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Is the Internet making us stupid?

Is the Internet making us stupid?
Published: April 30, 2018
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Digital learning platforms vs digital learning processes

Digital technology hasn’t changed how human beings learn. It has fundamentally changed the range of tools we can use to assist our learning. The internet has brought a revolution in the accessibility of information and can assist in the transfer of knowledge and opinion. But access to all this stuff doesn’t necessarily make us collectively smarter. And there is some neuroscience evidence that hyperlinks, in particular, are distracting our brains to such a degree that, in some ways, the internet is in danger of making us more stupid by promoting shallow thinking.

What remains true is that for anyone to learn anything, they need a process through which to do so. The more sophisticated the learning needs, the more sophisticated the process required.

Platforms present content libraries to learners with navigational aids, tags and maybe even recommendations from other colleagues who have used the material and found it useful. But all content needs to be designed with an intentional learning process in mind.

Do learning design fundamentals translate digitally?

Learning and Development professionals know a lot about designing effective learning processes. But the hype around the scale and cost-effectiveness of digital-only solutions often means that we are not translating all the things we know about designing a face-to-face or social/network/group learning process into the design of digital material. We talk to many clients who have invested in platforms and developed or acquired content libraries only to find that they are underused by learners and not trusted by line managers to deliver.

As digital learning technologies continue to grow and develop at the pace, we need to match that development with an ever-deeper understanding of how we connect the right tools to the specific learning need. Any money spent on a scalable learning technology that doesn’t meet the learning needs is still money wasted, however ‘cost effective’ the cost-to-learner ratio is.

Digital, experiential learning

The arrival of digital technology hasn’t reduced the need for experiential learning. Indeed, the increased synthesis of learning and work – learning becomes the work – means that we need more and more effective learning opportunities to support 21st-century organisations and their workforce needs. Experiential learning connects skills and knowledge with doing the work and the ability to ‘reflect in action’ to continue to learn and improve.

At Impact, we apply 42 years’ worth of learning design experience to create learning journeys that work, delivering the learning need. Much of our work is connecting learning to context, activating social learning and embedding new behaviours and skills. Our unique learning methodology is as valid for face-to-face as it is for digital and blended learning.

Our commitment will always be that we let the learning lead our learning designs, selecting tools, methods and resources that work. All learning objectives need to be met with a learning design, a process of learning that is consistent with the need.

Start with the learner and the learning need, not the technology.

Grahame Broadbelt is Global Head of Communication and R&D at Impact.