Featured News Is classroom tech helping or hindering schoolkids’ learning?

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Wed, 10 Jun 2020

Is classroom tech helping or hindering schoolkids’ learning?

Image: Kelly Sikkema

A James Cook University researcher has found the jury is still out on the wisdom of using Ipads and other technology in schools – and there are fears its use may not support brain development.

JCU’s Associate Professor Helen Boon has reviewed research from Australia and internationally from the date of the introduction of the iPad in 2010 through to 2019.

“There is extensive use of IT in classrooms and I wanted to find out whether iPads, laptops or other mobile technology used by school students aged 9 to 14 years enhance learning,” said Dr Boon.

She said findings revealed that iPads and other mobile technology used for specific school learning areas such as mathematics, English, and science has not consistently enhanced academic outcomes.

“Some studies have suggested that mobile technology promotes collaborative learning, communication and access to information. On the other hand, the potential for mobile technology to be a distraction in the classroom has also been frequently reported,” said Dr Boon.

She said the views on whether or not mobile technology helped children learn are not evidence-based.

“Perhaps surprisingly, research in this field is itself inconsistent in its method and approach. It doesn’t yet give us a clear answer,” said Dr Boon.

She said another concern, apart from whether mobile devices enhanced learning, is what their physical use does to young brains.

“How children’s fine motor skills develop is very important. We know that fine motor skill development is strongly linked to cognitive development (learning) and executive function (neurological processes governing how a person manages themselves and their resources in order to achieve a goal). And we know that executive function predicts outcomes both in literacy and mathematics.”

Dr Boon said a range of studies indicates that fine motor skills such as handwriting, colouring and physically cutting and pasting may enhance cognitive development and executive function in children and adults in a way not seen with typewriting or touch screen writing.

“So it’s critical to know how, and if, replacing some or most of these activities with the use of mobile devices, the acquisition of these fine motor skills is affected,” she said.

Dr Boon said more quality research is needed on the use of mobile devices at school by children, their effect on learning and the best way for teachers to direct their use.


Associate Professor Helen Boon
E: Helen.Boon@jcu.edu.au