Research Says These Are the Best EdTech Strategies for Driving Student Learning

September 05, 2017

By Dennis Pierce 

Project RED, a major research project that has been studying digital learning initiatives for seven years, has issued its latest findings describing which education technology strategies have proven most effective in moving the needle on student learning—and the most important factor seems to be the effective use of formative assessment data to drive instruction, the project’s directors say.

The project is a research partnership between the Greaves Group and the nonprofit One-to-One Institute, with additional support from the University of Memphis Center for Research in Educational Policy. The project has been studying the learning outcomes in K-12 districts that have made significant investments in technology, such as supplying a device for every student, to see which implementation factors have resulted in the most success.

Aside from formative assessment, other key success factors include a focus on change leadership, strong communication, fidelity of implementation, and ongoing professional development. Here is some specific advice based on the project’s findings:


  • A shared vision for learning—one that doesn’t focus on technology, but instead integrates technology to support transformational learning experiences in appropriate ways—is essential.
  • K-12 leaders should develop formal implementation plans for leadership, communication, student-empowered instruction, collecting and using formative assessment data, ongoing professional learning, and finance.
  • Combine these implementation plans into a Master Plan managed by a professional, and develop continuous improvement systems to check for fidelity of implementation.


  • Poor communications will lead to major issues that could derail the entire implementation. K-12 leaders should create a formal communications plan that works hand-in-hand with every aspect of their edtech implementation.
  • Create a variety of ways to receive input from all stakeholders. Communication is not just about providing information, but also includes engaging people in meaningful ways.
  • Communicate early and often. Use all means possible to communicate, because different people engage in different ways.

Instruction, Pedagogy, and Assessment

  • Matching the appropriate pedagogy to the desired learning yields better outcomes. You don’t learn how to ride a bike by reading about how to do it, Project RED notes.
  • Students are more engaged and motivated when they have some agency over their learning, which leads to better outcomes over time.
  • The single most important factor in improving student outcomes seems to be the effective use of ongoing formative assessment data to power data-driven instruction.

Professional Learning

  • There’s a difference between training people to use tools and providing ongoing professional learning, Project RED says. Both training and professional learning are important to proper edtech implementation and higher student achievement.
  • Job-embedded professional learning is far more effective than episodic training removed from the classroom.
  • Create ongoing opportunities for teachers to examine their own practice by establishing formal communities of practice.

Regarding formative assessment, Project RED notes that technology can help teachers quickly and more frequently assess whether their students have understood a lesson. Rather than waiting until an end-of-unit exam to realize that some students haven’t mastered the material, teachers can see in the moment how well their students grasp a concept—giving them opportunities to target their instruction and personalize learning much more effectively.

But having tools that make data-driven instruction and assessment easier for teachers—such as using tools that combine instruction, assessment, and data management into a single, easy-to-use platform—is essential for this strategy to work. In an independent survey of teachers and administrators commissioned by PowerSchool, 97% said using disparate technology solutions is a key barrier that affects how successful educators are in the classroom.

“The easier it is to access real-time information related to student performance, the easier it is to improve instruction and learning outcomes,” said Kecia Ray, executive director of the Center of Digital Education.

That’s the thinking behind PowerSchool’s Unified Classroom solution, which gives teachers a 360-degree view of their students’ progress—as well as a single learning and assessment platform to help them personalize instruction. You can learn how this unified solution empowers teachers to be more successful here.


The former editor in chief of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the EdTech space for nearly 19 years.

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