Technology can be a powerful tool for transforming learning. It can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent our approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink long-standing equity and accessibility gaps, and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.
Our schools, community colleges, and universities should be incubators of exploration and invention. Educators should be collaborators in learning, seeking new knowledge and constantly acquiring new skills alongside their students. Education leaders should set a vision for creating learning experiences that provide the right tools and supports for all learners to thrive.
However, to realize fully the benefits of technology in our education system and provide authentic learning experiences, educators need to use technology effectively in their practice. Furthermore, education stakeholders should commit to working together to use technology to improve American education. These stakeholders include leaders; teachers, faculty, and other educators; researchers; policymakers; funders; technology developers; community members and organizations; and learners and their families.
About This Plan
The National Education Technology Plan (NETP) sets a national vision and plan for learning enabled by technology through building on the work of leading education researchers; district, school, and higher education leaders; classroom teachers; developers; entrepreneurs; and nonprofit organizations. The principles and examples provided in this document align to the Activities to Support the Effective Use of Technology (Title IV A) of Every Student Succeeds Act as authorized by Congress in December 2015.
Equity and Accessibility
Equity in education means increasing all students’ access to educational opportunities with a focus on closing achievement gaps and removing barriers students face based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin; sex; sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; disability; English language ability; religion; socio-economic status; or geographical location.1
Accessibility refers to the design of apps, devices, materials, and environments that support and enable access to content and educational activities for all learners. In addition to enabling students with disabilities to use content and participate in activities, the concepts also apply to accommodating the individual learning needs of students, such as English language learners, students in rural communities, or students from economically disadvantaged homes. Technology can support accessibility through embedded assistance—for example, text-to-speech, audio and digital text formats of instructional materials, programs that differentiate instruction, adaptive testing, built-in accommodations, and other assistive technology tools.2
To illustrate key ideas and recommendations, the plan includes examples of the transformation enabled by the effective use of technology. These examples include both those backed by rigorous evidence as well as emerging innovations. The identification of specific programs or products in these examples is designed to provide a clearer understanding of innovative ideas and is not meant as an endorsement. The NETP also provides actionable recommendations to implement technology and conduct research and development successfully that can advance the effective use of technology to support learning and teaching.
Intended to be useful for any group or individual with a stake in education, the NETP assumes as its primary audiences teachers; education leaders; those responsible for preparing teachers; and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels. The concepts, recommendations, and examples are also applicable to post-secondary institutions, community organizations, and state-level initiatives. The NETP focuses on using technology to transform learning experiences with the goal of providing greater equity and accessibility (see Section 1: Learning).
When carefully designed and thoughtfully applied, technology can accelerate, amplify, and expand the impact of effective teaching practices. However, to be transformative, educators need to have the knowledge and skills to take full advantage of technology-rich learning environments (see Section 2: Teaching). In addition, the roles of PK–12 classroom teachers and post-secondary instructors, librarians, families, and learners all will need to shift as technology enables new types of learning experiences.
For these systemic changes in learning and teaching to occur, education leaders need to create a shared vision for how technology best can meet the needs of all learners and to develop a plan that translates the vision into action (see Section 3: Leadership).
Technology-enabled assessments support learning and teaching by communicating evidence of learning progress and providing insights to teachers; administrators; families; and, most importantly, the learners themselves. These assessments can be embedded within digital learning activities to reduce interruptions to learning time (see Section 4: Assessment).
Learning, teaching, and assessment enabled by technology require a robust infrastructure (see Section 5: Infrastructure). Key elements of this infrastructure include high-speed connectivity and devices that are available to teachers and students when they need them. Aside from wires and devices, a comprehensive learning infrastructure includes digital learning content and other resources as well as professional development for educators and education leaders.
Digital Use Divide
Traditionally, the digital divide referred to the gap between students who had access to the Internet and devices at school and home and those who did not4, 5. Significant progress is being made to increase Internet access in schools, libraries, and homes across the country. However, a digital use divide separates many students who use technology in ways that transform their learning from those who use the tools to complete the same activities but now with an electronic device (e.g., digital worksheets, online multiple-choice tests). The digital use divide is present in both formal and informal learning settings and across high- and low-poverty schools and communities.6, 7, 8
Recent Progress and the Road Ahead
Since the 2010 NETP, the United States has made significant progress in leveraging technology to transform learning in a variety of ways.
