How Technology Reinforces Poor Learning – An Experiment

Reader beware, this post is an experiment!

While reading through my daily dose of ed tech blogs, I came across what I feel is not just a terribly ineffective use of technology for reinforcing real, authentic learning experiences, but one that many teachers today might think is a brilliant idea! I’ve seen it happening more and more as school districts hop on the 21st century band wagon (which isn’t that bad of a thing), and teachers try to find ways to make learning, studying, and teaching more engaging to students that are used to a always being connected.

I don’t want this post to come off as overly critical, so I’ll try to frame my thoughts in a positive manner. The amount of tools that we as educators have at our disposal today is overwhelming. Every day it seems there’s an exponential growth of texting, tweeting, social networking, and web 2.0 tools to help reinforce teaching and learning strategies (which is a good thing!). However, everyday it seems as though there’s an equally soaring growth in the number of teachers that don’t think critically about the tools they’re using with their students, and rather than focus on reinforcing effective teaching and learning strategies, they simply start using tools that are really cool, super engaging, and fit neatly into student’s digital media-filled lives. The teaching strategies that many of these tools, or at least the way they’re being used, reinforce ineffective, and superficial strategies for authentic, engaging learning.

For example, the post that I linked to in the opening paragraph showcases a new tool for students to study anytime, anywhere, using their mobile device. By utilizing StudyBoost’s service, teachers can submit a battery of review and study questions, which are then delivered to student’s devices whenever they have time to “study” in their normally hectic schedules. I put the word study in quotation marks, because the definition of this word has so many connotations. However, the specific use of StudyBoost in order to help student’s study is very superficial, rote, and follows the old skill and drill method of studying. Somehow, in this day and age, it just doesn’t seem right to perpetuate the skill and drill method of studying as an effective way to learn during a very fragmented lifestyle. Sure, skill and drill of math facts and vocabulary might still be useful if done in a manner that ensures some absorption of the material, but practicing your math skills while riding on a noisy, bumpy bus ride to the football game, or during commercial breaks seems like it wouldn’t really create a lasting mastery of the material. Is it a cool use of technology? Sure it is! Effective? I’m dubious. I would say that such a use of SMS or mobile technology could be better used by a student-led study session, where learners are submitting questions to the group and/or the teacher to be collected and addressed later during a teacher-lead study session.

Which is where my experiment comes in. Have you ever had a moment like this, where the cool factor of the technology overpowers the critical thinker in you (or one of your fellow educators), and you base your use of the technology on what’s possible, not what’s going to be most effective? Feel free to participate in my little experiment by following filling out the survey below:

Your thoughts, input, and constructive criticism will be displayed in the embedded Google spreadsheet below. I thought it would be better to have the question broken into a few different parts, and presented accordingly. That having been said, you’re always welcome to leave your comments below if you’d like.

Can’t see the embedded Google Spreadsheet? Follow this link to view it in Google Docs.

image: Broken –


  1. Ben,

    I completely agree that technology is capable of reinforcing poor teaching and the device originally discussed has that potential.

    I am going to split hairs here and get to a more philosophical debate…and maybe in the process expose myself as a “poor” teacher.

    Even in 2011, there is still a place for drill and kill and rote learning. Take multiplication facts. Any math above about the first month of 4th grade is excruciating if someone doesn’t know his or her multiplication facts. Another example of necessary rote learning is students learning symbols and valences in chemistry class. You can’t figure chemical reactions without this knowledge in your head. Throw in the formulas for sine and cosine for good measure.

    Some learning still requires memorization. Period.

    The problem lies when memorization is assigned for memorization sake and students are evaluated on their memorization of the facts and not their abilities to apply that knowledge to problem solving.

    This technology can definitely be a crutch and an easy one for poor teachers to use as a time killer. It even looks good to administrators on their daily walk-throughs.

