The "novelty effect", "Hawthorne effect" and reflecting on ICT related pedagogical change

The novelty effect, in the context of human performance, is the tendency for performance to initially improve when new technology is instituted, not because of any actual improvement in learning or achievement, but in response to increased interest in the new technology.

The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they know they are being studied,[1][2] not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

Source: Wikipedia

As someone who is passionate about the potential for e-learning and Teaching as Inquiry to be real change makers, I think it is paramount that the potential for the "novelty effect" and "Hawthorne effect" to cloud our results and what we now believe to be true is openly discussed and considered.

Without question I believe that increased access to technology and the Internet have the potential to improve and accelerate student learning and more importantly the ability for the learner to navigate their own way through their learning on their own terms...that's if we actually do let them do it on the OWN terms.

Sugata Mitra's recent TED Talk 'Build a School in the Cloud' demonstrated clearly the power of technology, Internet and self-direction to improve student learning. You can't fail to be impressed and inspired by what he has achieved, and the evidence seems undeniable - huge change has been achieved. But I do wonder if we are often swept along on a sea of TED Talk auto-response of oohing and aahing, collectively worshipping at the alter of TED. On second viewing and further viewing of earlier Sugata Mitra TED talks I do wonder if the improvements can be sustained long term? Or even replicated in an environment where ubiquitous access to the Internet is the norm? At what point does a "hole in the wall" computer cease to appeal to curious children in the slums of India? Will the SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) continue to meet the needs of learners once the novelty has worn off...or will the "Granny cloud" provide the surveillance needed to prolong the "Hawthorne effect" indefinitely? You may think I am foolish (quite possibly I am) to even question someone as indisputably brilliant as Mitra, but it does make me think - are we really considering the impact of these effects when celebrating our own and others successes achieved by introducing technology based intervention - particularly if it represents a radical change to what the learner experienced in the past.

So how do we factor in these effects when measuring improvements in learning outcomes as a result of introducing ICT or the Internet? Or should I we even factor in these effects at all? And should we?


  1. I think there is some truth is what you question but from Sugita Mitra's Ted talk, I took more of an affirmation of a change in pedagogy. Children teaching other children.

  2. Another blogger also comments on the power of the TED talks.....and how the TED talk itself now has such a reputation that it is often not critically challenged or evaluated.

    Here you have raised the questions in a way that we all need to when presented with 'what is the evidence?', 'how was it collected?', 'is it repeatable in other contexts?' etc


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