Is Technology Keeping Us from Learning?
There are many debates today about whether technology is helping or hindering learning. Many school administrators want to be the first to adopt new technology because they feel their schools are being judged as inadequate if they don’t keep up with changing resources. But we have to ask the question, “Are they considering all of the options that can help students succeed?” When you consider the negatives of learning from a screen, as well as the cost of purchasing, maintaining and updating electronic devices, is this really the best approach to learning?
Based on a multi-country survey commissioned by Two Sides in September of 2011, we have qualified what we already believed...that many consumers (~70 percent), including 18- to 24-year-olds, prefer reading from paper. In fact, according to a study by O’Hara, K. and A. Sellen in 1997 called A Comparison of Reading Paper and On-line Documents, we may actually learn better from a book, newspaper or printed report than we do using a computer screen.
So why are we pushing so hard to get technology into the classroom?
According to an article in the Chronicle Herald on July 2, 2013, Peter Reiman and Anindito Aditomo of the University of Sydney recently conducted an analysis of the research literature about the impact of technology on student achievement. Their findings were published in the International Guide to Student Achievement (2013). They conclude that most studies show only a moderate academic benefit from technology and that “the effect of computer technology seems to be particularly small in studies that use either large samples or randomized control groups.”
What this tells us is that there are limited benefits to using technology in the classroom...at least in today’s world. Schools need to take a broader approach to improving learning by considering all options of the education process including the basics such as environment, experienced teachers, strong curriculum and all different forms of resources.
In his 2011 book "Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning," renowned education writer Mike Schmoker demonstrates that schools focusing on three key things (a content-rich curriculum, sound lessons and purposeful reading and writing in every discipline) substantially outperform schools that do not. According to Schmoker, technology is unnecessary when it comes to improving student achievement and too much emphasis on technology can get in the way of the essentials of learning.
Technology can also be a distraction for students and contributes to multi-tasking and disappointing grades and performance. Laptops may actually hinder students’ ability to learn, providing a distraction and even affecting students sitting near their owners, according to a stunning new Canadian report. With laptops and tablet computers pervading the modern classroom, the report suggests that paper and pencil is less distracting overall.
"We really didn't think the effects would be this huge," explained McMaster University researcher Faria Sana, who co-authored the study with fellow doctoral student Tina Weston. "Those students who multitasked on their laptops performed significantly worse than the pencil pushers—and surprisingly, the effect even reached to students sitting near the laptop users," Sana said.
What we are learning is that paper and pencil are very effective ways to learn since these traditional tools are less distracting and easier to rely on in all circumstances.
The real question here is, “Are the schools determining the best ways for their students to study and learn, or are they just another group jumping blindly on the technology bandwagon and perhaps forgetting about the educational value of print and paper?”
We must continue research on this topic and provide examples and resources to help educators and parents understand the key role that paper plays in the classroom...and how it can ultimately lead to better learning and comprehension.
Phil has over 28 years of international experience related to sustainability and the forest products industry. He currently leads Two Sides North America, a non-profit that promotes the unique sustainable features of print and paper, as well as their responsible production and use. Two Sides operates globally in five continents with members that span the entire graphic communication value chain. Phil has written extensively on sustainability and environmental topics related to the forest products sector. He received his Bachelor and Master's of Science degrees from McGill University in Montreal. He is a private forest owner and sustainably manages over 200 acres of forestland for both recreational and economic benefits.