Learning, Education and Technology

Technology, including mobile devices and computers, is now touching almost every aspect of our children’s lives, particularly their education. Children are spending up to 9 hours a day on screens and this is just outside of school. The World Health Organization just classified Gaming Disorder as a mental health condition, yet schools* are giving children access to gaming, pornography and social media through school provided or required devices.

The mental and physical health risks associated with technology use still apply to technology used for learning and in education. Screens in education and learning are also affecting children’s acquisition and understanding of knowledge. We have to take a critical look at how technology is used for learning and education and make informed decision to keep our kids current but safe.

*Many schools in our communities and across the country are doing an excellent job integrating technology into the curriculum. This resource stands to support many possible scenarios and does not necessarily apply to all. It is vitally important to read school technology programs, to meet with school administration to understand those policies and to proceed respectfully and with an open mind. There’s history behind technology implementation and educators aren’t usually in it for the money but because they care for our children.

Looking for suggestions, click here.

Sensible Screen Use in Schools is an excellent resource which includes a comprehensive review of the most recent research, as well as suggestions.


Here you will find the research related to the following topics:

  • Smartphones in Schools

  • Technology in Learning and Education

    • Handwriting vs. Typing

    • Reading: Print vs. Digital

    • Online Homework, Blue Light and Sleep

  • EdTech

    • Concerns with “Personalized Learning”

    • Ineffectiveness of Screens in Schools

    • General Health Effects of Screens in Schools

Technology in Learning and Knowledge Acquisition.

smartphones in schools

Filmmaker Delaney Ruston, MD, of Screenagers, has a collection of research on her Away for the Day website supporting their initiative of encouraging schools to enact policies that require students to keep their devices turned off and put away while at school.


I have a feeling there’s a lot of research. what does it all mean?


Basically this:

  • Students who engaged in media multitasking during class, that is, using multiple forms of technology, including handheld devices and computers, to access the internet and/or social media, scored lower on tests and in some studies earned lower grades.

  • Students who received notifications during class, even though they did not respond, were just as distracted as active users of mobile devices and performed poorly on tasks.

  • Students who used no technology during class outperformed those who used some. Students who texted during class performed poorly.

  • Even the mere presence of a device negatively impacted test scores and grades. “Out of sight” does not mean “out of mind.”

  • Students who believed they could multitask and text during class without being distracted still scored lower on tests despite intellectual ability.

  • The effects of devices on test scores and learning are not necessarily related to emotional regulation. Devices can negatively affect all students regardless of mental health, emotional stability or intelligence.

  • The part of the brain responsible for analytical learning - the hippocampus - is not used when distracted either by external or internal drivers.

Research and articles

  • Kuznekoff et al. (2013) Communication Education v. 62, 233-252  - College students who were not using their cell phones wrote down 62% more information in their notes, and scored a letter grade and a half higher on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their phones.

  • Non-academic internet use in the classroom is negatively related to classroom learning regardless of intellectual ability - Internet use during lectures resulted in lower exam scores and negative learning outcomes, above a measure of intellectual ability. Furthermore, students discounted the effect of using portable devices on learning over time. Concomitantly, those with higher intellectual ability reported using the internet more in class over time. Thus, higher rates of internet use were associated with lower test grades and students' beliefs about this relationship did not reflect their ability to multi-task effectively.

  • Examining the Affects of Student Multitasking with Laptops during the Lecture - Students engage in substantial multitasking behavior with their laptops and have non course-related software applications open and active about 42% of the time. There is a statistically significant inverse relationship between the ratio of distractive versus productive multitasking behavior during lectures and academic performance. We also observe that students understate the frequency of email and instant messaging (IM) use in the classroom when self-reporting on their laptop usage. 

  • Multi-tasking Adversely Affects Brain's Learning, UCLA Psychologists Report - Distracted learning is far less effective than focused learning, particularly when learning complex concepts like those covered in school. The hippocampus plays a critical role in storing, processing and recalling information. In this study, when students learned while being distracted with beeps, the area of the brain being used shifted from the hippocampus to the stratum. This part of the brain is involved in the learning of new motor skills. Almost completely irrelevant to analytical learning.

  • Neural correlates of task and source switching: Similar or different? - This study found no neurological differences between externally driven task switching (e.g., responding to a text message beep) and internally driven switches (e.g., “thinking about” a text message). This study, plus other neurological research, suggests that keeping technology away from students will not remove it from the students’ brain activation. Just because technology is '“out of sight” does not mean it is “out of mind.”

  • An Empirical Examination of the Educational Impact of Text Message-Induced Task Switching in the Classroom: Educational Implications and Strategies to Enhance Learning - Students who received a “high” number of texts while watching a videotaped lecture scored 11% worse than students who received a “low” number of texts. There was no difference in performance of the students in the “moderate” text group. This further supports the above conclusion that “out of sight” does not mean “out of mind.”

  • Texting as a distraction to learning in college students - Although students in this study believed that texting was a distraction to others and not to them, those who received texts during a lectures scored significantly lower on a quiz.

  • An Introduction to Multitasking and Texting: Prevalence and Impact on Grades and GPA in Marketing Classes - Students reported receiving an average of 37 texts and sending 16 texts per day. 90% of students received texts during class, while 86% sent texts. Those who reported texting during class received lower grades despite their belief that they could text and follow the lecture at the same time. This study did not find that texting frequency was related to GPA.

  • The Effects of Cell Phone Use and Emotion‐regulation Style on College Students' Learning - This study found that students whose phones were taken away during a lecture scored higher on a followup test than those who were allowed to hold their phones but not use them and those who had no restrictions. There was no difference in emotional regulation measures (mindfulness, nomophobia (fear of being disconnected), obsessiveness).

  • Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning - Analyses of this study indicated that participants who did not use any technologies in the lectures outperformed students who used some form of technology. Consistent with the cognitive bottleneck theory of attention (Welford, 1967) and contrary to popular beliefs, attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.

  • Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity - In this research, we test the “brain drain” hypothesis that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance. Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence. We conclude by discussing the practical implications of this smartphone-induced brain drain for consumer decision-making and consumer welfare.

  • The mere presence of a cell phone may be distracting: Implications for attention and task performance.  - Recent research also has indicated that simply the presence of a cell phone and what it might represent (i.e., social connections, broader social network, etc.) can be similarly distracting and have negative consequences in a social interaction. Results of two studies reported here provide further evidence that the “mere presence” of a cell phone may be sufficiently distracting to produce diminished attention and deficits in task-performance, especially for tasks with greater attentional and cognitive demands.

  • The attentional cost of receiving a cell phone notifications - This study found that cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task. The magnitude of observed distraction effects was comparable in magnitude to those seen when users actively used a mobile phone, either for voice calls or text messaging.

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Technology in Education.

HandWriting vs. Typing

Computers and iPads are making their way into classrooms across the country. (Almost) gone are the days of 5-star notebooks and Bic pens. Even at TLO, we keep all of our records on our laptops and in our Google drives. Isn’t typing better? Not so fast, let’s summarize the research.

Hold up. Should I write this down?

Maybe. Research shows that handwriting activates different parts of the brain than typing resulting in improved:

  • Memory Formation.

  • Working Memory.

  • Letter Recruitment and Reading Acquisition.

  • Idea Creation.

  • Understanding of Information.

  • Understanding and use of punctuation, capitalization and spelling.

  • Word Recall.

As well as:

  • Increased Activation in Reading and Writing Networks of the brain.

  • Facilitating reading acquisition in young children.

  • Deeper Level Learning.

REsearch and articles.

How Our Hands Affect Our Brains - Psychology Today - Children express more and better ideas writing in cursive than when typing.  Brain scans show that more of the areas of the brain associated with memory formation are activated when writing than when typing.

Early development of language by hand: composing, reading, listening, and speaking connections; three letter-writing modes; and fast mapping in spelling - When the children in this study composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children - This study found that printing letters and shapes activated the “reading circuit” of the brain in 5-year olds during letter perception only after handwriting—not after typing or tracing experiences. These findings demonstrate that handwriting is important for the early recruitment in letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading. Handwriting therefore may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking - Research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still impair learning because their use results in shallower processing. Three studies found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. This study shows that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning. Even when students were given the opportunity to study their notes, those whose notes were hand written performed better than those whose notes were typed.*

*Students who access professor or teacher written notes and use those to study may also perform worse on tests than those who hand write their own notes. The actual task of listening to, processing and paraphrasing information into written form creates context and content and deeper learning.

A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop: Students who used longhand remembered more and had a deeper understanding of the material -Very well written and practical evaluation of above study.

Reclaiming Handwriting - This is a experiential examination of how handwriting enhances students understanding and use of punctuation, capitalization and spelling. When writing by hand, students are forced to think about and practice these fundamentals vs. letting the device do it for them.

Handwriting versus Keyboard Writing: Effect on Word Recall - This study evaluated the effects of handwriting, typing on a computer or typing on a touchscreen on word recall and recognition. Although the writing modality had no impact on recognition. Those who wrote the words by hand had higher free recall than those of typed the words.

Reading: Digital Text vs. Print Text

At TLO, like students, we do most of our reading online. These research studies are loooong and printing everything isn't in the budget. Are we doing ourselves a disservice? Looks like it.

