How to Use Digital Learning To Enhance Student Achievement
Digital learning has been a major buzzword in education circles for nearly a decade, and it's here to stay. Improved internet access, affordable devices, and plenty of learning-specific apps have made tech a part of daily life in the classroom for most students. As schools have invested in tech and teachers have become more comfortable with all of their resources, they've found that digital learning helps students grasp new material. In fact, a whopping 95 percent of educators believe that digital learning has a positive impact on student achievement, according to Schoology's 2018 Global State of Digital Learning Survey.
Digital learning has expanded beyond the bounds of using a word processor in the computer lab to complete an essay. Today, digital learning can include student collaboration on multimedia projects, watching a documentary at home as part of a flipped classroom model, using learning apps to let students progress at their own pace, and so much more. Digital learning isn't just about providing more information to students—though the internet does put all the world's knowledge within reach. It's also about fostering deeper learning. Digital learning allows students to publish their work to their intended audience online, interact with businesses and government officials, and put their skills into action to solve real-world problems.
So how do schools make sure that they're using digital learning in ways that boost achievement? Here are some tried-and-true methods that enhance student learning:
Provide Immediate Feedback
One of the most difficult aspects of classroom teaching is the paperwork—there simply isn't enough time in the day to grade all of the papers to provide prompt, individualized feedback to learners. Delays are a part of life, but unfortunately, your feedback loses its punch when it takes a week for a student to receive it. When feedback comes after the fact, it feels more like a judgment and less like actionable information for your students.
Enter digital learning. Apps and other programs that provide practice problems have one big advantage over their overworked human counterparts: they can instantly let learners know if they got an answer right or wrong. Even better, they can provide that feedback in constructive ways, offering hints about how to do better and leading students to go back and fix their mistakes right away. This keep learners on the right track instead of leaving them to wonder where they stand.
Digital learning is also a major time-saver when it comes to tracking student performance. The same programs that provide instant feedback on student work can also collate those results and present them to students, parents and teachers in an easy-to-read format that clearly illustrates student progress. Looking at a chart or graph that shows progress over time is more meaningful — and more motivating — than a single, old-fashioned letter grade awarded at the end of the term. With better data, students can see how they are progressing toward benchmarks and where they need to expend more effort to achieve their goals.
Specialized learning apps aren't the only way to track student data, either. You can also use your LMS to chart everything from attendance to grades to get a snapshot of student performance at any moment in time. Measuring against benchmarks is simplified, and if you provide online assignments and quizzes, you can have instant access to that data in ways that make sense—no calculator required.
Innovate How You Motivate
It will come as a surprise to no one that kids like video games. They love to stay connected to their friends online, and they feel completely at home with digital technology. This means that, for most students, digital learning can be highly motivating—who wouldn't want to practice multiplication tables as part of a colorful game with fun characters and rewards instead of doing a dull worksheet? Of course, not every student will respond to every game, so providing plenty of choices among digital activities will also empower students and keep them motivated to practice new skills.
Gamification is a natural motivator for many students, and it can certainly make the grind of practicing certain skills more palatable. But digital technology also has the power to keep struggling students motivated by meeting them at their level. Good formative assessment will show what skills a learner has, as well as what they need to work on. Then practice activities can be pitched directly to individual students' needs so they can learn at their own pace and feel successful with just-right challenges. This is all possible without technology, of course, but well designed learning apps make it so much easier for each student to begin a program where they need to, and good AI can automatically increase the difficulty as students improve.
Focus on the Future
A truly useful digital learning program must be designed for longevity. To make sure you're getting the most out of your investment, it's crucial to train staff to use your LMS and any other programs so they feel confident, not overwhelmed. Proper training will also ensure that you're getting full use out of all the features of these systems. Professional development around digital learning should be ongoing, not once-and-done, so find ways to connect to other communities using similar programs to share ideas and ways to troubleshoot common issues.
It's also important that every district have a big-picture, long-term plan for their technology programs. This will include infrastructure to make sure hardware is replaced and upgraded, regular reviews of software to stay up-to-date, and careful consultation between administrators and users to make sure digital learning programs fit well into families' lives.
When paired with great teaching and a well articulated curriculum, digital learning can enhance student achievement and give all students the opportunity to learn at their own pace. Technology can be highly motivating, and using it in a thoughtful way can keep students engaged in the learning process so they can succeed into tomorrow's tech-laden world.
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