Where online education was first seen as something progressive and innovative, it is becoming more prominent and normal in our lives. In the morning we check the news online, in the afternoon we follow online PBLs and in the evening we catch up with our friends via innovative websites like wonder.me and Clubhouse. Going back to physical education might be in sight with the vaccination program, but it would never go back to the original state.
If i ask my fellow students what they think about online education: ‘boring’ and ‘i can’t concentrate’ are often mentioned. What is also mentioned, and I also vouch for, is that concentrating is becoming harder every week. Looking at a screen for two hours is just not the same as going to a lecture.
Looking at the current situation, following online education might not be the worse option. But what is interesting, is that online education might change the way we think. Nicholas Carr talks about this in his book titled ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains’ with a term called ‘neuroplasticity’. Our brains are getting used to the short time we spend on certain pieces of information. We are jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink to learn. And while we are doing that, our brains are creating a shorter attention arc. Carr even argues that after a while, our brains are completely used to it and even will adapt. This would mean that after a short period of time, even for the biggest reader, a chapter might be too long. We are training our brains to like short pieces of information only.
But what are the consequences for online education according to Carr? Are students currently all learning how to shorten their attention arc during the pandemic? Instead of reading something once and remembering it, we might need to look at it again or even more than once before we understand it. And no one is waiting for nurses who need to get a nursing-book every time someone mentions the term hypertension.
Of course, the best solution would be that laptops and other electronic devices are seen as a supportive device. But we are way past that stage, and currently that is seen as impossible. Digital education and the internet also offer a lot of positive aspects and society is already adapting to it. Maybe this new type of thinking fits with the future, where education will be adapted to our brains instead of vice versa. However, it is still attributing to students losing their motivation for studying and that imposes questions. Should the way of teaching be adapted to the way we think? Or should we try to reach our old level of ‘plasticity’ again, so that we can read chapter after chapter again? It is certainly not the case that students cannot think, it is just that we prefer diverse, short and precise information to keep our brains stimulated. Even though that is via hyperlinks.