• International research group commissioned by Robert Bosch Stiftung studies risks and opportunities involved in technology-enhanced personalized learning
  • Impact of digital learning tools at a comprehensive scale not sufficiently evaluated
  • Experts recommend education policy strategy that combines individual support, inclusion, and technology use


Stuttgart, June 26, 2018. Compared with other industrial nations around the world, educational success in Germany still depends too much on a student’s social background. To counter this, an increasing number of schools offer individual support in the classroom. To investigate such developments, the Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH commissioned a team of European education researchers to conduct a study on whether digital technologies can enhance personalised learning by, for instance, assessing a student’s knowledge and adapting course content.

“The promise of technology-enhanced personalized learning is worth pursuing, and some extraordinary tools have been built. However, the evidence shows that it’s not a silver bullet. Time, effort, resources and a cultural shift are needed so that schools, teachers and students can best leverage the many potential benefits,” comments the lead author of the study, Dr Wayne Holmes of the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK. The team, that also included researchers from UCL Knowledge Lab, University College London, and the Institut für Erziehungswissenschaften, Humboldt University Berlin, investigated close to 30 tools for the study “Technology-enhanced Personalised Learning: Untangling the Evidence.”

Insufficient knowledge about the effect of technology-enhanced learning tools

According to the experts, schools face various challenges in using digital offerings in the classroom. Besides the required technical infrastructure, a lack of suitable pedagogic concepts is a major hurdle. Other factors include the significant costs of developing and purchasing the technology as well as unresolved privacy and data security issues involved in digital learning tools.

In particular, “German schools lack practical experience with digital tools. There are also very few offerings in German and no comprehensive evaluations of the effectiveness of individual learning tools,” says Heike Schaumburg of the Institut für Erziehungswissenschaften (Institute of Educational Sciences) at Humboldt University Berlin. Consequently, in Germany, and in other countries, it is difficult for educators to identify suitable tools.

This is why the research group developed a template and guidance that allows teachers to evaluate which digital learning tool best matches their approach to teaching and the needs of their students. The guidance also includes specific recommendations for practical implementation that reflect a key finding: Focus on the learning, not the technology. The reason: A digital learning tool can neither replace the support and feedback provided by teachers nor the interaction and exchange among students.

The guideline and the findings of the study can be accessed online at
http://www.studie-personalisiertes-lernen.de/en/.

Recommendations for policy-makers, academia and foundations

In the study, the experts also recommend a strategy that would combine the existing education policy call for improved individual learning support, inclusion, and the increased use of learning technologies in schools. In this context, they warn against shifting the focus entirely onto technological solutions. A sustainable strategy needs to consider not just the technology but also its pedagogical and staff-related application in schools. This should include, for instance, close cooperation with schools in developing software solutions.

On an administrative level, the authors regard the provision of the technical infrastructure and data privacy considerations as the most significant challenges. They recommend the coordinated development of technical equipment concepts and data security strategies among states, municipalities, and schools.

As regards research, there exists first and foremost a lack of qualified evaluations which are urgently needed to determine if, and if so how, the use of digital media in schools works effectively and sustainably also on a larger scale. The research group calls on governments, foundations, and philanthropists to provide long-term funding of the most promising digital tools and to invest in teacher training.

Greater knowledge for practitioners

“Personalized learning is a way to accommodate diversity in German classrooms. At present, it is undetermined whether digital technologies may be helpful in these efforts. The work of the research group has been a first step that gives us an overview of the latest findings from Germany and abroad. With the study, we want to help improve the quality of classroom teaching,” comments Uta-Micaela Dürig, Vice Chair of the Board of Management of Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The Robert Bosch Stiftung is committed to systematic school development in Germany. The Foundation supports efforts to advance technology-enhanced learning through a funding competition, aimed to provide greater knowledge about high-quality teaching using digital technology to practitioners. This year, the jury of principals and scientists has selected two projects to receive over €450,000 worth of funding. The projects are “EXBOX-Digital – Entwicklung und Evaluation von digitalen Experimentierboxen für den Chemie- und Physikunterricht” (EXBOX-Digital – Development and evaluation of digital experiment boxes for chemistry and physics lessons), coordinated by the University of Salzburg, and “Digital gestütztes, individuelles Feedback zur Förderung von Lernmotivation und Lernerfolg – Evaluation eines Unterrichtskonzepts in Mathematik” (Technology-supported, individual feedback to promote learning motivation and achievement – Evaluation of a mathematics classroom concept), run by the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg. Furthermore, the Robert Bosch Stiftung is a founding member of the Forum Bildung Digitalisierung (Forum Education and Digitalization). This platform for lawmakers, scientists, business and social stakeholders spearheads the public debate on digitalization in education to contribute to the development of a pedagogically meaningful strategy for the German educational system.

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