May 16 2019

Fact or Fallacy: What’s the State of Digital Learning in Schools?

Social media, professional development and strategic thinking shape the way teachers and learners engage.

What is the current state of digital learning in schools? Our own experiences, both positive and negative, can influence our perspective on this topic. As educators, we may have led engaging lessons where students explored a new place with a virtual reality tool. We may have seen the power of students building confidence for public speaking by participating in conversations online.

At the same time, even the most tech-savvy of us have faced challenges with integrating digital learning experiences into classrooms. 

Just a few weeks ago, I had to solve a connectivity problem during a Skype call with an expert — while a group of fifth graders patiently waited for me to resolve it. We’ve all had days when the Wi-Fi is down — or moments when students push the boundaries by responding to a learning prompt with emojis.

A study released by Schoology this year tackled a few of the challenges that educators, students and families face with technology in the classroom. They received responses from thousands of U.S. educators in a variety of roles. Here’s a look at some of the survey’s key findings on the current state of digital learning. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how K–12 schools should be defining digital learning.

Fallacy: Social Media Has No Place in the Classroom

In fact, social media can be a powerful teaching and learning tool when used strategically.

Are you in a school that encourages, bans or hasn’t taken a position on the use of social media during the school day? According to Schoology’s research, “about 40 percent of schools allow social media for educational purposes only, while nearly 20 percent have an openly permitted social media policy.” 

Although this may allude to recognition by some schools of the power of social media, access to social media tools doesn’t, on its own, result in purposeful use. Yet social media access does help educators and students form connections with learning partners in other parts of the world and allow them to share their work with an authentic audience. 


The percentage of administrators who say their top challenge is providing relevant, effective PD for teachers

Source: Schoology, “The State of Digital Learning in K–12 Education, 2018–2019,” June 2018

Modeling best practices for leveraging social networks is a great place for schools to start. An elementary school teacher might tell her class that their new collaborative writing partners were found through a Twitter chat.

A middle school teacher might ask students to research hashtags to find resources for a current events issue. A high school teacher might encourage students to reach out to an expert on a social media platform for an interview about his or her career.

In addition to participating in conversations and forging connections in these spaces, educators can model learning activities on these platforms. Students might create memes, like those they see on social media, to demonstrate how well they understand a social studies concept. They might share comments on a draft of a classmate’s writing in a Google Doc to practice digital citizenship skills. 

Used strategically, social media can support collaboration and provide inspiration for learning activities. To address concerns about limiting the type of content to which students have access, some districts use content monitoring software to help leaders observe and restrict site access appropriately.

Fallacy: Current Digital Learning Professional Development Is Sufficient

In fact, the quality and structure of professional learning opportunities vary greatly.

As a classroom educator who now teaches at the graduate level and hosts professional development activities, I have seen professional learning from many angles. Face-to-face, online and hybrid professional development are all part of the puzzle. Although I love participating in all of these, providing time and space for hands-on professional development, supported by consistent follow-up and feedback, is not an option in every learning space.

Monica Burns
Used strategically, social media can support collaboration and provide inspiration for learning activities."

Monica Burns author, educational technology consultant and the creator of Class Tech Tips.

Determining your district’s and school’s priorities for digital learning and fostering communities of educators are essential. The Schoology report found that educators view professional learning communities as “incredibly helpful for educators … 83 percent of respondents agree that PLCs are effective PD tools.” 

As part of a hybrid PD model, this type of professional learning might also include communicating within a learning management system that students use throughout the school day. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how K–12 modern learning environments can be built outside of the classroom.

Fact: A Strategic Plan Can Simplify Digital Learning for Teachers

Having access to technology is part of the puzzle, but teachers need ongoing professional learning support.

When it comes to sorting through the long list of digital learning tools available to teachers and students, it doesn’t take long to feel overwhelmed. According to Schoology’s research study, “more than 34 percent of teachers consider integrating new ed tech tools a top priority for the school year.” But almost the same number saw “having too many tools to juggle … as a top challenge.”

If we’ve met before, you’ve probably heard me use the phrase “tasks before apps” — I even wrote a book with this as the title. Part mantra, part gentle reminder, this is my way of keeping learning front and center. 

It’s important to have tech tools in your tool belt. However, the focus should remain on identifying learning goals and zeroing in on how digital tools can give students learning experiences that, in the past, would have been impossible.


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