  • The disruptive effect of scrolling negatively impacts comprehension.

  • If the purpose of reading is for general understanding, any medium will do but for deeper understanding and comprehension, print is better than digital.

  • When you have to read online, don’t take the medium for granted. Focus on what you’re reading and take your time. This can improve comprehension.

  • The light from LCD screens contributes to visual fatigue and interferes with text recall.

  • One study finds 92% of college students prefer print books to e-readers.

research and articles.

Start here:

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper vs. Print - This is a really fascinating article that covers almost all of the research and explains it in an easy to understand way. Evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.

In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done.

A parallel line of research focuses on people's attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper vs. Screen - Abigail Sellen of Microsoft Research Cambridge states, “The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized.” At least a few studies suggest that by limiting the way people navigate digital texts, screens impair comprehension. Because of their easy navigability, paper books and documents may be better suited to absorption in a text. Supporting this research, surveys indicate that screens and e-readers interfere with two other important aspects of navigating texts: serendipity and a sense of control. Students who read on paper learned the study material more thoroughly more quickly; they did not have to spend a lot of time searching their minds for information from the text, trying to trigger the right memory—they often just knew the answers.

A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens - Key findings included students preferred to read digitally, could do so faster and perceived comprehension as better. They were wrong. Deeper understanding of material occurred when reading print.

Reading on Paper and Digitally: What the Past Decades of Empirical Research Reveal - A review of research found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length.

Reading Across Mediums: Effects of Reading Digital and Print Text on Comprehension and Calibration - Another study which reveals students recalled key points linked to the main idea and other relevant information better when engaged with print and scored significantly higher in reading comprehension than those who read digital. Students also recalled more from the print text than from the digital text. Researchers have found that these LCD screens might contribute to visual fatigue as a result of the lighting source. Studies determined that other features of a LCD screen, such as its refresh rate, contrast levels, and fluctuating light, can interfere with text recall.

Reading Fuels Empathy. Do Screens Threaten That?

ONline Homework, blue light and sleep

We know that blue light affects sleep quality and quantity. Online homework can be particularly troubling today when students are busy with activities after school and often start on homework, at night, online, before bed. No wonder kids aren’t getting enough sleep.

Research and Articles.

Decreases in self-reported sleep duration among U.S. adolescents 2009–2015 and association with new media screen time - Compared to 2009, adolescents in 2015 were 16%–17% more likely to report sleeping less than 7 hours a night on most nights, with an increase in short sleep duration after 2011–2013. New media screen time (electronic device use, social media, and reading news online) increased over this time period and was associated with increased odds of short sleep duration, with a clear exposure–response relationship for electronic devices after 2 or more hours of use per day. Other activities associated with short sleep duration, such as homework time, working for pay, and TV watching, were relatively stable or reduced over this time period, making it unlikely that these activities caused the sudden increase in short sleep duration. Increased new media screen time may be involved in the recent increases (from 35% to 41% and from 37% to 43%) in short sleep among adolescents. Public health interventions should consider electronic device use as a target of intervention to improve adolescent health.

E-books 'damage sleep and health,' doctors warn - A team from Harvard Medical School compared reading paper books and light-emitting e-readers before sleep. They found it took longer to nod off with a back-lit e-reader, which led to poorer quality sleep and being more tired the next morning. Poor quality sleep is linked to a number of physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and cardiovascular.

For more information regarding the impacts of screens on sleep, visit the Mental Health Information Page.


As mentioned above technology and screen use in schools varies tremendously from one community to the next. Generally, the term EdTech is used to describe the implementation of “personalized learning” through the very heavy use of screens in classrooms. Probably the most well known of these is Summit Learning Program, founded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Yes, as is Mark Zuckerberg. Of course, it’s 100% about student learning…Zuckerberg has no incentive to collect student data and/or introduce children to heavy, daily use of technology.

EdTech sometimes also refers to other technology programs implemented in schools, such as 1:1 iPad and laptop programs.


  • EdTech is a very general terms referring to an incredible diversity of systems. As such, reasonably evaluating the effectiveness of these programs is difficult.

  • Implementation and ongoing evaluation of technology programs in schools matter tremendously.

  • Technology shouldn’t provide direct instruction but should should create new opportunities for learning and teaching.

  • Screens should never be used to manage problematic behavior in the classroom.

  • Tried and true teaching techniques should not be abandoned for non-proven tech-centric techniques.

  • “Personalized Learning” is tailored to a students strengths and weakness where as real life is not. Children would benefit from natural struggle and failure.

  • A caring teacher will always be better at understanding a child’s needs and interests than a computer.

  • Health risks range from eye problems to possible increased cancer risk, damaged reproductive systems and altered neurological development from exposure to RF radiation.