- The conversation has shifted from whether technology should be used in learning to how it can improve learning to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational experiences.3
- Technology increasingly is being used to personalize learning and give students more choice over what and how they learn and at what pace, preparing them to organize and direct their own learning for the rest of their lives.
- Advances in the learning sciences have improved our understanding of how people learn and illuminated which personal and contextual factors most impact their success.
- Research and experience have improved our understanding of what people need to know and the skills and competencies they need to acquire for success in life and work in the 21st century. Through pre-service teacher preparation programs and professional learning, educators are gaining experience and confidence in using technology to achieve learning outcomes.
- Sophisticated software has begun to allow us to adapt assessments to the needs and abilities of individual learners and provide near real-time results.
- Nationally, progress has been made toward ensuring that every school has high-speed classroom connectivity as a foundation for other learning innovations.
- The cost of digital devices has decreased dramatically, while computing power has increased, along with the availability of high-quality interactive educational tools and apps.
- Technology has allowed us to rethink the design of physical learning spaces to accommodate new and expanded relationships among learners, teachers, peers, and mentors.
Non-cognitive competencies (also referred to as social and emotional learning) include a range of skills, habits, and attitudes that facilitate functioning well in school, work, and life. They include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills as well as perseverance, motivation, and growth mindsets.9, 10, 11
Although we can be proud of the progress of the last five years, there is still much work to do. Now, a look at the work ahead:
- A digital use divide continues to exist between learners who are using technology in active, creative ways to support their learning and those who predominantly use technology for passive content consumption.
- Research on the effectiveness of technology-enabled programs and resources is still limited, and we should build capacity to generate evidence of individual-, program-, and community-level outcomes.
- Many schools do not yet have access to or are not yet using technology in ways that can improve learning on a daily basis, which underscores the need—guided by new research—to accelerate and scale up adoption of effective approaches and technologies.
- Few schools have adopted approaches for using technology to support informal learning experiences aligned with formal learning goals.
- Supporting learners in using technology for out-of-school learning experiences is often a missed opportunity.
- Across the board, teacher preparation and professional development programs fail to prepare teachers to use technology in effective ways.
- Assessment approaches have evolved but still do not use technology to its full potential to measure a broader range of desired educational outcomes, especially non-cognitive competencies.
- The focus on providing Internet access and devices for learners should not overshadow the importance of preparing teachers to teach effectively with technology and to select engaging and relevant digital learning content.
- As students use technology to support their learning, schools are faced with a growing need to protect student privacy continuously while allowing the appropriate use of data to personalize learning, advance research, and visualize student progress for families and teachers.
The NETP is a common vision and action plan that responds to an urgent national priority. It describes specific actions the United States should take to ensure learners of all ages have opportunities for personal growth and prosperity and remain competitive in a global economy.
- U.S. Department of Education. (2013). U.S. Department of Education strategic plan for fiscal years 2014–2018. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/strat/plan2014-18/strategic-plan.pdf.
- Assistive Technology Industry Association. What is assistive technology? How is it funded? Retrieved from http://www.atia.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3859.
- American Association of School Administrators, Consortium for School Networking, and National School Boards Association. Leading the digital leap. Retrieved from http://leaddigitalleap.org.
- McConnaughey, J., Nila, C. A., & Sloan, T. (1995). Falling through the net: A survey of the “have nots” in rural and urban America. Washington, DC: National Telecommunications and Information Administration, United States Department of Commerce.
- Culp, K. M., Honey, M., & Mandinach, E. (2005). A retrospective on twenty years of education technology policy. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 32(3), 279–307.
- Warschauer, M. (2012). The digital divide and social inclusion. Americas Quarterly, 6(2), 131–135.
- Fishman, B., Dede, C., & Means, B. (in press). Teaching and technology: New tools for new times. In D. Gitomer & C. Bell (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (5th ed.).
- Valadez, J. R., & Durán, R. P. (2007). Redefining the digital divide: Beyond access to computers and the Internet. The High School Journal, 90(3), 31–44.
- Borghans, L., Duckworth, A. L., Heckman, J. J., & ter Weel, B. (2008). The economics and psychology of personality traits. Journal of Human Resources, 43(4), 972–1059.
- Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.
- Spitzer, B., & Aronson, J. (2015). Minding and mending the gap: Social psychological interventions to reduce educational disparities. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(1), 1–18.