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Reliance on the Internet Detrimental?

Student Opinion: Are young people too reliant on the Internet?
By Julienne Vicente, adapted by Newsela staff, 05/19/2019 
A test was conducted to compare two groups. One group couldn't use any sort of device to answer questions, and the other group was allowed to use Google. The group that had access to their smartphones immediately went to the Internet and didn't even try to answer from memory. The group deprived of devices were quicker overall at answering trivia questions because they didn't reach for their smartphones. Is the Internet diminishing our memory capacity, or just making our brains more reliant on technology?
How about older people?
The author agrees that technology is not as detrimental to our productivity as many people say. However, she proposes that "it's not the solution to every problem, and we have to change how we use our devices."  What would be a wiser use of technology for learning than the author portrays? Would you still advise using Internet resources for research and academic-type writing and reading?  Other applications? Leecy


Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

As I read this article, I felt there was an omission to not factor in the authenticity of the situation presented in developing critical thinking and memorization skills. In a world where more an more of our academic questions are crazy facsimiles of real life, students are being trained more and more to just process through something rather than thinking about the situation as a real situation or problem to deal with. Our texts give students almost everything they need to know so it is often just a matter for many students of combining those numbers in different permutations with formulas or to simply follow the explicit directions in non math content. I would contend that the authenticity of our explorations in our learning has more power to drive thinking, memory and the ability to discern appropriate tools for a given job. Here is an example:

A teacher noted that many students would bring in drinks in class and there was often situations where those drinks would get tipped over either on the desk or on the floor. The problem was posed to the class, "What could we design to hold your drinks in a way that the drink is available, secure and less prone to tip over?". Learners had been experimenting with computer aided drafting (Tinkercad) so it was a natural transition to use that tool to create holders for their drinks that could snap onto the legs of the desks or tables. Even through the technology needed was assumed without much consideration of other construction materials, the learners still encountered challenges in that no measurements were known and no other tools were available to collect that data. Rulers with mm measures were brought in as well as fabric measuring tapes and students started recording all sorts of measures to accompany their sketches of draft designs. As they processed, they shared critical questions with each other, "How tall should the walls of the holder be?", "How do we fasten this to the tapered legs of the desk/table?", "Does anyone know how the distance around a circle is related to it's diameter?", "How can we test if our designs are thick enough to hold the weight of our drinks?"...

Learners engaged in this problem for an hour in each of three days with most working at home on ideas and thoughts to share with others when the class next gathered. After the 3 hours of in class work together, most everyone had their prototype designed and ready to be 3d printed. As printing commenced, early models were critically examined by all to better determine if individual prototypes would succeed or if they might need some alterations to avoid some critical failures in the design of others. 

Link to 3 finished examples

When I observed the thinking and processing, there were times learners would jump on the computers and there were times they would call out to peers to collectively pool knowledge. Neither form of processing caused learners to give up or to become disengaged and often findings derived one way would verify or dispute the findings or thoughts of the other. When I contrast my observations with these learners to how these same learners process in different educational settings where the problems given are much more contrived, I am convinced that the relevance of the problems presented greatly influences what tools and processes are chosen. If a learner perceives an academic assignment as busy work or something to be endured, they are much more likely to find the quickest, easiest and least energy wasting way to "get it over with". Of course, in that regard, I would agree with the article in that people may perceive computer information as being the quickest, easiest and least energy wasting way to find stuff and figure things out and this is often not necessarily the best way to process that particular problem. 

It may be an interesting study to have learners reflect on a problem in real life and the resources and procedures they utilized to resolve that problem and then we can compare and contrast those choices to classroom academic problems thrown at the same learners. I would suspect that people perceiving they are in an artificially contrived environment will gravitate to their perceived least effort options. I hope to discover more about this from my learners. Please share what you have learned from yours. 

Paul Jurmo's picture

Those interested in the pro’s and con’s of using digital technology in education – and in life more generally – might find a recent podcast (I know, this is an example of technology use!) interesting. (By the way, I think it’s about much more than the pro’s and con’s of using GPS.)

Paul Jurmo                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (

The NPR podcast “1A” had a recent episode titled “The Curious Ways We Find (and Lose) Our Way.”  ( which the 1a web site describes as follows: 

“Thanks to smartphone technology, a sense of direction is just a click away. But what happens to the brain when we outsource our navigational skills? Do apps gained mean literacy lost?

“Maura O’Connor, author of Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World, says personal GPS devices 'are the apotheosis of a dazzling era in human travel, an era of hypermobility.'' At the same time, these devices could mean a less enriching experience of finding our way — or losing it.

