Impact Journal Logo

The use of digital technology in primary physical education

Written by: Rachel Sullivan
5 min read

Recently we have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of digital technologies available to use within educational environments, though there is debate around whether they are being used effectively (Casey et al., 2017); (Fullan , 2013). Whilst capitalising on the significance of digital technologies and their ability to engage learners, it is important to consider both the strengths and potential pitfalls of using these tools within the environment of primary PE.

There is an increasing body of knowledge surrounding the role social interaction plays in physical education (Acquaviva et al., 2013). Literature has highlighted the importance of social interaction within primary PE in particular (Cremin and Burnett , 2018), and the negative impact that an ever-growing focus on digital technology may have on students’ development (Casey , 2011). It is, therefore, important that digital technology does not take away from the social element of learning; instead, it should be used to enhance interactions to develop learning further.

Digital technology can provide opportunities for social interaction (e.g. using slow motion video to allow a performer to identify errors in their technique through conversation with a teacher or peer observer) (Fabian and Maclean , 2014). Using technology in this way also allows for more effective personalised feedback for students, alongside maximising time for physical activity within lessons. The practical nature of PE reduces opportunities for reflective tasks due to a lack of tangible evidence of work. Video can therefore be used to record student work and capture assessment evidence in PE lessons (Lee et al., 2001). For example, using video to capture a before and after of the performance of a skill can allow students to identify how they have used feedback in order to develop.

However, whilst there are a range of benefits to using digital technologies within PE, few schools use ICT routinely within lessons (Casey, 2011); (Rosenthal and Eliason , 2015). There are various reasons for this, including barriers associated with teachers’ understanding of the technologies available and how they can be integrated within existing practice.

Barriers to the use of technology in practice

There is little time allocated to ICT training within primary initial teacher education (ITE) (Juniu , 2011), which can leave teachers with a limited understanding of how best to integrate technology into their teaching. This can often mean that when digital technology is included in teaching, it is in isolation (e.g. a game on an iPad) or as an add-on to existing teaching practice (taking pictures of students’ work to display or post on social media). Similarly, a limited availability of continued professional development (CPD) in this field (Casey et al., 2017) can leave many teachers lacking in support.

The use of digital technology potentially raises a host of logistical issues, such as the time taken to set up applications. Internet connectivity can also cause problems with speed and access to resources (Fabian and MacLean, 2014); (Franklin and Smith, 2015). The security of student data (Fabian and MacLean, 2014), including images of students, alongside new GDPR (general data protection regulation) guidelines, may also discourage teachers. These hurdles may make using devices to record students’ performances in PE more challenging, even for those who are committed to integrating ICT into their current practice.

The overarching argument against using technology within PE lessons is the potential for reducing the amount of time that students are physically active (Casey, 2011); (Weir and Connor , 2009). Casey et al. warn of the potential for ICT to reduce PE teaching to a surveillance of activity levels and performative measures if used incorrectly (Casey et al., 2017). Teachers may be encouraged to only deliver content that can be easily compared to technical models and which can be easily quantified in terms of success, meaning that activities such as rock climbing or cycling may be avoided due to greater difficulty in using video technology to record progress.

To complement learning instead of detract from it, teachers can integrate simple technologies into their existing practice and experiment with different teaching approaches. Tasking students with using apps such as Coach’s Eye (a video analysis app) or Dartfish EasyTag (a tool that enables teachers and students to create their own video highlights during a game or performance) will give insight into how students are able to use these to develop their own learning. Both can be used to give feedback on individual and team performances and are a valuable way to include students who are not able to participate due to injury, as well as to develop evaluation and analysis skills within a lesson.

If the aim is for digital technology to improve outcomes across the curriculum (Livingstone , 2012), it would appear that interactive devices offer the potential to facilitate this, allowing for quality assessment to happen ‘in the moment’ (Franklin and Smith, 2015). It is important that subject experts begin to investigate how technology can be used appropriately to support learning within the context of PE, whilst also maximising physical activity in lessons.


Acquaviva J, Beaudet R and Maina M (2013) Technology in physical education: Striking a delicate balance. The Global Journal of Health and Physical Education Pedagogy 2(3): 197–204.
Casey A (2011) Using digital technology to enhance student engagement in physical education. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport & Physical Education 2(2): 51–65.
Casey A, Goodyear V and Armour K (2017) Rethinking the relationship between pedagogy, technology and learning in health and physical education. Sport, Education and Society 22(2): 288–304.
Cremin T and Burnett C (eds) (2018) Learning to Teach in the Primary School. London: Routledge.
Fabian K and Maclean D (2014) Keep taking the tablets? Assessing the use of tablet devices in learning and teaching activities in the further education sector. Research in Learning Technology (22): 1–14.
Franklin R and Smith J (2015) Practical assessment on the run – iPads as an effective mobile and paperless tool in physical education and teaching. Research in Learning Technology (23).
Fullan M (2013) Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge. Toronto: Pearson.
Juniu S (2011) Pedagogical uses of technology in physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance 82(9): 41–49.
Lee M, Whitehead J, Ntoumanis N, et al. (2001) Goal Orientations as Mediators of the Influence of Values on Sports Attitudes in Young Athletes. 10th world congress of sport psychology. Skiathos Island, Greece: International Society of Sport Psychology.
Livingstone S (2012) Critical reflections on the benefits of ICT in education. Oxford Review of Education 38(1): 9–24.
Rosenthal M and Eliason S (2015) ‘I have an iPad. Now what?’ Using mobile devices in university physical education programs. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance 86(6): 34–39.
Weir T and Connor S (2009) The use of digital video in physical education. Technology, Pedagogy and Education 18(24): 155–171.
      0 0 votes
      Please Rate this content
      Notify of
      Inline Feedbacks
      View all comments

      From this issue

      Impact Articles on the same themes

      Author(s): Bill Lucas