The Internet is often touted as a great source of knowledge and information, not to mention its social benefits. There are two sides to every issue, however, and the Internet also has some drawbacks. It’s hard to deny that the Internet is having a profound effect on modern education, and not always in a positive way.
How can it be bad for students to have instant access to more information than can be stored in an entire traditional library? There are a few points worth considering.
The Internet encourages laziness
The very speed and ease of use that the Internet provides has a downside. It tends to make us lazy. Children who have grown up with the Internet are especially susceptible to this. They expect Google or Wikipedia to provide them with an instant answer to every question.
The problem with search engines and easy access to information is that not all information is equal. Someone’s random rant on a discussion forum is just as likely to turn up in the search engines as a scientist’s carefully researched paper on the same topic.
There is also something to be said for the whole process of doing careful research and discovering things for oneself. In the pre-Internet days, a student writing a paper would have to look at actual books and visit the library. They could always take shortcuts such as Cliff Notes, but even these require some effort to acquire.
On the web, a student can simply visit a few “authority” websites, cut and paste and maybe do a little editing. Some students, of course, are more conscientious than this, but it’s now very tempting to take the easy way out.
Does the Internet affect memory?
There is even evidence that the Internet has an effect on memory. It seems that when we know we don’t have to remember something (because it’s only a click away), our brains get lazy and don’t recall things as effectively. There is still much more research to be done on this topic, but it seems likely that our memories are likely to atrophy as we need them less and less.
Formal education has traditionally relied a great deal on memorization. Some critics claim that this is no longer necessary. That may be true, but if the Internet is actually reducing our ability to memorize it’s hard to see this as a positive development.
Too many distractions
Perhaps the biggest downside to the Internet is that it’s full of distractions. No matter how helpful and informative a certain website might be, you are never more than a click away from checking email, Facebook or Twitter. The very structure of the web lends itself towards short attention spans.
This is another area where research is incomplete, but some studies indicate that the Internet has an affect on young people’s ability to focus. This can certainly be a drawback when it comes to learning.
The Internet’s effect on education: Pros and Cons
This isn’t to say that the Internet has nothing positive to offer the field of education. There’s no question that it’s an amazing research tool. There are also many opportunities for online learning that make it easier for many people to attend college.
It’s important to examine the Internet’s effect on education in a balanced way. We shouldn’t get so caught up in the benefits that we ignore the dangers.