When I think back to when I was growing up and having to learn something new, revise for exams or research for school projects I used to have to open an encyclopedia or ask a family member for some basic background before I hit the textbooks. (For the record I am only 24 so it wasn’t that long ago!)
Then as technology evolved, I had a DK Encyclopedia installed on a very large desktop computer that took up half of my dad’s office, and then when I was around twelve or thirteen I got 56kb dial up – which I used mostly for MSN messenger rather than educational resources. I remember thinking ‘life doesn’t get any better’.
Jump to 2011, when I was writing my dissertation, everything I needed was online, from books to film clips and third party opinions. I could easily find and digest information and reference materials – but I had to go to a library to use the computers there (as they had certain books only available on the intranet). Now in 2014 and most of the books needed for my degree are available in digital formats (including Kindle and eReaders), plus I could work from a variety of different locations as most places now offer free WiFi – from your local cafe to John Lewis.
Staying in 2014 – “Let me Google that for you” is the ultimate put down to a stupid question. There are encyclopedia apps on mobile devices, Google is everybody’s default. If I need to know how many different species of ants there are in the world, with a few clicks and BOOM we have the answer right there (the answer is 22,000). Or we could even try asking Siri. The ‘research’ element of my junior years, and the trawling though heavy books was over; all the information I could ever need is in my hand, literally.
So today, “research” has a totally different meaning, and the learning experience seems more effortless, as more and more resources are optimised for our mobile phones and technology has made a whole generation shift in how learning is digested and undertaken. Or is it? The gadgets and technology have sped up the process and improved access, but has the actual effort of learning, filtering, applying a critical lens become easier or harder? Is the stuff we get served more superficial? Is it fact, or is it just a Wikipedia editor’s opinion?