Parents reading this article can probably recall with vivid clarity an age where classrooms had one or two desktop computers. A learning environment where a blackboard and stick of chalk were the most used technologies in the room.
That era is thoroughly and completely over. Kids everywhere go to school with tablets or laptops in hand. They complete homework online, and sometimes they even go to school in front of a screen.
For better or worse, the digital era of learning is here to stay. In this article, we take a look at what that means for the present and the future.
Families with school-aged children circa 2020 learned just how much technology can shape learning. Now that the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, schools are finally able to resume more or less pre-Covid school policies.
This means that remote learning is no longer the standard, and yet it is still out there, waiting to be implemented whenever needed. What does this mean for kids in the post-pandemic era?
eLearning technology means that no matter what happens going forward, school systems everywhere have the ability to pivot into educational solutions with a high degree of continuity. When snow storms happen, or an infection outbreak closes a classroom, remote learning technology is there to make sure lessons continue without interruption.
Taken at face value, this is a meaningful development with the potential to improve the overall educational landscape.
In practice, it does have its flaws. For one thing, Covid-19 accentuated the already prevalent pain points experienced by people on the wrong side of the digital divide. Students who did not have dependable access to WIFI were largely excluded from elearning, which meant that they missed enormous amounts of school.
Remote learning also disadvantages the children of working parents. A first grader, if left to their own devices may lack the ability or motivation to get themselves online to learn every day.
The system remains imperfect. However, it’s important to recognize that it is also relatively young. Educators everywhere are hopeful that elearning will continue to improve in the ensuing years so that it may serve as an important tool for reaching students no matter what is going on in the outside world.
The Proliferation of Tablets and Laptops
For the last decade tablets and laptops have slowly been filtering into the classroom. Where once it was considered experimental or supplementary, digital technology in the classroom is now a vital component of the learning experience.
Smart devices for everyone has delivered both good and bad educational developments. On the one hand, giving children digital tools provides people who otherwise might not have had it with access to online spaces even at home.
It trains them to understand tools that will inevitably be important in high school, college, and the professional world.
On the other hand, putting the internet in the hands of a classroom full of children also produces distractions and mischievous behavior.
Teachers, in addition to the usual many responsibilities, must prioritize monitoring their student’s online activity to make sure they are not accessing content that is inappropriate either to their age or to the pursuit of learning.
It’s also important to keep in mind that children are only supposed to have approximately two hours of screen time a day. Many will hit that number at school. If they have homework online — and they usually do — they will exceed that number.
The education world is well beyond the point of withdrawing digital technology from the curriculum. However, teachers everywhere continue struggling with how to strike the right balance.
What Happens When Kids Have too Much Screen Time?
Researchers are only just beginning to understand the impacts of too much screen time on children. The results they have produced are troubling. Too much screen time for children can lead to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Other side effects include:
- Obesity: Obesity rates in American children are already startling high. High levels of screen time exacerbate the problem by keeping children from pursuing healthier activities.
- Addiction: Digital technology use also carries the risk of addiction. Children with an unhealthy relationship to technology may demonstrate their condition by being withdrawn, depressed, or anxious.
- A shortened attention span: The digital world is naturally geared towards small, short bursts of information. Social media is particularly notorious for this, but it’s also not the only offender. Consider this article as an example. While the content itself comes in at around 1000 words, the format is designed to favor quick reads. Short sentences. Two-line paragraphs. Bullet points.
While it is ok to ingest information in this way, children who experience little else may lack the attention span to comprehend denser texts.
Some studies also suggest that information read in a digital format isn’t retained the same way that it would be if it had come from a physical text. Researchers believe this owes to the way people are used to reading online.
While books tend to favor, and indeed require, a careful read, the internet is designed for skim-ability. This issue may work itself out over time as a new generation of learners becomes used to learning primarily in front of a screen.
For now, however, the evidence seems to suggest that students everywhere are being deprived of the opportunity to experience the full depth of their texts.
It’s difficult to make any sort of formal conclusion on the virtues and shortcomings of technology in the classroom for the simple reason that it could make no difference. The United States school system has invested billions in putting computers in every classroom. The world waiting to receive these children will require them to be digitally fluent.
The question of if these developments are an improvement or not is largely irrelevant. It is true that digital technology has its benefits. For educators, the job now is to accentuate these gains as much as possible, and do their best to smooth over pain points as they arise.