    Technology that can be used as a crutch though has been around forever. In 1903 Crayola introduced its first box of 8 crayons. Bad teachers have been using them to keep little kids quiet ever since.

    Like any tool, educational technology can be used for good teaching and bad. It is an equal opportunity player as it enhances both.

    I have no problem with a tool like Study Boost as long as students are then building upon the rote learning with higher order thinking.

    1. Hey Andy,

      I like your example of Crayola. Can I quote you on that? Did you get that line from somewhere? It’s quite funny and rather poignant…


    2. Splitting hairs is what we have to do once we realize that most situations are simply black and white (which I admit, is difficult for me to do). And you no more exposed yourself as a “poor” teacher than a national board certified uber-educator. We have an ever growing toolbox of both instructional strategies and tools at our disposal, and sometimes we get the wrong tool out for the job. It doesn’t make us any less of an educator than any other person that makes a mistake on the job.

      If it wasn’t clear in my post that I’m talking about poor teaching and learning practices, then I apologize for implying that I think people that use these techniques are poor teachers. I use highly ineffective teaching and learning techniques from time to time because I’m either trying something new, or having on off moment, and it happens to every teacher.

      You did however, nail my point home with your analysis of how memorization of facts is used in the learning process. Memorization of the facts to ensure passing a test is wrong, wrong, wrong, and I see StudyBoost’s entire pitch to be aimed at memorizing those kinds of facts. Memorizing formulae, and processes for effective problem solving is a much better educational practice, and one that I doubt StudyBoost is good at in it’s current form of hyper-bite sized study bits.

      The abuse of these tools is encouraged because of two unsustainable realities.

      1.) The large majority of these tools are free, and thus many teachers shut down their critical thinking skills due to many years of being handed directed and scripted instructional materials, basal series, and other materials passing as “curriculum” which cost LOTS of money, and there’s no money left. Thus they’re desperate to try anything.

      2.) Yes, technology will continue to change, and be an ever evolving presence in our classrooms, but when I open up my RSS reader and find 30 new tools every single day, with little more than just a “hey, check out this cool thing, it’s shiny, new, and it uses technology” without any further exploration, dissection, or examination of who it supports GOOD learning, it really sends the wrong message to educators out there.

  2. Hi Ben,

    I totally agreed with your point and I really liked your experiment.

    Technology is improving day by day and we need to use it in right and positive way only then we can be benefited. If we’re not able to use these technology correctly then there is no need for such improvement in technology as our life is not improving at all.

    1. It’s not so much that the technology isn’t being used correctly, because in the example I gave it is….it’s just not being used as effectively, mostly because it’s built upon shaky educational practice. Memorization of facts is an example of low leveling thinking, and while sometimes it’s necessary (as Andy pointed out earlier), I would personally want a more direct way to channel that low level thinking into higher order thinking, rather than just slough it off onto the cell phones.

  3. I agree that using technology as a simple memorization tool, without requiring students to actually think, is not an effective application of student time or effort. Any resource that is, or can be, used in the classroom has the potential for misuse though. If I am introduced to an activity or given a worksheet, and I do not take the time to make sure I can use it as an effective teaching/learning device, then I probably should not be using it in the classroom. The same goes for technology tools. If I am using something simply because it is cool or new, that is irresponsible teaching. Technology should be integrated into the classroom not to be entertaining, although good use of technology can be entertaining as well. As with everything else, I will only use tech in my classroom if it will encourage student discovery, growth in problem solving, or ability to find (and use) high quality information.

  4. There’s certainly a little bit of validity in using something new because it’s cool (as long as it’s introduced to the students from the experimental perspective). I stumbled with using wikis for the first year or so before I finally realized I needed to stop using it as a digital bulletin board, and start using it as a way for students in different classes to work together and build new understanding asynchronously. And in the end, it turned out to be pretty entertaining 🙂

    I wonder where the balance is, between the need to use tools authentically, and leverage the “coolness” of them.

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