5 biggest obstacles to digital learning

Educators often think that by simply introducing technology, students will become more engaged and, in turn, learn more. This isn’t always the case. Undoubtedly, students are learning in new ways, and ideally they’re interacting with content through modern channels, but there are still myriad obstacles to learning with technology.

In the 2018-19 State of Digital Learning Report, we explored the challenges, priorities, strategies and tools of 9,279 education professionals of all roles and backgrounds from 65 countries. During this research, we learned about many of the challenges teachers and students face in the classroom. Here are the top five biggest obstacles—from least to greatest—specifically related to digital learning:

1. Hardware that’s inadequate to the educational task

According to the study, more than 15 percent of educators believe that the hardware available for teacher and student use at their schools is inadequate for the educational tasks they wish to complete. The harsh reality is that although many schools and districts have access to digital tools, many of them are outdated.

Outdated technology presents barriers for teachers who want to teach effectively, but more importantly, troubleshooting often requires a hefty amount of focus and effort which, instead, should be spent on supporting student learning. Technology should enhance the learning experience, not make it more difficult. Streamlined, up-to-date tech tools save teachers and students time that can be spent learning and producing quality work.

2. Lack of student engagement

More than 27 percent of respondents claim that a lack of student engagement is a major barrier to digital learning. For teachers, student engagement is something you can both see and feel. Online courses have an additional layer of challenges, because the only communication students have with the instructor and each other is through a screen. Engagement is generally gauged by the level of interest students display in what they’re learning. These days, tech tools are standard in most classrooms, but simply having the technology does not make it effective. Though our students may be digital natives, they still require effective planning, instruction, and support to learn—not to mention the right digital tools to keep them interested.

3. Poor/unreliable network connections

Another 27 percent of educators who responded to the digital learning survey reported that poor or unreliable network connections made it difficult for students to learn with technology. Reliable network connections can be hard to come by, especially in rural areas. Without adequate speed, the use of digital tools—from games and videos to your learning management system (LMS)—will suffer, and students may miss out on opportunities to enhance their learning. But things have been looking up since 2016 when 88 percent of schools and districts met the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum internet-connectivity target.

4. Not enough devices (laptops, tablets, etc)

Whether your school has implemented a BYOD program or you’re using shared laptop carts or computer labs, 37 percent of teachers and administrators surveyed don’t think it’s enough. This doesn’t mean every school and district should rush into a 1:1 program, as every student does not require a device at all times. With proper implementation and monitoring from your campus’ instructional technologist, the standard equipment in your building can suffice. Not to mention the number of laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks shipped annually to public schools grew by 363 percent between 2010 and 2017.

5. Lack of student access at home

The biggest obstacle to digital learning is the lack of student access at home. While some students may have a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone, others only see computers at school. Some educators believe modern digital technologies lead to disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and districts, deeming it an “institutional blind spot” for school leaders. While the National Center for Education Statistics says that only 6 percent of students in the United States don’t have a computer at home, 39 percent lack internet access at home.

Technology is no longer just a “nice to have” addition to learning, but an essential part of how we learn, communicate, and conduct business in the modern world. It’s crucial that students and teachers have the opportunity to use the proper tools with adequate access and support.

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