Read This: Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools

Can I ask you for a favor?

Would you PLEASE drop everything and read Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools — a fantastic bit in the Atlantic written by Kentaro Toyama, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information –and then forward it along to everyone you know with buckets of cash that they are looking to spend on digital tools for schools?

Toyama’s argument is a simple one:  Technology doesn’t change human behaviors.  Instead, it simply amplifies existing tendencies.  That means investing in technology without investing in people — a mistake made by schools who are chasing change one gadget at a time — is essentially pointless.  Our time and energy would be better spent investing in the “pedagogical capacity” of our buildings.

How’s that for a real punch in the mouth?!  For Toyama, it’s a punch in the mouth that most schools desperatley need.  He writes:

Amplification seems like an obvious idea—all it says is that technology is a tool that augments human power. But, if it’s obvious, it nevertheless has profound consequences that are routinely overlooked. For example, amplification explains why large-scale roll-outs of educational technology rarely result in positive outcomes. In any representative set of schools, some are doing well and others poorly. Introducing computers may result in benefit for some (the ones highlighted in pilot studies), but it distracts the weaker schools from their core mission. On average, the outcome is a wash.

And better yet:

If a private company is failing to make a profit, no one expects that state-of-the-art data centers, better productivity software, and new laptops for all of the employees will turn things around. Yet, that is exactly the logic of so many attempts to fix education with technology.

Toyama goes on to argue that the notion of amplification also translates to the ways that students use technology.

When left without guidance with tools and services that facilitate both learning and entertainment, students overwhelmingly use those tools and services for entertainment — and that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that kids will almost ALWAYS choose entertainment over learning if given a choice.  Technology simply facilitates the tendencies that define who we are as people.

This all makes sense, doesn’t it?  It’s another take on the all-too-familiar Radical rant that technology is just a tool, not a learning outcome.

The question becomes when will we get to the point where EVERYONE is ready to realize that good teaching matters WAY more than good technology?


Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool, NOT a Learning Outcome

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

Related categories:
  • DeidraGammill

    Bill, thank you so much for

    Bill, thank you so much for sharing Toyama’s blog. Powerful stuff. I know that you have to be intentional about your use of tech in the classroom, but I hadn’t thought about it amplifying and “facilitating our tendencies that define who we are as people.” Viewed through that lens, a lot of our struggles to keep kids on task with their technology begins to make sense.

    • billferriter

      Deidra wrote: 

      Deidra wrote: 

      I hadn’t thought about it amplifying and “facilitating our tendencies that define who we are as people.” Viewed through that lens, a lot of our struggles to keep kids on task with their technology begins to make sense.


      This is EXACTLY what I was thinking too, Deidra! 

      Our kids aren’t distracted by tech because they are bad or silly or immature or incapable.  They are distracted by tech because that is just a natural tendency that technology facilitates.  

      If we want to change that, we have to concentrate on capacity.  If we show kids what they CAN do with technology, maybe they will start to do more of the work we wished they were doing all along.

      Hope you are well, 



      • DeidraGammill



        I know that when I introduce my kids to a new program/website/app (like PowToon or Canva) and give them time to explore and get comfortable using it, they do some really neat stuff. But if I am asking them to do research – to use the Chromebook or their smart device for something “mundane,” they tend to fall into old habits (yes, I’ll do my research but I’ll check email and Snapchat too). It’s almost as if they have to be engaged with something new to stay focused. Have you had this experience? Any suggestions for circumventing conditioned responses?

        Doing very well – thanks for asking. Hope you saw where I tagged your blog in my last blog post (a recipe for collaborative leadership). Appreciate all that I learn from you!



  • Cynthia Gordon

    Innovation with Technology

    I certainly agree that technology alone won't fix schools but it is important that the education system helps teach children HOW to be responsible with technology.   Students choose entertainment over learning because it's their area of interest, which is why I think #geniushour has so much potential! Schools that are leaders with technology are not those that just HAVE technology but those that are doing innovative things WITH technology,  which definitely begins with teacher pedagogy.