Digital Learning: What to Know in 2019
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 over simplifies 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 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 9,279 Education Professionals
If you haven’t heard yet, Schoology conducted a landmark K-12 study called The Global State of Digital Learning (get the ebook here). It’s a general study via survey that included 9,279 teachers and administrators from 89 different countries.
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 2017–2018
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 (see our ebook for all 10).
#1 Relevant and Effective PD is a Top Concern and a Major Priority
For the second year in a row, professional development tops the challenge list for administrators, and is now also a #1 priority.
#2 Professional Learning Communities (PLC) have a Positive Effect on Professional Learning
PLCs can be incredibly helpful for educators. And since 83% of respondents agree that PLCs are effective PD tools, more institutions should encourage participation.
#3 Educators are Increasingly Eager to Integrate EdTech
More than 34% of teachers consider integrating new edtech tools a top priority for the school year. Interestingly, though, nearly the same amount of teachers are suffering from “tech bloat”—or having too many tools to juggle—and have identified it as a top challenge.
#4 Social Media is Finding its Place in the Classroom
About 40% of schools allow social media for educational purposes only, while nearly 20% have an openly permitted social media policy. These numbers speak to the notion that more institutions are realizing it’s time to meet students where they are.
#5 More Institutions See the Value of Dedicated Instructional Technologists
The number of schools and districts with dedicated instructional technologists has increased nearly 10% since last year. Instructional technologists and academic coordinators are crucial to the success of digital learning initiatives.
Digital Learning Tools and Solutions
When considering the state of digital learning, the technologies being used is 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 9,279 education professionals who took the survey at least 50% of them said they have an LMS, 22% said they don't, and around 27% were unsure (the ambiguity may be due to the wide range of non-instructional roles represented in this survey). Cross analysis shows the respondents who have been in education longer use their LMS more frequently
But maybe more interesting is the breakdown of student engagement relative to the frequency of LMS use.
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 nearly 20% 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 (for the rest, see our ebook).
The Obstacles to Effective Digital Learning
While juggling too many devices and student access to technology are cited as the top obstacles to integrating technology into teaching and learning, there are many other concerns as well. These include lack of time and digitized curriculum, as well as ineffective professional development.
An interesting note is that “tech bloat”—having to juggle too many tools—increased by nearly 8% this year, taking the place of student access to technology as the biggest challenge for teachers.
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 23% of our survey respondents mentioned that ongoing coaching was being practiced in their institutions.
Last year, nearly half of all respondents said the LMS used in the classroom is not used in their PD. This year, though, 60% of schools and districts that responded to our survey use the same LMS for professional development as they do for teaching students.
Collaboration Mostly Stops at the Department Level
When asked the broadest level of collaboration being practiced in their schools and districts, nearly 47% of respondents say they are not collaborating beyond their department, which is down nearly 20% from last year.
So, What’s Changed?
Now that you’re caught up with all things digital learning, let’s see how this compared to the same questions asked last year. Check out the video below to learn about the results from our 2017-2018 survey. Keep in mind that the 2017-2018 study had 2,846 teachers and administrators participate and this year’s study had almost 10,000!
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. Better yet, I hope your interest is piqued and you dive in deeper by downloading our 52 page Global State of Digital Learning in K-12 ebook.
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 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.