Computers can be great for learning. Unlike teachers, computers never get tired, cranky, lazy, or forgetful. Their tireless circuitry allows them infinite patience and unflagging responsiveness. They are predictable and comforting to the techno-savvy youngster. But, despite these merits, computers are not without drawbacks when it comes to learning.
Though computers may not grow tired or cranky like a human instructor, they also cannot adjust their responses or aid the way a person can. If a student is not “getting it” a computer program is limited in its options. A human teacher, on the other hand, can innovate, improvise, back up and review, try new concepts, or seek help from other teachers. A computer program, after exhausting its preprogrammed options, can offer no more help. Relying too heavily on computer software as a teaching tool can leave students frustrated if the concept being presented is not quickly understood and the program simply repeats itself over and over.
A second problem, particularly for older students, is that computers can be “gamed” and manipulated by the user. While younger students may be drawn in by lights and sounds of educational software, teenagers are less likely to be enthralled and may be quick to search for ways of getting around their computerized assignments. Sharing flash drives, e-mails, or online messaging, teens may “copy-and-paste” their way through assignments without learning or appreciating the material. Lo and behold, every high schooler in class turns in the same answers…and learns nothing from the assignment presented on-screen.
For both younger and older students the benefits of engaging educational software is at risk for being outshined by more engaging digital fare elsewhere online. Instead of students enjoying using a computer for learning, they spend most of their time in the computer lab trying to go to other programs or websites, reducing the computer’s effectiveness as a teaching tool. The teacher must spend much or his or her time monitoring students to make sure they are not abandoning their assignment to check Facebook or YouTube or simply surf the Net.
Another drawback of computer-based learning is that it can hinder the development of social skills. High-tech classrooms that allow students to pursue learning via computer may risk creating generations of graduates who will struggle to interact with human coworkers, clients, and supervisors. After many years of computerized education these individuals lack the “soft skills” needed to engage in customer service, sales, or leadership. They are excellent at following linear instructions but struggle at processing the “fuzzy logic” of social interactions.
Finally, thorough learning sometimes requires physical effort, such as painstaking note-taking by hand, to sink in. When handwritten notes are replaced by computer printouts, or even sleek word processing programs, students may have less mental engagement during class. As a result, they recall less information. With notes available online, students may lull themselves into a false sense of security and avoid studying until the last second, figuring that they will simply download the notes the night before the exam. In sum, computers can make learners lazy and cause them to avoid studying until the last possible second, resulting in lower scores and less knowledge attainment.