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Silicon Valley Parents Question Value of Technology in Learning. Should We?

According to the recent New York Times series Grading the Digital School, parents in some of the most tech savvy places in America are questioning whether the investment in classroom technology is paying off. Many are sending their children to “low-tech” schools.

In Silicon Valley, the chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, a nine-classroom school, and so do employees of Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard.

… the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom …

What does evidence show?

Some experts interviewed for the first article in the series, In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores,  point out that there is little or no clear evidence that technology is paying off.

In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

The latest article in the series, At Waldorf School in Silicon Valley, Technology Can Wait,  asserts that, absent clear evidence,  the debate comes down to a difference of opinion about learner engagement.

Advocates for technology in the classroom say that young people “who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.”

Advocates for low-tech instructional methods say that computers in the classroom are distracting and inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction, and attention spans, and that “real engagement comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans.”

What can or should Learning and Development professionals take away from these articles?

I’m convinced we need to earnestly consider the value of technology in learning. Not because I blindly believe those people who assert that technology has a negative effect on learning,  but because I believe it’s possible that …

  • we have jumped on the technical bandwagon without knowing fully what we’re doing.
  • we have been enticed by technology based on personal impressions, hype, or faith in technology for its own sake.
  • we are motivated by a blind faith in technology.
  • we are overemphasizing technology as the future.
  • persuaded by the digital age, we are at risk of forgetting the basics.

Most companies are either intrigued with technology in the “classroom” or are making it happen. My collegue, Jim, just wote a blog post highlighting recent Wall Street Journal article, Companies Adopt Gaming Techniques to Motivate Employees, which describes how the “big boys” are using game technology to engage employees.

I’m not planning to abandon technology for knitting needles and mud; technology is clearly a piece of the learner engagement puzzle. What’s clear to me, however, is that we still have a lot to learn about how technology best serves learning and how to clearly measure and assert its effectiveness.

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I've been creating training and e-Learning programs for over 20 years, serving as an instructional designer, writer, developer, and project manager. I thoroughly enjoy helping clients succeed and look good. I'm a problem-solver by nature; one of my favorite things to do is save the day. I'm currently Vice President of Training and eLearning Development for Dashe & Thomson.

One Comment

  • Vast Talent

    November 7, 2011, 3:51 pm

    I think technology is yet to grow into its shoes. We are still on the very nose end of technology. Not to mention the tech gap, older generations do not know how to turn on a computer and younger generations can’t live without it. It is not until that gap is closed that we will see the true emergence of technology shaping growing minds.

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