"When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning."
"The Internet is literally rewiring our brains."
"Hypertext distracts and does not aid understanding."
These are just a few of the findings of psychologists, neurobiologists and educators outlined in Nicholas Carr's excellent new book, The Shallows.
Carr's argument is that we use the Internet and read hypertext-type differently to how we read text in books. This is developing new different skills of assimilating lots of information very quickly, which on one level is very positive. Because of the plasticity of the brain these new abilities become hard-wired through new neural pathways. The down side is that high Internet users are losing to read documents deeply, and to reflect and appraise them fully. Reading books in an undistracted environment is essential to be able to learn what is being read and to exercise the important skills of reflection and making connections. If we don't practise these skills we will lose them as our brains adapt accordingly. Carr's conclusion:
"The Net grants us instant access to a library of information unprecedented in its size and scope and it makes it easy to sort through that library. What the Net diminishes is the ability to know, in depth, a subject for ourselves, to construct with our own minds the rich and idiosyncratic set of connections that give rise to a singular intelligence."So what are the implications of this for education?
All the research outlined in Carr's book points to a balanced diet is being the way forward for the Digital Generation.
There are clearly implications here for e-learning which will need to focus on providing an undistracted and reflective user experience if there is going to be sustained learning and deep understanding. e-Learning environments may have to look and work differently from the typical webpage, playing down the hyperlinks and channeling the range of media available to reinforce the same learning goal.
Above all, I believe that this research means that it is more important than ever that schools and parents encourage young people continue to read books in the printed format both as part of their studies and for leisure. This will develop important skills and abilities that we need for the deep thinking and reflection that are essential for creativity and problem-solving.