The Technology Maybe: Gains and Losses in Learning
Aug 6, 2021
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, born into a hard-working, blue-collar family well before home computers and at a time when reading was essential to learning, I read a lot, including out loud to my immigrant grandmother as she did not know the language. Looking back, education followed a “hands-on” approach, with plenty of opportunities to dig through the trial-and-error process.
Today, technology has made finding an answer to nearly any problem easier and faster. But does our world of FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) and GFGI (using Google to find answers) create better educated youth? As a self-admitted technologist, I believe the answer is “maybe.”
What does the balance sheet of technology look like in terms of its net-influence on learning and education? Let’s explore.
First, some positives.
Experience free from movement and cost
Today, students can sit at their desks and be transported to far-flung places perhaps even “beyond the beyond” through virtual and augmented reality.
Facilitated access and learning
Technology has democratized the ability to access and engage information, something we’ve all witnessed during the pandemic. Technology also enables in-depth exploration, as anyone can “dial up” a tutor or find a chat group to a specific subject.
Fast, virtual “build-and-bust”
Technology empowers students to create new products and services by enabling quick, affordable prototyping; fostering collaboration regardless of where team members live. Most colleges and an ever-increasing number of high schools now offer 3D printers classes.
Is there any investment that can promise more impactful returns than technology infrastructure capable of providing access to the world’s knowledge base regardless of zip code?
Now, let’s consider some of the challenges that come with technology.
Answers without meaning
“GFGI” displaces having to search, explore, and discover context, as an “answer” appears divorced from how it was developed. Understanding the reasons why things came to be rather than merely finding an answer helps grow the mind and certainly helps face life’s challenges.
Innovation and creativity are critical to the long-term success of our country; the threat of living off first-return search solutions lies in the mountains of information never encountered. Far from “hands-on,” this approach to learning is more a passive accumulation of trending information than actively building knowledge.
Dissonance and distraction
I’m a big brother to a 12-year-old boy. My little brother was in distant learning in his school but while he was online, he was sometimes playing Fortnite on his phone. Grades suffered big time and his mother, thankfully, took away his phone. How many of us are so addicted to our emails and texts that we immediately reach for the phone at the very first “ding”? Too commonly, technology is our controller when we ought to be in control of our technology.
Is the truth really out there?
Without educated filtering, the information superhighway can overwhelm with what’s true, false, and the shady in-between. Without discernment, a curious and open mind can become misshapen by repeatedly landing amongst like-mindedness where group think, continuous affirmation, and comfort dominates. In the information wars, truth can be an early casualty.
To be and not 2B
Like most, I’ve fallen into the trap of using text-based acronyms and emoticons when communicating with friends. Unfortunately, too often when I read business letters and documents, I see younger people writing in that same casual style. To me, lazy writing reflects lazy thinking.
Isolation and disconnect
I’m guessing we’ve all seen children sitting next to each texting rather than engaging in conversation. For all the goodness that technology enables for remote communication, human interaction and developing relationships matters -- a real hug cannot be replicated in cyberspace!
Perhaps, when the balance sheet is reconciled, the greatest value of technology is enabling access. In turn, technology can be an unbounded channel to help expand opportunities, motivate the drive to make equity a reality, and redefine how “hands-on” knowledge can be reimagined, and applied for the 21st century and beyond.
Technology leading the evolution and revolution of tools, services, and practices so that truly and at last, each person can realize their potential.
With that, I see the best of technology creating a future of a better-educated youth, and a better world for us all to enjoy. Technology is an enabler not a crutch nor a replacement for thinking. That is the message we need to convey to our younger generation.
David Freidman is the Orange County, CA Chapter President of TechCoastAngels, one of the largest organizations of angel investors in the U.S. with a focus on medtech, software, pharma/bio, iOT, artificial intelligence, technology, fintech, edtech and similar markets. He also is a champion of Bridge to Connect (BRDG), a nonprofit supporting successful transitions for first-in-family college students seeking careers in STEM.