How ed-tech can help leapfrog progress in education
From within formal classrooms to educational games after school, technology is widely used in teaching and learning around the world. When used appropriately, technology has the power to support teachers and engage students, providing tools to create and evaluate activities previously considered out of reach.
At the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution, we are studying innovations that can rapidly improve education progress, including innovations that use education technology. If the education sector stays on its current trajectory, by 2030 half of all children and young people around the world will lack basic secondary-level skills needed to thrive.  To change this dire prediction, we must make rapid, non-linear progress, or what CUE calls leapfrogging .
Technology can help education leapfrog in a number of ways. It can provide individualized learning by tracking progress and personalizing activities to serve heterogeneous classrooms. It can support playful learning through approaches such as games. Technology allows students to collaborate and engage with peers in different parts of the world, and it offers platforms for data collection and analysis that lead to improvements in the broader education system.
This brief is the second in a series of Leapfrogging in Education snapshots that provide analyses of our global catalog of education innovations. (Our first snapshot focused on playful learning.  ) The catalog and our corresponding research on leapfrogging is explained in depth in CUE’s book, “ Leapfrogging inequality: Remaking education to help young people thrive .”  Of the nearly 3,000 global innovations CUE catalogued, more than one half involve the use of technology, which suggests strong interest in its use and application in aiding educators around the world. How can technology be used in education?
Simply using technology doesn’t guarantee an impact on learning.  The introduction of technology in schools has often focused on reinforcing traditional teaching and learning practices, instead of what is truly needed to leapfrog education: applying, evaluating, and creating knowledge. Recent research has shown that, rather than using technology for intense “drill and kill” exercises, technology is successful when it is interactive, includes real-time feedback, and allows students to creatively apply and evaluate what they have learned. 
Technology can augment lessons from teachers, providing details or reinforcement through videos, and support for playful learning experiences. It can provide endless practice problems and track the progress of personalized learning. While a common critique of technology is that it is often unavailable to marginalized groups, this is not always the case. Technology can bring education to students with disabilities that prevent their attendance in typical classrooms, for example. And it can help knowledge and information reach remote or otherwise difficult-to-reach students who do not have other access to classrooms and educational materials.
It is important to note that technology cannot replace teachers, nor is this likely to occur. In fact, a 2016 analysis by McKinsey & Company reported that teaching is one of the least likely professions to be automated.  When used effectively as a tool to enhance learning, technology has the power to transform the interactions between students and teachers and to lead to increases in student learning. Catalog analysis
CUE’s global catalog provides a picture of education innovations happening around the world. To create the catalog, we compiled 2,854 education innovations from 16 “innovation spotter” organizations. The innovations range from non-governmental organization (NGO) projects to for-profit products to government initiatives and schools and take place in 166 countries and in 4 languages. We further analyzed the innovations against our leapfrog pathway (see Figure 1), which is a framework CUE developed to show specific steps needed for education interventions to leapfrog. The pathway has two core elements: teaching and learning and recognition of learning . It also has two support elements, not required for leapfrogging but often helpful given the scope of the challenge: people and places , and technology and data . Of all innovations in the catalog, technology was present in more than half (57 percent)—or 1,640 total—innovations (see Figure 2). The catalog and this snapshot are hardly an exhaustive list of all education technology innovations, but they do provide insights into trends and areas of opportunity for the education community. CATOLOG SPOTLIGHT: The iMlango Project, is an NGO-government-private sector consortium led by Avanti Communications, a strategic partner of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) Girls’ Education Challenge. iMlango leverages technology to tailor educational content to students’ needs in rural and semi-urban settings across Kenya. The e-learning program provides individualized math tutoring through the Maths Whizz e-learning platform and digital content for literacy and other broader life skills. iMlango reaches 180,000 students with an emphasis on improving educational outcomes for marginalized girls.  The project includes in-field student and teacher support and also provides internet connection for communities. A unique aspect of the program is that it generates real-time data on children’s attendance and learning. iMlango has positively impacted learning outcomes, with the progress rate of students utilizing the program for 30–90 minutes per week doubling from the baseline of 0.58 to 1.27 in three and a half years. (A score of 1 indicates progression at the expected rate, while a score below 1 suggests students are not progressing as quickly as expected, and a score above 1 indicates accelerated learning.) In addition, teachers, many of whom at baseline had no information and communications technology (ICT) skills, were able to effectively deliver learning through technology as a result of their training.  The SAMR model
A useful framework for understanding how to use technology effectively in education is the SAMR model, developed by Ruben Puentedura in 2006.  The SAMR framework focuses on the use of technology in education in four ways: substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. Substitution can be thought of as substituting an analog method, such as quizzes on paper, with a digital version. Augmentation implies an improvement of a function, such as automatically graded worksheets, freeing up teachers’ time.
