While most people interested in education have some vague concern about the potential of technology, it’s a little unclear if more tech really helps learning. Technological innovations in education can, in theory, make education cheaper and more effective. Bad technological innovations, however, can make education both more expensive and more impersonal.

This is precisely the worry of Colorado writer Nicholas Carr. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Marc Parry, Carr explains that,

Whenever we have a new information technology, there tends to be a lot of enthusiasm throughout society, but also in the educational community. That was true with hypertext in the 80s and 90s, and I think it continues to be true with multimedia. But what the evidence suggests is that, unless it’s very carefully planned with an eye to how the brain processes information, multimedia actually impedes learning rather than enhances it, simply because it divides our attention. Studies pretty clearly show that when our attention is divided, it becomes much more difficult to transfer information from our short-term memory, which is just the very temporary store, to our long-term memory, which is the seat of understanding.

Technology could help people to understand information better, but in practice it usually doesn’t. It’s not that advanced computer technology is a bad thing (and, realistically, who cares anyway? It’s here, deal with it) it’s just that there are good and bad ways to implement it. People, and certainly schools, tend to go with bad.

Check out Carr’s latest book here.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer