Learning activities in technology-enhanced learning: A systematic review of meta-analyses and second-order meta-analysis in higher education

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Models such as ICAP  (Interactive, Constructive, Active, and Passive) hypothesize that effects of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) are mediated by the learning activity that is facilitated by technology. In this systematic review of meta-analyses and second-order meta-analysis, we examined effects of instruction with versus without digital technology in higher education while considering students’ learning activities in the technology and nontechnology conditions. Based on N ES = 45 eligible effects from N MA = 28 meta-analyses (that include N primary = 1286 effect sizes from primary studies), our results showed that when digital technology instruction was used as a substitute for nontechnology instruction , there was no substantial change in students’ cognitive learning outcomes. However, cognitive learning outcomes improved when the technology provided learning-activity-specific support. Further, digital technologies that offered more advanced learning activities resulted in higher cognitive learning outcomes for students. Our results indicate that effects of TEL are mediated by the learning activity that is facilitated by technology. Educational relevance and implications statement: Our study highlights the relevance of how digital technology is used during learning in higher education. Specifically, our study supports two proposed mechanisms of effective TEL, (a) enhancing the ICAP-level of learning activities and (b) facilitating specific learning activities and underlying cognitive processes through cognitive support. Thus, consideration of students’ individual differences in learning activities when learning with digital technologies are crucial and can influence effects in empirical studies as well as meta-analyses. For practice, our results imply that promoting the engagement of all learners in active forms of learning (particularly constructive and interactive learning activities) with the help of digital technologies can foster students’ learning in higher education. Additionally, digital technologies incorporating cognitive support (e.g., scaffolding, feedback, sequencing) for specific learning activities and its underlying cognitive processes can foster students’ learning.

Ryan Watkins