The Impact of Technology on the Brain

The Impact of Technology on the Brain

4 Ways Technology is impacting on Your Brain – Implications for Learning?
While trawling through Facebook recently (as we all do) I came across an interesting article that claims that Steve Jobs limited the amount of technology his children had access to in the home. That really got me thinking. We take technology for granted in this day and age and are encouraged to use it more and more in our teaching and training environments, but is it time to stop and ask if this is a good thing and what impact it might be having on our brains?

We know that the brain changes in response to stimulus, so there has to be some impact of the internet and all our new technology on this amazing structure. There are a number of authors and researchers exploring this very topic and they present some compelling arguments for thinking about how much technology we engage with and more importantly how early we should be providing access for our children. Much of this information provides real food for thought for teachers and trainers and anyone who works in the learning space.

A scan of the literature seems to point to four major changes that are already observable:

  1. Attention Span – recent studies have shown that prolonged screen time actually reduces our capacity for attention, with author of The Shallows, Nicholas Carr lamenting “the brighter the software, the dimmer the user”. This is disturbing as we know that the brain only learns what it pays attention to, the ability to focus is the foundation to all learning. While books encouraged us to focus narrow and think deeply, the internet presents us with a bewildering array of information that we just skim over, changing our brains to work more at sourcing what we need by high speed skimming and scanning rather than focusing for hours on a single thing.
  2. Information Overload – we are exposed daily to more information than our ancestors used to be exposed to in a lifetime and it is physically impossible to remember it all. Digital natives tend to remember less through knowing the information themselves than remembering where the information can be found instead, making the internet our personal hard drive, or in brain terms, our repository for long term memory.
  3. Decision Making – the news isn’t all bad, research shows that we are becoming very skilful at decision making, able to make decisions much faster than we used to. However, the data does carry a warning – we tend to choose using shallow and superficial data.
  4. Memory & Learning – for me this was the ultimate concern and links in many ways with all the areas mentioned above. We are becoming learners who don’t bother with retaining information and facts, because it is always available at our fingertips through the internet and all of our hooked up devices. We suffer from information overload making it harder for the brain to determine what should be filed in long term memory – another change to our neurons. Much of the information online is trivial, so when we open a browser our brain gets ready to skim making it harder to stay on task and develop skills for deep learning or retention.

There is much food for thought in the latest information about technology and the brain and while some of this is speculation at this stage, more and more studies are showing how the brain lights up differently when we use technology compared to other learning methods, and this change will quickly impact the way the brain grows. Possibly the ultimate impact will be on our ability to be creative and use our imaginations. William Klemm, a neuroscience professor at Texas A&M University insists that “Creativity comes from a mind that knows, and remembers, a lot”. Even more important is to think about what this is doing to brains that are still growing and what the impact might be for the classrooms and the teachers of the future.

If you actually made it to the end of this blog without some bright, blinking lights carrying you away, I would love to hear your thoughts – what changes are you noticing in your learners as a result of technology?

2 Comments

  • Lucy Reeves says:

    Students in my Year 7 and 8 classes are becoming less responsive to creative tasks set for them when they first enter my classes. Unless they can ‘Google’ the ‘answer’ they are left somewhat floundering. I find that I spend more time teasing out ideas and prompting solutions, and asking the ‘what ifs’ than ever before.

    • Melinda Zanetich - Director & Master Trainer - 4MAT 4Learning - Asia Pecific Region says:

      Hi Lucy, thanks for your comment. I think you have something there. In an instant world, many teachers are telling me that their students prefer to be “spoon-fed”. Why? Because that is the easy way out – they make their teachers do all the hard work! Keep up with those questions though, because they put the learning back in the hands of the students and ultimately help to make them more effective learners. One question that comes to my mind is what role have we had to play, as teachers, in “setting up” our students to expect that this is what learning looks like in the classroom?

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