Does technology always help us to learn?

My sat-nav certainly doesn’t help me to learn about navigation.  Whereas I would ponder over maps, comparing the merits and weaknesses of various routes, I now type in postcode and follow the directions almost without interest in the route it’s commanding me to follow.

I used to be able to do mental arithmetic.  I suppose I’m not too bad at it now.  But I wonder if calculators have hindered our ability to convert litres per kilometre to miles per gallon in our head.  I suspect it might be the case.

And using word processors has not helped my ability to spell, although my trpyings improved.

Cutting and pasting may not help me learn much either.

I get the feeling that there are occasions in which technology helps us to learn about technology and may actually distract us from deeper learning.  If I ask my students to write a blog, when they could quite happily submit their work as a word processor file, then does that help their learning? They would learn about blogging I suppose.

I remember being taught how to use a phone – that might betray my age.  However, I never really considered that I was interacting with the phone – I was interacting with the person on the other end of the line.

If we’re using technology to facilitate learning interactions, we might need to beware of the technology getting in the way. When it’s used appropriately however, it seems to be able to transform learning. I guess that depends on who’s learning (e.g. their ability to use a phone) as well as what they’re learning.

So there’s a lot to learn in how to learn using technology…


Professor John Fothergill

Leave a comment


  1. Chris Webster

     /  June 28, 2011

    Many of the relatively new technological aids may not help us learn directly – your example of cutting and pasting is one – but they help me learn by saving me time and therefore allowing me to have more time for more ‘productive’ learning activities. I can write a report, make notes, record ideas, etc. much more efficiently. Time is finite – I would rather be, as this last weekend, visiting the archaeological dig at Burrough Hill and listening to the talks there, than handwriting and editing and re-writing a complex report, which takes far less time on my p.c.

  2. bdra

     /  June 28, 2011

    One could create a learning activity around a SatNav, such as “Follow the map and predict the SatNav’s suggestions before they are made”. So I would look at how we could use a technology, rather than what it is designed for, or how it is usually used.

    Paul Rudman, BDRA

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