Creativity, collaboration and digital technologies

published 25 January 2017 updated 25 January 2017
written by:

Technologies are not always the best support for the learning process. Despite the myths attributing quasi-magical motivational and performance effects to the introduction of digital technologies in education (Amadieu & Tricot, 2014; Romero, Laferriere, & Power, 2016), the results of different studies point to effects which can be either positive, negative or not clear enough.

Studies which have compared the process and outcomes of note-taking by hand and using digital technologies tend to show that hand-based note-taking outperforms digital note-taking in terms of understanding and memory recall (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). We can analyse this example in terms of technology creative potential and limitations. While hand-writing in paper allows us to create a great diversity of messy and complex representations of knowledge, combining letters and numbers with other sketches, most of the note-taking is developed in text-based editors which will reduce the possibilities of knowledge representation into linear text-based notes. Schemas, notes and other scribbles are possible to integrate but often require us to concentrate part of our cognitive resources to translate our ideas into the graphical affordances of the tool we are using. In other words, our open messy 2D schemas, which can be easily represented in a paper format, require an extra cognitive cost in order to be produced in the way permitted by the software we use. And not only using technologies requires a part of our cognitive resources, but also engages us in less eye-contact, less context and group-awareness, making us to fix our sight onto a screen where notifications from other messaging and social networking sites can come to steal our attention.

Introducing technologies in the classroom cannot be assumed to have always a positive effect on motivation or learning performances. And even when studies point to significant effects, we should consider the specific learning activity, learners’ characteristics and age, as well as other contextual factors which could have positively influenced the use of technologies. For instance, the use of forums to build knowledge in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) has been proved to be positive in certain inquiry-oriented tasks with college students (Zhang, Scardamalia, Lamon, Messina, & Reeve, 2007). This may be due to contextual factors but is worthy of further investigation.

We should be very cautious when introducing digital technologies in education, especially in the early stages of education where concrete and tangible learning is essential (Piaget, 1964). In some cases, technologies could support specific learning processes and knowledge building/sharing processes, but technologies are always introducing knowledge modelling and representation limits. This is because of and thanks to the tool orientation towards helping us to optimise certain knowledge representations. Some tools facilitate (and limit) knowledge representation to text-based notes (e.g. text-editors), concept-maps, resource collection with a more image or text-orientation (e.g. Pinterest, Instagram) or mathematical modelling (e.g. GeoGebra, CabriGeometre).

For example, in a conceptual-map tool, the tool is optimised and facilitates the knowledge representation as a set of hierarchical nodes connected by a limited number of connectors. While the tool will support the creation of a concept map, the tool is also limiting other forms of knowledge representation. In visual programming tools like Scratch, learners can build knowledge through static or dynamic text and images, but also build more complex systems of data and interactions through programming.

If we consider knowledge representation, building and sharing processes could be supported and not hindered (such as the note-taking process) by the use of digital tools, we should then look at the technologies or tools which offer an adequate level of (co-)creative potential.

Multimedia, mathematical and (visual) programming tools which combine audiovisual (time/images/sound) features with programming capabilities appear then to have a higher (co-)creative potential than other tools which support a more limited way of representing knowledge. And in case of doubt, let’s be sure we still have a bunch of paper, this battery-free and low-cost knowledge representation technology which has been successfully supporting learning since the early ages of our civilization.


Amadieu, F., & Tricot, A. (2014). Apprendre avec le numérique: mythes et réalités. Retz.

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 956797614524581.

Piaget, J. (1964). Part I: Cognitive development in children: Piaget development and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2(3), 176–186.

Romero, M., Laferriere, T., & Power, T. M. (2016). The Move is On! From the Passive Multimedia Learner to the Engaged Co-creator. eLearn, 2016(3), 1.

Zhang, J., Scardamalia, M., Lamon, M., Messina, R., & Reeve, R. (2007). Socio-cognitive dynamics of knowledge building in the work of 9-and 10-year-olds. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(2), 117–145.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.