The Effects of Technology-Based Interventions on Academic Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities

NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 69 describes the following:

Title | The Effects of Technology-Based Interventions on Academic Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities

Authors |  Dugan, J.J., Cobb, R.B., & Alwell, M.

Source | National Post-School Outcomes Center. Available at:

Year Published | December, 2006

The relationship between technology-based interventions and academic performance for secondary-aged youth with disabilities was explored in this systematic review. A total of 39 studies intervening with 1,491 youth with behavioral disorders, emotional disorders, learning disabilities, and moderate and severe disabilities were included. These studies matched the intervention, outcome, and sampling selection criteria for the review, and met minimally acceptable standards of internal and external validity for research design and methodology. The findings of this review strongly support the efficacy of technology-based interventions across treatment types, educational settings, and disability categories in the improvement of academic achievement. Detailed implications for special education practice in secondary school environments are presented, rival explanations for the findings are examined, and future research topics are suggested.

In the past several decades, the use of technology in general and computers in particular by students with disabilities has grown exponentially in U.S. public schools. Computers were first used in classrooms to implement specific educational software programs which provided specific exercises or assessments. Learning from computers in this way was often referred to as computer-assisted instruction (CAI)* or an integrated learning system (ILS)*.

As computers and internet connections have become more common in schools and classrooms, students have gained opportunities to use computers, not only as a medium on which they can practice skills, but also as a tool for doing research and completing other classroom assignments. Using technology as a tool for learning can help students increase their problem solving and higher-order thinking skills. Today, computers are used both to deliver discrete instruction and as tools for research and other school assignments.

This meta-analysis examines the effectiveness of technology-based interventions on the academic outcomes of secondary school students with a variety of disabilities.

Research Questions
What can research tell us about the specific effects of technology-based interventions for secondary-school age students with disabilities?

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 39
  • Number of Subjects | 1,491
  • Years Spanned | 1986-2002

Research Subjects
Participants came from a variety of school settings:

  • 59% were in high school
  • 12.8% were in middle school
  • 10.3% attended special schools
  • 17.9% were in private schools, residential schools,

Age/Grade of Subjects
Students ranged in age from 12 to 22 years old. Of these:

  • 59% were between the ages of 12 and 16.
  • 18% were between 17 and 20 years old
  • 23% of the studies did not identify the participants by age

Specified Disability

  • 35% of studies involved students with learning disabilities (LD)
  • 12.5% of studies identified participants only as mildly handicapped
  • 30% of studies included students with other disabilities, included Down syndrome

All interventions were technology-based practices with academic outcomes and included:

  • computer or video based interventions
  • multimedia programs
  • computer-assisted instruction (CAI)*
  • computer-managed instruction (CMI)/integrated learning system (ILS)*

Academic interventions focused on:

  • reading (35.9%)
  • mathematics (17.9%)
  • writing (12.8%)
  • health (5.1%)
  • the remaining studies addressed a variety of topics including recognizing emotions to monitoring active student engagement in the classroom

Duration of Intervention
Duration of technology-based interventions was not discussed in enough studies for it to be specifically examined. However, the authors of studies who did recommend a certain duration of intervention said that longer durations were more successful than short interventions.


  1. Technology-based interventions have a significant positive effect on academic/academic-related outcomes of secondary school students with disabilities.
  2. Technology-based interventions do not appear to be difficult for students to learn to use. This may be due to students’ familiarity with various forms of technology before they encounter them in the classroom or their internal motivation to use technology.
  3. No significant differences were found in the effectiveness of technology-based interventions across gender, race, SES, or country in which the intervention was implemented.

Combined Effects Size
The average effect size* of the studies which used research designs that lent themselves to effect size estimates (excluding studies considered outliers) was a moderate 0.41.

One of the surprising findings of this meta-analysis was that, while the use of computers by students has risen to a high level–as demonstrated by the figure in a 2005 study that approximately 91% of high-school students have used a computer–the use of computers in the classroom is still based more on teacher comfort with computers than with the students’ comfort with technology or the benefit they would gain from using it. The authors suggest that, in order to encourage the use of computers and other technology in special education classrooms, more pre- and in-service training should be given to teachers to instruct them in ways to integrate technology into their classrooms.


* Terms Defined

Computer Assisted Instruction | Instructional use of a computer to present material, practice skills, monitor student learning, and assess individual learner needs and progress.

Effect size (ES or d) | A statistical calculation, often represented as ES or d, that measures the impact of an intervention. An effect size below d = 0.20 suggests that a treatment did not have a significant effect. An effect size of d = 0.20 is considered small or low; an effect size of d = 0.50 is considered moderate; an effect size of d = 0.80 or above is large.

Integrated Learning System (ILS) | The use of computers and software programs to present a sequence of lessons over an extended period of time while monitoring student progress.

Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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