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Teaching Kids the Right Way - The Cognitive Process

Cognitive Process
Social exists in the space between teaching and emotional. (Photo adapted by Giulia Forsythe)

There is a seachange occurring in Western education right now. Not just in classrooms, but in the upbringing of our children. More and more kids are being raised in an environment where knowledge and understanding of the world around them comes from the glossy screen of a computer or tablet, instead of the printed page. Whereas parents merely a decade ago would be more likely to limit the time their children spent with video games, TV, and even on the net; the association of the internet with edification, and devices with efficiency, has many of those same parents promoting the use of technology to their children.

Children, of course, love this. Interactivity, sound, and movement are now the expectation of young minds, and picture books seem staid and old-fashioned in comparison. One would expect that children would be some of the most zealous devotees of new, personal technology. Although there is some indication that a new generation of children is actually swinging back in favor of paper books over ebooks, a study this year also revealed that for the first time, children are reading more on-screen (computers, tablets, and e-readers) than in print.

The danger of depending upon technology in the education of our young ones is a great one, not least because many of the arguments in favor of technology are based upon misconceptions and obfuscations of how education works.

There has been a steady stream of research conducted all over the world that conclusively proves people engage more deeply, and retain information more effectively when learning from paper than digital and internet sources. Recent studies into memory have shown starkly different results between the mediums, with subjects "significantly more likely to remember information if they thought they would not be able to find it later."

Anybody who has tried to teach the finer points of literacy to a young child knows that attention span is both crucial to the learning process and entirely dependent on the environment. If the internet, and personal devices, encourage anything, it is multi-tasking, quick retrieval (and dismission) of information, and the emphasis of the short, trivial fact over the long-form text. It offers information without context, facts without a deeper understanding of the cause. This is anathema to the very spirit of learning within young children, where knowledge of the underlying principles and ideas of things such as reading, the environment, and themselves is infinitely important to their development. If we take away that deeper understanding and replace it with a more superficial type of knowledge.

The extent to which writing is also a lot more effective than typing has also come under scrutiny over recent years. Research shows that children consistently did better writing with a pen when they wrote essays. They wrote more and they wrote faster, due to using cognitive processes and parts of the brain that are completely bypassed when typing. It is believed in some circles that motor skills in childhood - one of the most important and valuable developments a child has - is inextricably linked with learning to write, and hindering these by urging children to type rather than write in a lot of cases could have unforeseen effects in other areas.

Worryingly, what little research has been done into the health effects of so much screen usage on the developing eyes of young children has also proven quite ominous for the all-digital future. A study in Australia showed that children who spent more time in front of screens had narrower blood vessels in their eyes than children who played outside more. Whilst the long-term effects of screen usage on young eyes are unknown, much preliminary evidence suggests an increased likelihood of ocular problems.

We’re still seeing the unfolding effects of tech-use from an earlier age, but all of the research done in the area is something we should be concerned about. It is one thing entirely to ignore the health, social, and educative properties of using technology, rather than paper, in adult education, but when dealing with the far more malleable and impressionable minds of children, these issues could be incredibly damaging for future generations. There is, of course, a place for technology, and a place for paper, in modern education, business, and the home, but we need a greater understanding of what we as humans gain and lose from these tools. The concern is that by the time we begin to understand the negative aspects of tech on our children, instead of recognizing only the positives, it may already be too late.

Guest post contributed by Johnny Peters.

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