Why Are Computer Skills Important Part Of Online Learning Article

It seems insane to learn a computer language if your main tool is a smartphone. This way of thinking is connected to the age of a “Flappy Bird” culture where flipping through endless games of trying to avoid pigs is the only viable form of fun.

I read with curiosity a recent article by an MIT professor lamenting the digitalization of American learning. He is gravely concerned that “traditional” education is in steep decline. The reason for the decline, he argues, is that technology and social media have made higher education more accessible, which means more people who wish to learn are taking advantage of this convenience. As he sees it, the decline in students requiring higher education is the best proof that “new” learning methods are effective.

The problem, he says, is that many new learning methods are not only more accessible than traditional ones, but they are not that different. It is just “a matter of convenience,” he argues, which is all well and good if the convenience works for you—but not always. There is a tendency to assume that if you have a laptop or a smartphone, you are more likely to want to learn anything than someone without. Some people are more easily motivated to study or learn in the digital age than others, the article states.

In his disquisition on why computer-based learning works, the professor asserts that “digital learning may teach better than traditional one-on-one, group or online classroom learning,” and it also may “make learning better for everyone” because of its ability to bridge the gap between higher and lower-income students.

There is a plain error, however, in his perception of digital education as all-better for everyone. For most, no matter how easy it is to learn, the digital environment can be harder. As a student who previously struggled with computer classes, I can attest that the platform is no time on which to learn and to recover, or to innovate. Technology can help facilitate learning, but it can also be a hindrance.

The MIT professor is onto something when he argues that technology should be given a chance before making snap judgements about its effectiveness. Technology may be less common than it used to be, but it does not mean that today’s more student-friendly courses are necessarily more beneficial. It may only be common at one institutional level, and only mean that today’s students have fewer educational options than students who graduated five years ago.

You may be inclined to blame the Boston University economics professor, David Larcker, for misinterpreting the data. Unfortunately, though, there is no easy way to correct for the shortcoming in his data set that he has identified in order to reach the conclusion he does.

Larcker removed bias and non-random errors to formulate the dataset he reviewed in his study, but his limitations were obvious to him at the time and not obvious to anybody who trusted the data and consulted the authors. In his introduction to the paper he explains:

The sheer number of tests I could have done is enormous. But I compromised because this was only my first experiment on the topic. So instead of keeping 30 different tests open in a spreadsheet I kept only seven open and lumped them together. This is certainly not the best estimate, but the simplest approximation I could obtain. I think of a two-way well-performing machine as a sort of symmetric model that performs at most a relatively simple task with the hypothesis that the variable’s success is a function of the well-performing model. And a two-way poorly performing well-performing machine as a sort of asymmetric model that has a much more difficult task with no possibility that the working principle of the variable changes. (Emphasis added.)

What is happening is a type of brain drain, according to Larcker. Many academic workers are resigning or switching jobs. Larcker argues that it is a “worrying trend.” If this is indeed a trend, it presents both societal and financial challenges, especially because many will not have the time to seek other jobs.

The teacher is a resource for students and the final arbiter of what is offered. To the extent that a new or better form of education is offered today, it is almost certain that there are teachers in every school who are just as eager to experiment with its adoption, but who are resigned because of a lack of time. Teachers are volunteers and there is only so much time they have to dedicate to one subject. They must also focus on the other subjects they teach. In the past two decades, it seems many teachers are only now grasping the fact that the colleges they attended are no longer just teaching undergraduates, but helping them navigate the inflexible college rat race in search of internships, jobs, and accolades. The current generation of college graduates feels paralyzed by its inability to reinvent itself.

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