Digital Learning: What to Know in 2020
Digital learning is an instructional practice that ultimately helps students. It makes use of a broad range of technology-enhanced educational strategies. It includes blended learning, flipped learning, personalized learning, and other strategies that rely on digital tools to a small or large degree.
While people often think of digital learning as just the use of digital tools in the classroom, I’d argue that oversimplifies it and fails to capture the purpose of the concept. Digital learning is meant to enhance learning, not simply continue it via a digital means.
In fact, the data suggests that merely providing students with access to devices doesn't necessarily lead to better outcomes. But the thoughtful integration of technology to enable students to actively engage with ideas and their peers does enhance the learning experience. It's a nuanced and strategic challenge that grapples with countless tangible and abstract variables—devices, software, classroom practices, professional development, and collaboration among the many stakeholders just to name a few.
In this post, you'll catch a glimpse of some of these variables in the form of data, trends, and strategies that education professionals throughout the world are practicing today.
What the Data Says About Digital Learning—A Study of 16,906 Education Professionals
If you haven’t heard yet, Schoology conducted a landmark K-12 study called The State of Digital Learning. It’s a general study via survey that included 16,906 teachers and administrators—nearly 97% of which were from the United States.
The survey covered the top challenges and priorities for both teachers and administrators. We explored the devices, digital content, and PD strategies being utilized. We even do some interesting cross analysis that reveals deeper insights into the current state of digital learning.
The data clearly reveals that our respondents overwhelmingly agree that digital learning positively impacts students and teachers. But there’s a lot to unpack here, so let's just dive in.
Why is Digital Learning Important?
The answer to this question is not as obvious as you may think. It might surprise you to know that this is one of the most frequently searched questions in regard to digital learning.
The concept of digital learning is quite complex, with too many variables to adequately cover in this post. In short, digital learning can enhance learning experiences, save teachers time, enable teachers to better tailor learning to student needs, aid in tracking student progress, provide transparency into the learning process for all stakeholders, and much more.
Among these many benefits of digital learning, an overwhelming majority of teachers and administrators who took our survey agree that digital learning positively impacts student growth and achievement.
They also agree that it positively impacts faculty growth and effectiveness.
5 Key Digital Learning Trends and Insights of 2020
Diving a little deeper into the data, we’ve identified 10 key insights from our survey that provide some clarity into the current state of digital learning. Below are five of those.
#1 We have a critical need for relevant and effective professional development.
PD is still missing the mark. For three years in a row now, administrators have reported the need to provide effective and relevant PD as their #1 challenge. In addition, the same concern has been the top priority for the past two years.
#2 Most schools and districts view digital learning as an integral part of their teaching and learning strategy.
Digital learning is a vital part of teaching and learning strategies for 98% of respondents.
#3 The need for required digital citizenship programs is growing.
The number of schools and districts that require students to complete a digital citizenship program has grown 6% since last year, helping to address internet safety issues—teacher’s #1 digital citizenship concern.
#4 Coding is here to stay, but robotics is on the way.
There’s no denying that coding is already a valuable and highly sought after skill in the world-at-large. By continuing to integrate coding into the curriculum, we are better preparing our students for college, career, and beyond. Keep an eye on robotics. With a 16% increase in classroom use over last year, the depth of technology integration is growing at a rapid pace.
#5 Twitter is a hub for educators to grow professionally.
With social media acceptance and usage on the rise in schools across the U.S., 30% educators are finding and growing their professional networks while collaborating and sharing resources on Twitter. We’re excited to see how professional learning networks (PLNs) continue to grow in the digital space.
Digital Learning Tools and Solutions
When considering the state of digital learning, the technologies being used are often top of mind. After all, the tools an institution chooses can have ripple effects throughout the organization.
Below is a glimpse into the hardware being used by the faculty and administrators who took our survey.
And here's how all that hardware is structured.
How the LMS Fits into Digital Learning
Invariably, we had to inquire about whether or not respondents had a learning management system (LMS) and what effect it might be having. The reason being the LMS is not just another tool; it often represents a cultural shift. The LMS can be the hub of all educational activity—the place where all the learning, communication, collaboration, and analysis actually happens.
