Findings from a new global report synthesising 60+ years of data from 15,000+ studies have been released.

In a world grappling with COVID-19, where many schools are closed or operating at reduced hours, education systems are increasingly relying on digital technology to keep students learning. Before the pandemic, governments globally already spent more than US$140 billion per annum on education technology – ranging from hardware, learning management systems, digital content, to back-office systems. Early indications suggest that in the midst of COVID-19 this is now growing, but it raises the question: is it money well spent?

In a major new report, ‘Not All that Glitters Is Gold: Can Education Technology Finally Deliver?’, Dr Arran Hamilton (Cognition Education Group) and Laureate Professor John Hattie (University of Melbourne) review 60+ years of data from 233 meta-analysis of 15,344 studies, involving more than 2 million study participants, across 29 different types of education technology. Their key findings include:

1. Overconsumption of TV outside of school and the use of smartphones and social media in the classroom have a significant negative impact on learning, which can cumulatively amount to the equivalent of a lost year of learning.

2. The average level of student learning from use of digital technology is up to 50% lower than what can be achieved through the use of non-digital/face-to-face learning approaches. Only 10 out of the 29 investigated types of technology were rated as worth investing in and only 2 out of 29 showed consistently strong evidence of impact.

3. The two technologies whose evidence of impact was significantly above average were AI-driven Intelligent Tutoring Systems that provide tailored and continuously adapting learning content in maths and science; and the use of Video Performance Analytics systems by teachers to record, review and enhance their teaching.

4. The overall impact of digital technology on learning has not fundamentally changed since the 1970s. Research from that era showed similar levels of learning gain from the use of green-screen terminals as what we see today from children engaging with high definition touchscreen computers.

However, report authors Dr Arran Hamilton and Prof. John Hattie recognise that in the context of COVID-19 school closures, leveraging digital technology is likely to be significantly more efficient and personalised than the mixture of postal correspondence courses and radio broadcasts that were rolled out during the polio epidemics of the 1940s and 50s.

The report also maps new technologies that are currently in development and likely to be in schools by 2030, including:

  • Next generation video-conferencing – through adept use of 5G, facial motion capture, haptic feedback and smart lenses – school buildings could dematerialise, as teachers and students enter virtual campuses. In the short term, these are most likely to benefit developing countries, where the cost of mass-produced digital hardware is likely to be significantly less than building new schools.
  • Robo-Coaches could predict if a child is going to skip school, have an emotional outburst, and/or when they are most cognitively primed to do their homework. As this technology gets better it will also be able to interject with life-like audio-nudges to discourage children from negative behaviours or reinforce positive ones.

Looking longer-term, the report also predicts:

  • Foreign Language Learning – real-time in-ear translation, combined with smart lenses that digitally re-animate the lips of foreign language speakers could make face-to-face communications seamless for speakers of all languages.
  • The Rise of Brain Computer Interfaces – in the short term these will enable people to control devices and switch off the lights through the power of thought. In the longer-term it could make ‘telepathy’ more possible with Bluetooth pairing and may even mean that by 2100 it is possible to literally download new skills from an App Store.

Report lead author Dr Arran Hamilton said: “The evidence of impact on student learning from 60 years of education technology research is fairly underwhelming, with 2020 tablet computers generating similar student learning gains to 1970s era green-screen terminals. But as we look forward, there are grounds for strong optimism.

Advances in AI, biometrics, haptics, and a host of other areas will mean less paper behind glass and more genuine impact. It also means that our great grandchildren might literally be able to download new knowledge and skills from an App Store”.

The report can be foound at

About Cognition Education Group

Operating around the world, we’re at the forefront of global education innovation. Working in over 30 countries, our three brands; Cognition Education, Wavelength and Begin Bright, provide leading education services directly to learners, educators, governments and businesses, including international corporates. Our team deliver professional learning, publishing, digital learning solutions and early-learning programmes to millions of learners worldwide.


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