Research and Articles

General Edtech reviews and opinions

New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning - “However, despite the advances in both hardware and software, recent studies show little evidence for the effectiveness of this form of Personalized Instruction. This is due in large part to the incredible diversity of systems that are lumped together under the label of Personalized Instruction. Combining such disparate systems into one group has made it nearly impossible to make reasonable claims one way or the other. To further cloud the issue, there are several ways that these systems can be implemented in the classroom. We are just beginning to experiment with and evaluate different implementation models—and the data show that implementation models matter. How a system is integrated into classroom routines and structures strongly mediates the outcomes for students. In light of recent findings, it may be that we need to turn to new ways of conceptualizing the role of technology in the classroom—conceptualizations that do not assume the computer will provide direct instruction to students, but instead will serve to create new opportunities for both learning and teaching.”

Screens in Schools – Are ‘tech-centric’ teachers addicted to technology - TLO Partner Cris Rowan seeks to understand why so many teachers and district are pushing the use of screens in schools. She addresses why this is problematic for students and learning, as well as provides very practical solutions.

Screen Schooled with Matt Miles and Joe Clement - Have a listen to TLO partners and veteran teachers Matt and Joe talk about their firsthand experiences with corporate-branded, screen-based technology in the classroom. They’ve done the research, too. And they offer suggestions. This is a webinar but you can listen (for example, in the car) without having to watch.

Concerns with “personalized” learning

The Problem with Personalized Learning -“I wonder what would happen should, God forbid, children run into learning situations in the world that cannot be optimized for them individually. What if the world changes and the problems that arise just do not afford solutions that fit their sweet spot? What if their sweet spot is just no good for certain types of learning and problem solving? This is the problem with adaptive platforms that attempt to “personalize” learning to each individual’s inherent strengths. We don’t live in a world where only our inherent strengths make a difference. By eliminating struggle and failure, we risk more than we realize.”

The Overselling of Ed Tech - “If you haven’t given much thought to the kind of intellectual life we might want schools to foster, then it might sound exciting to “personalize” or “customize” learning. But as I argued not long ago, we shouldn’t confuse personalized learning with personal learning. The first involves adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores, and it requires the purchase of software. The second involves working with each student to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests, and it requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well.”

Ineffectiveness of screens in schools

Study: Computer Use in School Doesn't Help Test Scores - Summary article of a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that found that students who used computers more at school scored lower in math and reading assessments.

State of the Art Education Software Often Doesn’t Help Students Learn More - “What SRI found was sobering. In most cases, students didn’t get higher grades from using adaptive-learning software, nor were they more likely to pass a course than in a traditional face-to- face class. In some courses the researchers found that students were learning more from adaptive- learning software, but even in those cases, the positive impact tended to be “modest”.”

Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms? - In 2009, the (federal) Education Department released a study of whether math and reading software helped student achievement in first, fourth, and sixth grades, based on testing in hundreds of classrooms. The study found that the difference in test scores between the software-using classes and the control group was not statistically different from zero. In sixth grade math, students who uesd software got lower test scores – and the effect got significantly worse in the second year of use.”

Additional Health Impacts of Technology, specific to Screens In Schools

Scientists Raise Concerns about Health Risks with EdTech. How Will The U.S. Department of Education Respond? - “In a press release dated October 14th, 2015, leading expert scientists and doctors from the Environmental Health Trust (EHT) sent an Open Letter the U.S. Department of Education can take to safeguard children’s health. The letter references to U.S. Department of Education detailing children’s unique vulnerability to the health risks of wireless technology and outlined specific steps accumulated scientific research documenting that wireless radiation, also known as radio-frequency (RF) or microwave radiation, could increase cancer risk and has been shown to damage reproductive systems and alter neurological development.”

Time to create classroom computer safety guidelines - “Myopia — permanent nearsightedness — is reaching epic proportions in this country and worldwide. The cause? Screen time, according to the University of Southern California, which has just completed the largest study ever done. Childhood myopia has doubled in the United States in the past 50 years, and experts have identified increased use of digital devices as the major culprit. Screen time brings blue light emissions as well. That can ruin young eyes because that nasty damaging ray goes right to the back of a child’s eye, which doesn’t have the ability to protect itself because of a lack of pigmentation. Because they are still growing, children’s eyes are more vulnerable than adults’. According to experts, the potential for early macular degeneration, which leads to blindness, is real. The blue light keeps children up at night, too, by reducing melatonin.”

additional resources

Parents Across America, Background and Research Paper on Dangers of EdTech (Very extensive list of issues with research links) - If you’re looking for an extensive list of the risks associated with EdTech with supporting articles and research, look no farther.