As educational technologies become increasingly common in schools and colleges, and teachers become more confident and proficient with applying digital technologies in learning environments, an important question regarding these technologies is often being overlooked – ‘what exactly is the purpose of educational technology?’

It is all too easy to get caught up using educational technologies; these technologies surround us, schools have invested in them heavily, and we often feel obliged to use them. Furthermore, digital technologies can make teaching and administration more efficient – and that’s important for busy classroom teachers – but there are more important reasons to employ educational technologies than administrative efficiency.

Another reason for using educational technology, popular among school leaders, is that it can enhance learning and improve student attainment, and this is certainly an important point. Student attainment has been the focus for many researchers who have attempted to measure the impact of educational technology, and a number of meta-analysis studies have concluded ed-tech usually has a small but positive impact on student achievement – but is there more to educational technology than improving students’ scores in traditional assessments?

Questioning the purpose of educational technologies raises greater questions about the actual purpose of education in modern society. What are we educating 21st Century students for?

  • to produce equitable societies?
  • to produce citizens for effective democracies?
  • to prepare students for the work force?
  • to produce broad, life-long learners?
  • to develop entrepreneurial skills?
  • to prepare students with critical thinking skills for a complex new world?

Educational technologies have the ability to support these objectives by; dramatically increasing access to education, tackling educational inequalities, encouraging life-long learning, promoting creativity, enhancing communicative and collaborative abilities, engaging students in critical, higher order, problem-based inquiry, and providing simulations to develop advanced cognitive thinking skills.

By questioning the purpose of educational technologies, educators can break beyond the narrow confines through which educational technologies are currently being deployed and begin to realise the immense potential these resources have to achieve the educational outcomes essential for life in the 21st Century.

purpose of educational technology