The other two types of technology use, Puentedura argues, are fundamentally different and align to our view on the potential of education technology innovations to support leapfrogging. Modification allows for significant task redesign, such as aiding the teacher in connecting students with peers from a distant part of the world and exchanging essays to provide feedback with a different cultural perspective. Another example is students using geographical information system mapping technology to transform and display census data in a social studies class. Redefinition means that the use of technology creates an experience that was previously inconceivable. An example is dividing students into groups and having them collaborate on a video tutorial on how to multiply and divide polynomials. This video can then be used in class and posted online so other students can ask questions or discuss the topics covered. Redefinition requires the innovation to expand access to educational opportunities, amplifying active learning, and allowing teachers and students to create and innovate beyond the existing material.
Figure 3 shows the distribution of the ed-tech innovations in our catalog with respect to their leapfrogging potential as defined by the SAMR model. Most of the innovations use technology to augment or modify the educational experience. Who implements and funds ed-tech innovations?
Of the innovations using technology in our catalog, 46 percent are implemented by NGOs. The second largest implementer is the private sector at 40 percent, while governments make up only 11 percent of implementers. A smaller number of innovations are delivered by other organizations, including religious organizations or by collaborations between NGOs, the private sector, and government. Most ed-tech innovations in our catalog (87 percent) identified information on their funding sources, and just under half of these financed their operations from more than one source. As shown in Figure 5 below, user fees proved to be the largest source of funds, supporting 37 percent of all catalogued ed-tech innovations. The second largest source of funding was the private sector, supporting 31 percent of innovations. Philanthropic organizations and governments were the third and fourth largest funders, respectively, of technology use in education, in contrast with international aid agencies that only support 9 percent of technology innovations in our catalog. CATALOG SPOTLIGHT: EduApp4Syria is an innovation competition funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) in cooperation with other global development partners. The goal of the project is to provide an engaging digital game-based learning tool for out-of-school Syrian children to help them improve their Arabic skills and psychosocial well-being.  Two apps were chosen from 78 bids across 31 countries, with final input from refugee Syrian children living in Norway who tested the apps. “Feed the Monster” is a puzzle game that helps the player learn Arabic gradually based on Syrian Arabic language arts curriculum. It has since been adapted in 25 languages. “Antura and the Letters” features multiple mini-games that span the full Arabic primary school literacy curriculum. Both apps are free and can be downloaded for use when offline. Since the original launch, the apps have been installed on over 80,000 mobile devices. There have been marked improvements in oral reading fluency, with 22 hours (Feed the Monster) and 27 hours (Antura and the Letters) of play equivalent to approximately 30 hours of classroom instruction time in early grade reading.  Who benefits from ed-tech innovations?
Of the ed-tech innovations in our catalog, only half identified the specific groups of learners the innovations serve. We analyze these groups below, with the caution that a complete picture of beneficiaries cannot be fully understood. We do, however, find some potential insight into trends and underserved groups. Most of these innovations provide services to multiple categories of beneficiaries spanning various income, geographic, and cultural groups, with 67 percent targeting more than one specific group. As Figure 6 shows, students from low-income households are the most often served group by income level. Ed-tech innovations target children from rural areas slightly more than those in urban settings. Smaller numbers of ed-tech innovations specifically target out-of-school children and ethnic minorities, and an even smaller number of innovations serve child laborers, displaced children, and children in conflict—highlighting a gap in the provision of such interventions. Primary school-aged children are the largest age group served by ed-tech innovations, accounting for 1,094 innovations, followed by secondary school age-students (Figure 7). It is important to note that many innovations focus on more than one age group of learners. CATALOG SPOTLIGHT: Benetech , a nonprofit organization in the U.S., offers literacy software that facilitates access to educational content for students with disabilities and promotes inclusivity in the learning process.  Its Bookshare program is the largest online library of accessible books with 700,000+ titles. It enables access to content in different formats (MP3 players, smart phones, and digital tablets) for free or low-cost to students with qualifying disabilities globally. Other initiatives include an online math platform to improve student-teacher interaction through STEM education tools and an effort to ensure digital learning materials are accessible to people with disabilities from the start. Over 600,000 people across 70 countries utilize Benetech’s programs.  Where in the world are ed-tech innovations?
The ed-tech innovations in our catalog are concentrated in North America and western Europe, with a fair amount present globally (two or more regions) and in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South and West Asia, as shown in Figure 8. What kind of hardware is used in ed-tech innovations?
Innovations that use desktop or laptop computers are the most common type of technology innovation in our catalog. This is unsurprising, given that this technology is older and more established than comparatively more recent tablets or smartphones. Computers, along with software or a website, can provide lessons, homework, practice, and research materials. Portable laptops allow children to learn at home, extending the time they can benefit from educational games and software. Although in our catalog NGOs are the most common deliverer of ed-tech innovations, the private sector most often delivers innovations through desktop or laptop computers. Programs using desktop or laptop computers focus […]