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A systematic review of the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English of learners between 5 and 16, for whom English is a second or additional language. Teacher perspective

Research question

What is the evidence with respect to the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English of learners between 5 and 16, for whom English is a second language (ESL) or an additional language (EAL)?

Summary of results

It was impossible to find a clear impact pattern which could support policy decisions about expanding the role of computers in language education. Further research which takes bilingualism and bilingual education much more seriously is needed. Overall, results suggest increased pupil enjoyment and integration, but are inconclusive.


As educational policy tends to be constructed in terms of learners who have reasonable command of the language of instruction, it is crucial to examine the needs of groups without this knowledge and understanding. This review focused on ESL/EAL learners aged 5 to 16. The extent of the UK government's guidelines, programmes and commitment of educational resources to support ESL/EAL learners require that these initiatives are underpinned by high-quality research findings.

Computers play an increasing role in supporting or supplying language training for a range of different age groups. Most existing language teaching methods were designed to optimise face-to-face teaching and it is not always clear which will also work in a computerised environment. Developing ICT courses is costly in terms of time and money, so as research on e-learning or Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) stacks up, it is vital to establish what principles and methods can be derived with confidence from published studies. Chapelle (1990) questioned the validity of many CALL studies, insisting on the importance of the classroom learning environment, while Hyland (1993) proposed factors likely to have an impact on the effectiveness of CALL. These studies provide a backdrop to the need for a systematic review.


The earlier overarching systematic review mapped the research on the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English from 5-16. Relevant research was updated and studies were identified as relevant for this sub-review on the basis of the keywords ESL and EAL, and then re-screened according to the stated inclusion and exclusion criteria. All resulting papers were data-extracted by both authors and also moderated.


Identification of studies: the descriptive map of the overarching review

A total of 2,319 potentially relevant reports were identified for the current review. Of these, over 80% were excluded by screening titles and/or abstracts and 428 were sent for. Of these, fewer than 8% were late or unavailable. Ultimately 212 reports met the criteria for inclusion in the mapping study.

Identification of studies: in-depth review

Eight studies (four primary and four secondary) were included in the in-depth review. Three were felt to have a 'medium' weight of evidence for the review; the rest were low. Reasons for this included uncertainty about classification, as well as methodological and analysis problems. The main result was that no clear impact pattern was found. There is some evidence that, under certain conditions, word processing could improve writing and editing quality. Most students seemed to find computer-assisted sessions enjoyable and helpful, and teachers found their role changing towards being facilitators. There were some suggestions that integration into regular class procedures and activities, a highly supportive user-friendly learning environment and the use of collaborative work with a specific and concrete objective in view does aid both learning and motivation. It must be stressed, however, that the evidence for this was not clear-cut or conclusive.


More and better research on the impact of ICT on literacy needs to be done. Specifically, a number of robust studies are needed to systematically record, monitor and investigate:

  • learners' ethnicity and existing level of proficiency in English
  • the learning processes which particular items of ESL/EAL software engender
  • the relationship between those learning processes and the learning processes of the mainstream classroom and the culture at large
  • learning gains and attitude changes
  • these and other outcomes of the ESL/EAL ICT-based learning programmes compared with other non-ICT learning programmes in this area.


Chapelle C (1990) The discourse of computer-assisted language learning: toward a context for descriptive research. TESOL Quarterly 24: 199-224.

Hyland K (1993) ESL Computer writers: what can we do to help? System 21: 21-30.

The writer is an experienced teacher of English Language and Literature at secondary level and a part-time PGCE tutor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of York. She is also a senior examiner, moderator and coursework adviser for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance examination board. The writer is not a member of the Review Group nor an advisor for the Review, and is writing in a personal capacity.

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