Technology and Education

Market View

John D. Sanders, Ph.D.,

"Technology and Education"

I'm going to step on some toes in this article, and some people won't like it. My summary question is, "Can the education system as we know it adapt to the new technologies of learning, or must we invent around it?" Notice I say the technologies of learning.

The kids of today have access to an exponential growth of methods for learning being brought forward by the new technologies of computer programs, on-demand television, interactive multimedia, and now the Internet. And the warning flags are being posted everywhere about the dangerous influences these technologies can foster. I'm not going to minimize these dangers- we should all be aware and cautious. But, previous generations learned the wrong things either "behind the barn" or "at the pool hall" or "at camp" or even "on television." Technology and mobility have just increased the options for learning- not increased the desire.

If the "wrong things" are available through more interesting and exciting media than the "right things", why shouldn't we expect the learning desire to be fulfilled that way. I also would rather have fun than be bored or work hard.

Here is an example I've used many times in discussing motivation in education. Give me the most underprivileged, demotivated, inner-city kid along with a roll of quarters and let's do an experiment. I'll take that kid into the video game arcade and put him or her at the most complicated game. Before that roll of quarters is used up, he will understand the intricacies of winning, scoring, hand and eye coordination, concepts of angles and distance, and the psychology of the enemy or partner- such that he can run circles around the best college educated professor in the country. That kid can learn the most complicated concepts and techniques if he's motivated and has the basic principles.

Why do so many people only complain about kids learning the wrong things on television? Why are we already hearing the cry that kids should not be allowed alone on the Internet?

Hello! Wake up! Commercial television has developed the capacity to make learning as much fun now as our grandparents had behind the barn. No wonder the kids that watch so much TV aren't motivated in school.

However, get ready for the real problem. It is my prediction that the "worst" kids in junior high school 5 years from now are not going to be the "bad" kids. If you think those undermotivated kids are so disruptive now, wait until we see these motivated kids that have spent several years exploring computer software and the Internet as their baseline mode of learning. They are going to be "bored to death" in the regular classroom. They will also probably understand more information than mostof their teachers. Computers and the Internet will be as natural to them as picking up a hammer.

These opportunities present terrific challenges for the developers of technology, especially in information technology and telecommunications. These challenges are already here. Also, adults displaced by technology in their jobs need exciting, motivating methods of learning new skills- and they need them now.

Don't let these modern tools rest in your laboratory, or gather dust at the local school because the educators don't really understand them, or be rejected because the wrong stuff can be leaned through them, or not be purchased because all the money must be used only for salaries. Don't let people stand in the way of good uses of technology. (And here's a real secret: There 's going to be big markets for good solutions!)

If you have comments, please contact me at Technology Transfer Business magazine: phone: 703-848-2800, ext. 151; fax: 703-848-2353; internet: jsanders@technews.com.

prepared for the November, 1995 Issue of the Federal Laboratory Consortium NewsLink