Range of Use for Digital Learning

What’s in your repertoire of digital tools?

A window of opportunity has opened for digital learning. The cost of devices has decreased significantly, and increasingly students use their own powerful devices for learning 24/7. To ensure equity of access, many schools are providing personal devices for every student through 1:1 or bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives. Smart uses of technology, digital resources, and media can enrich, extend, and deepen learning.

Truth be told, many policymakers are questioning whether these digital devices are adding value to learning. Yes, educators should be asking if students are offered the full range of uses to ensure they are college and career ready in this digital, 21st Century. A key question teachers are grappling with is, “Which digital tools, under what circumstances, are apt to extend which aspects of learning for which students?” Many educators have the digital tools necessary to personalize learning, but are not sure how to get started.

While there is no “right way” to use digital tools in schools, some “rules of thumb” are emerging. This Range of Use provides unique insights into the potential impact of each type of digital learning by considering three important aspects of such use.

The Instruction, which ranges from the didactic to coaching and inquiry

The Complexity of the Learning, which ranges from basic skills through higher order thinking

The Level of Authenticity, which ranges from simulated, through authentic, real world experiences

Each of the following types of learning can be personalized for and by students, in part by adjusting the instruction, the complexity, and the level of authenticity:

  • Drill and Practice
  • Blended Learning (a Combination of F2F plus Apps/Objects, Video, Intelligent Adaptive Learning, etc.)
  • Productivity Tools (word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software, etc.)
  • Organizational Tools Enabling Self-Directed Learning
  • Online Research
  • Communication Tools (including video, audio, and text, etc.)
  • Virtual Learning
  • Visual Thinking/Learning Tools
  • Collaboration/Social Networking and Media
  • Online and Embedded Assessment
  • Construction Tools/Game Creation
  • Problem Solving/ Data Analysis
  • Virtual Worlds/Serious Games/Simulations

The value of the digital tools in schools is directly dependent on the ways in which students are empowered to use the tools. Think about a digital tool such as online research. Students empowered through a constructivist/reflective pedagogy, which focuses on inquiry learning, often conduct iterative cycles of online research based on curiosity and resultant questions that arise from delving into a topic. Those students are far more likely to learn deeply from the experience than those who are didactically involved in a scavenger hunt for factual knowledge outlined on a worksheet template.

However, that doesn’t mean that the back, upper left quadrant of this range is more valuable than the front, lower right. The value depends on what the student needs at the time to augment his learning. For example, despite its “basic” designation, drill and practice activities are as critical to a student’s intellectual development as are activities at the other end of the spectrum (i.e., complex thinking). Why? Because to grow intellectually requires a cycle of new learning, practice that enables investigation, making connections, growing familiarity and knowledge, and finally, integration and automaticity of concepts into long-term memory, thus allowing the learning cycle to repeat.

Learning science research shows that all children, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic and academic status need a balance between structured learning for automaticity and the opportunity to excel when immersed in relevant, meaningful, higher order, authentic work.

Using Metiri Group’s Range of Use

Metiri Group’s Range of Use provides a framework for wide variety of digital learning experiences that each student should experience during his K12 career. Often teachers and school leadership teams use this Range of Use to analyze the current student offerings in digital learning. Some teams begin by conducting a whole school walk through, checking off the types of uses of digital learning observed as they move from class to class. Others (individual teachers and teams alike) identify gaps based on teacher and student input, and target specific types of use as they invest in new apps, software, online services, and media. Still others use the taxonomy in professional development sessions to expand teachers’ views of how technology should be used in learning.

What’s in your repertoire of digital tools?

As you consider this Range of Use for Digital Learning, what will you add to your digital learning repertoire? How will you broaden your pedagogical approaches, complexity of tasks, and authenticity of the student experiences in order to expand your repertoire and address each element in Metiri’s Range of use? As you do so, please make any recommendations as to how this framework might be expended or refined. http://www.metiri.com


Cheryl Lemke is President and CEO of the Metiri Group, a consulting firm dedicated to advancing effective uses of technology in schools, and serves as the Practice Leader for Metiri Group Policy Consulting. Cheryl has published articles and appeared in a variety of media outlets and publications. As a recognized speaker and facilitator Ms. Lemke connects with educators, policy makers, private sector leaders, and advocates internationally. Cheryl regularly collaborates with different educational leaders to deepen their thinking and provide thoughtful evaluation of technologies, learning goals, and systems that support K-16 learning. Recognized nationally as a proactive leader in learning technology, and sought after as a consultant, speaker, and writer, Cheryl Lemke has designed policy in the state house that translates into sound educational practice in the schoolhouse.

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