Assessing the evidence for edtech

Judge in wigThe widespread criticisms of the recent LSE and OECD reports are poorly founded and do nothing but undermine the argument for serious edtech

Those of us who complain that edtech gets too little attention in the national press should perhaps have been beware of what we wished for. Two recent studies to have hit the headlines both say that the general impact of technology on learning is negative.

Advocates of technology enhanced learning have tended to brush this research aside. Various online commentators have said that the reports were “flawed”, “confused” and “tosh”, and those who reported them were guilty of “lazy and irrelevant journalism”.

The two reports are:

Communication: Technology, Distraction & Student Performance

  • written by Louis Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy
  • published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics
  • in May 2015
  • which I will referred to as “the LSE report”.

Students, Computers and Learning—Making the Connection

  • published by the OECD under the direction of Andreas Schleicher
  • in September 2015
  • which I will refer to as “the OECD report”.

In this post I will:

  • review what the reports say and why they said it,
  • assess the arguments put forward for dismissing them,
  • and suggest some conclusions to take away.

At over 14,000 words, I cannot pretend that this is anything other than a long article—but the length is unavoidable given the nature of the topic. What is more, I believe that the reaction of the edtech community to these reports is sufficiently important to justify the effort of writing it. I thank you in advance for making the effort to read it and hope that by the time you finish, you will also think that it was worthwhile.

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Setting the curriculum

Archery targetsThe call from Dame Sally Coates for a single national curriculum raises important questions but does not give quite the right answers

Dame Sally Coates, Director of Academies South for United Learning, has claimed that all schools should follow the same curriculum, as created by a group of nationally-appointed experts.

Pedro De Bruyckere thinks that this is an April fool of an idea, that would kill the professionalism of teachers. On the whole, I am with Dame Sally.

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How edtech will revolutionize research

Researchers working at microscopesWhy the only realistic way of improving the quality of educational research (and of education itself) is by the intelligent application of education technology

I gave this talk at Research Ed 2015 on 5 September, the latest in a series of three national conferences organized by Tom Bennett.

Research Ed has grown into a vital event in the annual calendar for teachers interested in the theory of teaching. Nevertheless, my impression is that the centre of gravity of many of the talks at ResearchEd has veered away from an agenda that tries to promote sound, quantitative research, and is replaced with a softer account of both the role and methodology of research, as is suggested by the language of “action research” and “research-informed” teaching.

I believe that the problems with research are systemic and not just the result of incompetence. I argue in this piece that these systemic problems can (and can only) be solved by seeing teaching as a business which has a larger technical element than we commonly admit, and one that is less dependent on personal intuition (or what some call “tacit knowledge”). Such a realignment of our views on what teaching is, and how research into teaching should be conducted, will also underline a radical reevaluation of the role of technology in the classroom.

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After ETAG

After the ball by Ramon Casas Y CarboAfter the ETAG report failed to provide a coherent route map, the new government now has a once-in-a-decade opportunity to develop a radical new approach to ed-tech.

In the autumn of 2013, I welcomed the Coalition government’s revival of interest in ed-tech after four years of neglect (see “Land ho!” of December 2013). But the process of bringing the ship into port does not always run smoothly. If last January’s report from the Education Technology Action Group (ETAG) is of any value, it is only because it shows so clearly how muddled is the thinking of the ed-tech community in the UK.

I do not welcome the opportunity to produce another negative critique (indeed, I have hesitated for four months before doing so). I would much rather move on to make a positive contribution to a coherent discussion about effective ed-tech policy. But so long as a group such as ETAG, established with some fanfare by Ministers, produces such a poorly reasoned argument, there seems to be little option but to offer a rebuttal.

What I want to emphasise at the end of this piece, however, is that the failure of ETAG provides an important opportunity to put aside the muddled vision of technology in education that has dominated our discourse for the last 20 years. Following last week’s election, we have in 2015 the best opportunity since 1997 to make a fresh start and introduce a truly effective model of education technology into our schools.

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Next generation SCORM

Ballet dancerAn outline and rationale for my proposal for “next generation SCORM”. I call it STARLET: Shareable Tools Activities and Resources for Learning Education and Training

This is the second in a series of papers prepared for an Education Priorities Working Group being run by W3C. While the first paper, Proposed W3C Priorities for Education, took a high level overview, this paper drills down into a proposal for a specific work item. At the technical level, which is not education-specific, I call this XDMDL, eXtensible Data Model Declaration Language. At the education level, I propose that the XDMDL should be used to underpin a new digitial ecosystem for learning. It is this education-specific ecosystem for which I propose the name STARLET: Shareable Tools Activities and Resources for Learning Education and Training. As before, if you are interested in what you read and want to get involved in the W3C discussions, email me at

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Proposed W3C priorities for education


A white paper proposing key ed-tech priorities for the world wide web

I co-wrote the following paper with Pierre Danet from Hachette Livre for the task force being run by W3C, the consortium responsible for the world wide web. The paper outlines what we see as the key priorities for the world wide web in the face of an emerging market for digital ed-tech. The basic premises of the paper were accepted in a call last Friday and over the next two weeks we will be working on a paper to describe in greater detail the specifics of the next steps that we believe need to be taken. This will be intended to form the prospectus for a W3C Community Group, which anyone who is interested in taking this work forwards is invited to join. Please email me at and I will forward your details to Pierre, who is leading the current scoping exercise. The original paper is currently on the W3C wiki page for this group.

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