So of the 16,906 education professionals who took the survey about 47% of them said they have an LMS, 13% said they don't, and around 39% were unsure (the ambiguity may be due to the wide range of non-instructional roles represented in this survey).
Social Media Use is Becoming More Prevalent
While the debate about the role of mobile devices in the classroom rages on, a winner seems to be emerging. It may not surprise you that mobile devices are being incorporated into digital learning more frequently than ever.
Nearly 40% of survey respondents allow social media use for instructional purposes only, while about 16% allow open use of social media in school.
Digital Learning in the Classroom
When diving into the state of digital learning in the classroom, there are a few key insights I wanted to highlight.
The Obstacles to Effective Digital Learning
While student access to technology at home and lack of time during the school day are cited as the top obstacles to integrating technology into teaching and learning, there are many other concerns as well. These include lack of a digitized curriculum, as well as ineffective professional development and a lack of parent involvement.
An interesting note is that compared to last year, the number of teachers who report a lack of parental involvement or understanding as a challenge has jumped from the #7 challenge all the way to #3. Teachers may be feeling like there is a greater lack of parental involvement as teaching and learning take on a greater digital focus throughout education.
The Most Common Instructional Strategies and Practices
Digital learning takes many forms—from barely blended learning to gamified, mastery learning. But some instructional strategies are practiced more than others. Below is the pedagogical landscape according to our survey results.
But which instructional strategy is considered most effective? Both personalized and individualized learning are considered to be the most effective types of differentiated learning.
Digital Learning in Schools and Districts (Beyond the Classroom)
While it's easy to focus solely on the classroom when analyzing digital learning, there are many important factors at the school and district level that affect outcomes. Administrators, and other education professionals who primarily work outside of the classroom, have their own set of challenges.
As you can see, their #1 challenge is providing relevant and effective PD. This plays right into the next data point, which highlights which PD strategies are employed most in the institutions represented by our survey.
What PD Strategies are Practiced Most?
Many education professionals agree that ongoing instructional coaching is one of the most effective forms of professional development. And while there's plenty of research to back this up, only about 30% of our survey respondents mentioned that ongoing coaching was being practiced in their institutions.
Two years ago, nearly half of all respondents said the LMS used in the classroom is not used in their PD. Last year, 60% of schools and districts that responded to our survey used the same LMS for professional development as they do for teaching students. This year, we’re excited that nearly 70% of respondents now use the same LMS for professional development as in the classroom.
Schools and Districts are Honing in on Collaboration
82% of respondents feel their school or district is at least somewhat effective at enabling collaboration between teachers. Interestingly, schools and districts in which LMS usage is mandated are the most effective at enabling collaboration. These responses support the idea that the LMS is one of the most effective tools for facilitating not only teaching and learning, but collaboration, as well.
So, What’s Changed?
Now that you’re caught up with all things digital learning, let’s see how this compared to some of the same questions asked last year. Check out last year’s eBook to learn about the results from our 2018-2019 survey. Keep in mind that the 2018-2019 study had less than 10,000 teachers and administrators participate and this year’s study had more than 16,000!
Final Thoughts About Digital Learning
If you've made it this far, then I hope you've found this glimpse into the state of digital learning useful.
While you'll find much of the data is promising—i.e., the impact of digital learning on students and teachers—much of it points to serious issues with the strategies and priorities of educational institutions around the world. The data that comes to mind is the fact the majority of PD isn't modeling instructional best practices and that has to change.
Under another light, however, that data also points to something quite amazing when you look at what's actually happening in classrooms around the world. Education professionals—as well as the students they teach—are, in large part, writing the book on digital learning from the ground up, and they are doing some incredible work. From personalized learning to social media and coding in the classroom, the education landscape is being fertilized by technology and will continue to grow.
Thanks to everyone who participated in this study, and thanks to everyone who is doing the good work in education. We sincerely hope this data benefits you on your journey.
What surprised you the most about these data points? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology