Two researchers performed a randomized controlled trial — the best-quality kind of study researchers can conduct — by randomly giving some college students computers and preventing others from using them for academics. Dr. Jay Greene at the University of Arkansas summarizes the results, also pointing out that this study is better than most on the topic and therefore should be trusted more:
Comparing these randomly assigned treatment and control groups, the researchers found that computer skills rose among students who were given computers, but those skills did not translate into higher college enrollment, employment, or earnings for the treatment group.
These results are particularly important because many politicians have focused on improving computer skills as the key to improving educational outcomes.
In other words, the students who had computers scored better at knowing how to use them, but that didn’t give them any career advantage over other students. The researchers say that could be because computer use is easy to learn and ubiquitous outside classroom settings. In other words, just by living in a highly advanced society Americans all learn on their own how to use technology well enough to use it at work, so doing even more of that in school could be a waste of time.