• Cognitive tools can be used to support the deep reflective thinking that is
necessary for meaningful learning.
• Cognitive tools have two kinds of important cognitive effects, those which are
with the technology in terms of intellectual partnerships and those that are of
the technology in terms of the cognitive residue that remains after the tools are
• Cognitive tools enable mindful, challenging learning rather than the effortless
learning promised but rarely realized by other instructional innovations.
• The source of the tasks or problems to which cognitive tools are applied
should be learners, guided by teachers and other resources in the learning

Ideally, tasks or problems for the application of cognitive tools will be
situated in realistic contexts with results that are personally meaningful for
• Using multimedia construction programs as cognitive tools engages many
skills in learners such as: project management skills, research skills,
organization and representation skills, presentation skills, and reflection skills.
• Research concerning the effectiveness of constructivist learning environments
such as microworlds, classroom-based learning environments, and virtual,
collaborative environments show positive results across a wide range of


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