“From Wayfinding:

‘Cheap and accurate GPS devices arrived in phones en masse just a decade ago, and already the era of paper maps and the challenge of orienting ourselves in space feels ancient. GPS seems indispensable, a psychic salve for getting lost or wasting time. Many of us embrace the device for even the shortest jaunts to ensure the fastest, most efficient route. In The Boston Globe, a journalist recounted a recent family road trip without GPS. Their adventures included using a telephone pole’s shadow to tell west from east and identifying Polaris; it was a holiday exploring “the old ways.” For those of us who remember the time before GPS, this lurch into a new normal feels abrupt, and the implications niggle at us. Weren’t the old days… yesterday?’

“One of our listeners is hanging on to those ‘old ways.’

“’I never use GPS and have gotten lost temporarily a number of times,’' Lori in Tallahassee told us. ‘Never a panicky kind of lost because I have a simple compass affixed to my dashboard. If I note I’m heading east and get disoriented direction-wise, then I know I can find a way back west and get back on track. I’ve also come upon some awesome scenery and met some wonderful ‘locals’ by getting lost!’

“We talk with O’Connor about navigation, the human brain and the value of getting lost.”

Leecy's picture
One hundred

Paul, when I consider how often Google Maps has led me astray and left me to my own well-developed nose-following and shadow-detection senses, I can appreciate the views you've shared. In fact, I often choose not to use devices since I get an enormous sense of pride when I find my own way! I might even consider a compass to be a technical tool though far removed from digital technology. :) Leecy

Leecy's picture
One hundred

Ed, I appreciate and agree with the wrap-up, "the relevance of the problems presented greatly influences what tools and processes are chosen."  It also influences the degree of engagement in solving problems. That is true, of course, all the way back to Malcolm Knowles and, in experience, long before he packaged it together for us in theory.  Real-llife learning does not only supports andragogy but pedagogy as well, as you described in your wonderful examples. I suspect that the secret to successful engagement is to integrate technology into real life experiences rather than to exclusively rely on it to solve all problems, as you have described.

I wonder what students would write if we asked their opinion on the issue. I would love to read those responses! Leecy

Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

Because of this conversation, I have started asking learners a few questions around the topic of how we respond to life's challenges and our individual needs or wishes?

1. If you were driving in a remote area and got a flat tire, what would you do?

2. In your mind, you have the perfect dress or suit you want to rent or buy for a special event coming up. How do you go about finding that dress or suit that best fits your mental image?

3. How do you find out how much money you have in the bank? 

4. You got the chance to go alone to a busy city far from home. You are really in the mood to grab some food that you have never tried but it needs to be cheap but good. How do you go about finding this next great meal?

The responses have been very interesting and I am going to continue asking others throughout the week. So far here are the general trends I am seeing for each...

1. Call a friend or family. Most would call them to see if they had AAA or could get them some help. Some older people questioned would call to ask for how to put the spare tire on. One person just stated they would figure it out themself. 

2. Most would go window shopping either locally in stores or just go find an online store to browse through. They would be looking for things that were close to their ideal and many were stating that after "some time", which was never defined well, they would just settle for the one they found that is closest to what they were looking for. 

3. This one was mostly, "I would call the bank" responses. There were about 25% of those asked that said they would just look on the banking app on their phone or go to their bank site online. 

4. This one was interesting. The majority of older people were sharing that they would ask at the hotel front lobby for suggestions. Younger people would simply do an online search and read reviews and ratings. A few surprised me and said that they would just go out for a walk and talk to strangers to get their opinions or they would just stop at a place they found that suited their mood. Clearly the thought of personal safety was not a major concern of theirs smiley

What interests me the most, is that in each of these scenarios, I am NOT seeing any go to trend that really is strong. The only thread that seems somewhat common is the desire to talk to a trusted person. We are social creatures and when faced with tough choices there is safety in numbers. What a strange contrast in how social intercourse is so discouraged often in academic situations. Perhaps the removal of social discourse as part of the problem solving scenarios we propose in academics forces individuals to flounder so much? If so many learning situations in life are normally responded to by socially reaching out to others, why then do we discourage social explorations so often in our assessments and even in our learning processes. This gets me reflecting on how much of my life is truly done in isolation and how much of it is dependent on communicating and interaction with others? Would reaching out to watch a Youtube video instructional be considered a social connection? I am a bit inclined to think it is in as far as me satiating my need to hear someone else's perspective on "How to ...." and their shared experience helps me find my way. If my attempts fail even after watching a Youtube, I can either email that author to ask questions, post to the video's thread of discussion under the video, or I can simply go find other videos. In all of these attempts, I am learning in a very socially interactive way. Gives me much to think about how much I depend on other people to learn. 


Jeri Gue's picture
One hundred


Your students’ responses are very interesting, but maybe not so surprising.  We are social creatures, but as times have changes, our social role now involves technology.  It seems your students are comfortable with both social environments.

Vygotsky taught us years ago that we are social learners.  Knowles referred to “informal programs for adults” where “a club experience provides the best opportunity for practicing and refining the things learned” (Knowles 1950).

I wonder what Vygotsky and Knowles would say about the use of technology in our classrooms!

Thanks for sharing your students’ thoughts, Jeri