What’s the status of digital learning resources for English learner students?

Using digital resources for English learner students


In the 2015-16 school year, there were about 5 million English learners in U.S. public schools grades K–12, according to the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Many teachers, including those in small and rural districts, have 1 or more English learners in their classrooms—or soon will. These teachers may often use technology when instructing these students.

Previously, no national data were available on whether and how teachers are using digital technologies to instruct English learner (EL) students. Westat conducted the National Study of English Learners and Digital Learning Resources (NSELD) for ED to look into these questions. We worked with our partners SRI International, OneWorld Linguistic Consulting LLC, and Educational Systemics.


We carried out surveys of school districts and teachers of EL students, including both mainstream teachers and EL specialists. The school districts vary in the level of representation of EL students. We also conducted 6 case studies and meetings with experts in the field, including educational technology publishers, researchers, and educators.

The findings answer 4 key research questions:

  • How do districts and teachers identify digital learning resources (DLRs) for EL students?
  • What types of DLRs do teachers use with their EL students; and how do they use them?
  • What are supports for and barriers to DLR use with EL students?
  • How can educators and technology developers improve the usefulness of DLRs for EL students?


The study provides the first national data on how districts and teachers (including mainstream teachers and EL specialists) use educational technology in instructing their EL students.

Based on the study findings, Westat and SRI produced Educator and Developer Toolkits on Using Digital Learning Resources to Support English Learners to build awareness of the role technology can play in supporting EL students. The toolkits note steps educators and educational technology developers can take to improve the use of technology and related supports for EL students.

The study findings are now available: Supporting English Learners through Technology: What Districts and Teachers Say about Digital Learning Resources for English Learners. The results can be used for the following:

  • Inform future educational practice, research, and policy
  • Guide educational technology developers in designing products to better meet the needs of EL students


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