"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Monday, March 31, 2014

Technology may not always be the answer....

I attended an educational conference on Friday that began by assuming two things: 1. That the US has one of the worst healthcare systems in the world (an aggressive start considering the audience was full of physicians who can't understand how bad the system is when everyone from all over the world comes to the US for treatment) and 2. That the worst health care system must therefore be doing a bad job of educating the apparently inadequate physicians (even though physicians from all over the world try to come to US to get trained at residencies here).
This made me think of the topic of technology.  For whatever reason we assume that newer is better.  In today's world we also think faster and more innovative is better.  Technology is better. Whatever we used to do (like use a landline to call someone) is outdated and ineffective.  We have to find a new and better way to do things and technology will do this for us!
I'm not sure this is true in medical education or education at any level.  We've been training physicians in the US for over 100 years with, in my humble opinion, pretty darn good results.  In those 100 years there have been many cases of trial and error, modifications, and revisions of the system to produce better doctors.  For some reason the mindset now is all that experience is rubbish in the face of new technology.
The problem is that the most important person in the equation, the learner, has remained essentially the same in the last hundred years.  I'm not sure all the technology in the world is going to make competent orthopedic surgeons in four or even three years, when we've learned that it takes five years!
I'm all for making education better and more efficient, but I dont think we give ourselves enough credit for what we currently do.  I think we expect more out of technology than it may be able to provide.  The learner should always remain the focus


  1. Greg, you raise some very interesting points. Julie Coiro showed how some kids who were adept at gogling could make up for a lack of prior knowledge just by gogling what they needed when they needed. This turns schema theory (and the age-old belief in experimental learning and prior knowledge) on its head! But, on closer look, what's lost by not having deep knowledge and, instead, relying on wikipedia to fill in our sense of the past on an ad hoc basis? For one, I think we lose our sense of history....

    On the other hand, technological change is here to stay. Maybe its an eternal part of the human condition. It's like the Olympics: we may be evolving technologically because the 'poles' used for pole vaulting are springier and thus athletes continue to jump higher each year. But does that mean we are physically more talented? Or are we actually less so and more dependent on technology? But James Wertsch--a Vygotsky scholar--says this is a misleading question, because our skills are always partially our own and partially belong to the culture. OK, I'm jet lagged so have no idea if any of this makes sense...but I did enjoy your reflection very much! B

  2. Gregg, I fully agree with your comments “I'm all for making education better and more efficient, but I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for what we currently do. I think we expect more out of technology than it may be able to provide. The learner should always remain the focus,” nevertheless, I want to provide you an example of when the learner is the primary focus and technology is the enabler.

    Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to one of the newly independent Central Asian –stan countries of the former Soviet Union. Sitting with the Minister of Defense, a former U.S educated PhD expatriate, he articulated to our small delegation (representing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-NATO) on how he intended to modernize the country’s military and bring it into the 21st century. The key to his strategy, leverage technology to educate and train his younger officers by exposing them to new thinking (on-line literature) and new ways of doing things (modeling and simulation). In both cases, this was not possible without the technology (i.e. high speed Internet connectivity/computers and access to scholarly databases) provided by NATO member nations.

    Within four years, the minister was credited with making very successful strides in modernizing and professionalizing the military….much of this achieved by leveraging technology. FYI…this story has a sad ending but not due to technology. In the fifth year the minister was removed from office and sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly selling secrets to NATO…but this is another story.

  3. Greg, I agree that technology is not always the answer. Technology provides us with easy access to information and helps to make learning more interactive. However, I am still of the opinion that it is ultimately the teacher who engages the students and not the technology. A great teacher is still a great teacher, with or without an iPad. :-)


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.