by Anja Baudisch
We call our times the Information Age or the Digital Age. Both describe the world where we live today. Truly, our lives have never been more dependent on information. And, we have never found ourselves in a world where information has been so easy to access.
Certainly, living in the Information Age has advantages, such as easier communications, access to knowledge, and flexibility. There are disadvantages too: feelings of isolation and an over-dependence on technology and information. With our world changing more with every new day, the skills we need to be satisfied with our lives also change, and our education and learning systems evolve too. Naturally, technology has found its way into our classrooms and our discussions about studying and learning. In this article, we will discuss these technologies we find in our new age, and how to use them effectively in supporting our academic pursuits.
Heaven! I’m in technological heaven!
Students often complain that what they are learning in school is irrelevant or not applicable to our modern world. But, what’s more relevant to today’s world than technology and how to use it? To live, and succeed, in the 21st century, we not only need to know how to use technology, we need to know how to use it well. Today’s children need digital literacy, teamwork and effective communication in order to succeed in their future jobs – skills that are closely related to technology, especially in today’s world where most communication happens online and teams are becoming increasingly virtual, with people who have never met in person. If children were to learn the skills needed to succeed in this modern world, they would not only stop criticizing the system for not providing them with necessary and applicable knowledge, they would also be better prepared to live in a world that’s constantly changing. This world will continue to expect even more from the younger generations, and these expectations will surely include technology and communication skills that will continue growing ever more complex.
Technology as an Avenue to Learning in the 21st Century
Technology is also useful in that it can make students feel more independent and allow them to find the learning strategies that best fit their needs. Students are most motivated to learn when they study topics that they value and when they are engaged in the learning process. Simply put, students value feeling that they have control over their learning.
As children of the 21st century, students find technology familiar, and we, as their parents and educators, can use this in getting them more motivated about learning. Using technology, students can easily access more information about a topic, or seek additional explanations for topics they have not yet mastered completely. Since students cannot always get all the information they need in school or, in some cases, the school environment simply does not meet their needs, teaching children to effectively use technology to fulfill their learning needs can make them more independent and show them ways to learn that do not involve strict curriculums or even more time spent in the classroom.
Turning hobbies into productive study tools
Contrary to popular belief, technology isn’t only a means to procrastinate through Netflix, Minecraft, and Facebook. There are apps and strategies out there that can help your student learn, and learn more efficiently.
Let’s face it. Our kids spend a lot of time on social media. But, social media isn’t all bad. By putting our children’s interest in social media to use, we can find a great instrument for sharing knowledge among their peers. By using social media for the right purposes, our children will not only contribute to the exchange of knowledge, but they will also develop a sense of competence and confidence. They might enjoy themselves when they can see that their contributions help others.
Beyond social media, students can use technology to find ways to shorten the time they spend on studying, writing flashcards and revising their writing. In our world today, students can use a wide variety of software to organize and help with their academic tasks. And they will be among the first to point out to us that using technology usually works faster than any outdated method we’ve carried over from our 20th-century childhoods.
Learning tools for everyone
We’ve seen that technology can give our students some great tools that they can use in mastering their studies. And technology can do this for students of all abilities. A lot of progress had been made lately in developing apps in the field of special education. These apps have made the lives of some students much easier and they have helped them feel even more motivated to learn.
These advances are not only great for students with special needs, but also for other children who share the classroom with them. Through technology, they are taught how to respect all people, and are prepared for life in an inclusive society.
And now the bad stuff…
With all this praise for technology, it might be easy to forget about all those times you thought about how easier life would be without electronic devices. You might forget about the last time you criticized someone for using their phone too much. (Un)fortunately, you weren’t all that wrong when you lamented all this technology. Technology, like anything else, has a downside. This too carries over to the learning process.
Let me check my messages just one more time…
Technology can, and does, distract. This is probably the most obvious disadvantage of using technology in education. Because students use technology every day, it can easily become too distracting and even draw their attention away from their studies. This is especially true today because there are so many apps and social media platforms and students often feel required to stay on top of them all. To do this, they are constantly multi-tasking, and this leaves a higher risk that their learning will be negatively impacted. Naturally, social media isn’t the only culprit; games and other online content distract students from their academic pursuits too. Technology, as we noted above, is a source of procrastination.
Why would I study when I can just google the answer when I need it?
While the constant access to enormous amounts of information is a key advantage of technology, it can also be a huge disadvantage because this can leave students intellectually lazy. Students may feel that there is no point in studying something when you can just search for it online, and find your answer in just a second. This is one of the ways technology has made us spoiled and has also diminished our capacities. These days, we simply do not need to remember as much as before. When viewed from this perspective, technology can actually be seen as something that makes us more dependent, even though we made a case earlier that it also helps build students’ independence.
Always staring at the screen
And while technology can bring people together, it is also known for rending them apart, or at least disconnecting them from the real world. This is especially true for our children today, who spend most of their time socializing online even if they have trouble initiating social contact in the real world, and experience anxiety when they actually have to talk to people. While this may appear to have nothing to do with education, it actually has everything to do with education. Socializing is necessary for children’s development in that it helps them find their own place in society.
What to make of it?
After reading these advantages and disadvantages of using technology to help with learning, it is not entirely clear if technology should or shouldn’t be used in education. The answer lies, like always, somewhere in the middle. Some aspects of technology can definitely be useful and make a student more confident and productive, while these same technological aspects can, on the other hand, make that student even more dependent on technology.
In order to use technology properly, moderation is important. Research has shown that excessive usage can lead to problematic behavior. However, it’s important to remember that forbidding students to use technology won’t help them to achieve more. They may even grow resentful as they want to multitask and keep on top of their fast-changing world. A better way to make sure that technology does not become a distraction is, again, making sure that our children are not multitasking excessively. Students should focus on developing metacognitive skills that help them keep focused on their task while they are doing it, and then checking social media later.
So, while we wouldn’t advise you to pretend to live in the 19th century and ignore all things new and digital, we also caution that we shouldn’t get too excited about everything happening online. In a best-case scenario, if our students keep using technology wisely and in moderation, this will surely help them in their studies, in developing new skills, and new knowledge.
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