Is technology a distraction from learning?

The classroom model for education emerged out of the Industrial Revolution. Based on the factory (and later the office) model, it was based on co-location in a single room, working on shared goals and measured at the same rate. The classroom prepared us for work.

It’ll take time, but the digitisation of the workplace has begun, which means, for many, new skills based around the subsequent lack of supervision, the need to work alone online and self-manage projects, the ability to judge the veracity of content, and the ability to manage on our time.

Already, education is taking tentative steps down that road – from the early stages of setting homework through VLEs, through allowing pupils to take notes on iPads right up to the full-blown flipped classroom, many educators are taking their students some way down that digital road.

But are any of us ready for that switch? Who amongst us, even the adults, can say that the iPad isn’t an instrument of procrastination just as much as it is of consumption or creation.  Even with safeguards on browsing the internet, the iPad was designed for fiddling with, for finding new features – even if you’re just taking notes the ability to change fonts, colours, size, zoom in… many educators have noticed that the iPad can just as easily distract from learning as add to it.

But let whoever has not been taken off the path of righteousness by Buzzfeed cast the first stone. We all find technology a distraction – from the ‘I wonder what that does’ moment right up to the ‘one last go on Minecraft’, we all use technology to amuse just a much as to deliver. The human mind has yet to discover a way to circumvent that, yet we are looking to base educational outcomes on far less effecient technology than the pencil or fountain pen ever were.

That’s not a call for a Luddite rejection of technology, simply for realism. All of us need to find the discipline to channel our use of technology and to expect youngsters to lead the charge on that is unrealistic. It’s a bump in the road of our evolution as users. So long as we understand that we can… hang on, just let me watch this for a second…

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