Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On Laptops and Learning

A new economic study found that giving laptops to poor kids doesn't help their academic achievement very much and, in fact, may actually hurt their learning. Undoubtedly there's someone out there right now thinking that this is proof that schools are overfunded and that teachers and/or kids are just lazy and should get their acts together.

But that person isn't much of a critical thinker.

Really, what this study shows is that laptops are tools and that tools alone are not enough to get the job done. Ultimately, a tool is only as useful as the person using it knows how to make it. So a hammer in the hands of a skilled carpenter can build all sorts of things. That same hammer in the hands of a small child could be dangerous. Such is the case with laptop computers.

Kids who lack the skills to be successful in school probably won't benefit that much from having a laptop dumped into their lives. Rather than use it for productive pursuits, it becomes a huge distraction. However, in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, a laptop can become a very useful learning tool.

So the lesson here is not that computers are bad for learning. The lesson is that laptops alone don't create learning. They're just another tool and the user has to be taught to make the most of it.

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