Today, the same devices that enable us to spend hours playing Angry Birds or mindlessly scrolling through social media also provide an invaluable learning opportunity. With the ability to use the same technology productively or disadvantageously, it is clear that the way devices are used during learning has an impact on students’ performance.

In a previous article, we asked and answered the question whether ICT devices were always harmful to students, and came up with the answer that, as with any technology, it is much more important to look at how it’s used, as opposed to banning all smart devices. So, today we’re taking a look at how exactly they do impact students’ performance.

The upside of ICT

Plenty of research has shown that a conscious and targeted application of ICT can improve student performance, even helping improve learning outcomes for low-achieving students. It has also been shown to have a positive impact on students in all educational stages, proving that the correct use of ICT in the learning process can be a force for good.

Choosing the right strategies to apply in your use of ICT devices in lessons is paramount here. For example, smart devices appear to work better if used in group work, and it’s important to always keep in mind your teaching or learning goal, not simply add technology because it is the thing to do.

Be mindful of frequency

At the same time, using smartphones can also lead to negative outcomes. It can be shown that the optimal frequency of ICT use differs depending on the way it is adopted by students. While browsing the Internet provides positive outcomes if done between once or twice a month and once or twice a week, online chatting during school has a negative impact regardless of frequency.

Similarly, in research into students’ smartphone use, an excessive reliance on the devices and social media was correlated with a less productive attitude towards learning, leading to worse academic performance. In the same vein, leisure ICT use is significantly negatively correlated with mathematics, reading, and science achievement in Taiwanese school students.

Correlation vs causation

Naturally, this doesn’t mean that smartphones and devices caused the results. The very question of correlation vs causation is one that makes it hard to assess the effect of ICT devices on student performance.

So, it might be that simply students who don’t perform as well in school, simply look to their devices to take their minds off their performance, while “good” students use their devices in a more productive way. It might be that devices themselves cause outcomes. Or, another third factor, might be responsible for both of these results. The situation is additionally muddied by the “digital divide”, with more affluent schools and students able to better access ICT.


It is clear from existing research that the way ICT is used in learning is an important factor in student performance. If smart devices are used excessively (or as a source of distraction), the research seems to imply a negative outcome for students. However, if ICT is employed consciously and by well-trained educators, it can have a positive effect on learning.

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