Using Technology to Create an Effective Learning Environment

ISTE-C-Standard 4: Learning Designer 

Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students. Coaches: 

a. Collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency. 

d. Model the use of instructional design principles with educators to create effective digital learning environments. 

According to Heick, our classrooms are ‘intellectually active’ places, and teaching and learning should not be considered as a single event. Instead, our classroom should be highly-effective and conducive to student-centered learning. Heick introduced the 10 characteristics of a highly effective learning environment in the chart below for coaches and teachers to use as criteria to measure and reflect on their current practices.  

After learning the indicators of an effective learning environments, I would like to explore how technology can engage students in an effective learning environment and how do teachers assess the effectiveness of digital tools? 

Research shows that engagement is pivotal to improving student achievement and success. According to Howland (2012), in order for students to learn meaningfully and effectively, they must be willfully engaged in a meaningful task. For meaningful learning to occur, the task that students pursue should engage active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative activities. Howland argued that if technologies are used to foster meaningful learning, then they will not be used as delivery vehicles.  

Technologies should be used as engagers and facilitators of thinking as the following (Howland, 2012, P7-8) 

  • Technology as tools to support knowledge construction for representing learners’ ideas, understandings, and beliefs, and for producing organized, multimedia knowledge bases by learners. 
  • Technology as information vehicle for exploring knowledge to support learning by constructing for accessing needed information and comparing perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews.  
  • Technology as authentic context to support learning by doing for representing and simulating meaningful real-world problems, situations, and contexts, for representing beliefs, perspectives, arguments, and stories of others, and for defining a safe, controllable problem space for student thinking. 
  • Technology as social medium to support learning by conversing for collaborating with others, for discussing, arguing, and building consensus among members of a community, and for supporting discourse among knowledge-building communities. 
  • Technology as intellectual partner to support learning by reflecting for helping learners to articulate and represent what they know, for reflecting on what they have learned and how they came to know it, for supporting learners’ internal negotiations and meaning making, and for constructing personal representations of meaning, and supporting mindful thinking.  

According to the Triple E Framework by Kolb, engagement is one component of technology integration. Often by putting a piece of technology in front of the students or in their hands, they become interested or “engaged” in the activity.  However, we can look a little more deeply at engagement by considering if the technology is not just capturing the interest of the student, but if it is actually engaging them actively in the content (Kolb, 2015).  

Kolb (2015) argued that when teachers assess the effectiveness of technology, it is important to look for “time on task” engagement.  In addition, engagement should include social or co-use of the technology tool rather than isolated learning with a tool. Students should be working together through the tool during synchronous collaboration or with the tool in pairs or groups with a device. He suggested three questions and check list to use when measuring for engagement in learning goals through a technology tool.  

Engagement Checklist 

  1. Does the technology allow students to focus on the task of the assignment or activity with less distraction?  Students are focused on the task because the software is helping them create the code that represents their content learning goals (characterization, setting, plot..etc).  There are no games or rewards at the end of using the software that distract from the process of learning. 
  1. Does the technology motivate students to start the learning process?  Students are interested to connect their code to their complex novel.  They are not just “swiping through” their iPad, rather they are carefully planning a code that is representative of their goal so they can see the physical results in the programmable ball that moves. 
  1. Does the technology cause a shift in the behavior of the students, where they move from passive to active social learners (co-use)?   Students are working in groups co-using the devices (rather than 1 device per child).  Collaboration and constructing knowledge together. 

In conclusion, students do not learn from technology but that technologies can support productive thinking and meaning making by students. That will happen when students learn with the technology, and technologies are no more effective at teaching students than teachers (Howland, 2012).  


Heick, T. 10 Characteristics Of A Highly Effective Learning Environment, Teachthough, 

Howland, J., Jonassen, D., and Marra, R., (2012), Goal of Technology Integrations: Meaningful Learning. Chapter 1. P1-P19. 

Kolb, L., (2015), Triple E Framework by 

3 Replies to “Using Technology to Create an Effective Learning Environment”

  1. This is a valuable set of ideas on how technology can be used to engage learners. At times these ideas tip toe around the importance of pedagogy, but do not really grapple with the question, how does pedagogy shape the impact of the use of technology. As you work with your learning partner in the weeks ahead, I hope we can learn more about your ideas on this topic.

  2. Hi Vivian, I agree with you that “engagement is pivotal to improving student achievement and success”. I like the way you’ve framed the use of technology here as a tool for engagement and learning as apposed to simply as a delivery method as well as the need to measure engagement levels instead of just capturing interest. I found your engagement checklist to be very helpful in laying down the metrics for measuring engagement, especially the part on measuring the shift in behavior of students. Thank you!

  3. I appreciate so much about this post, but primarily that you provide a concrete checklist for ensuring that technology is engages students in the content, rather than just the novelty of the technology. Ignoring this can be an expensive mistake, and the checklist makes this easier to address.

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