We should use technology to dramatically alter the way we learn.
Edward Snowden has recently given a new interview in which he characterizes technology as a new system of communication people need to learn, like a new language. Lacking this technical literacy, he says, is what prevents people from grasping the extent of the challenges to our privacy facing us in this digital age. I wholeheartedly agree, and I hasten to add that the possibilities for learning that technology brings with it cannot be overstated. Consider learning a foreign language.
Before the Internet, reading books, newspapers, or magazines in a foreign language, might have required some sort of effort. Getting audio or video material in the same language, might have been possible either through cassette, CD, cable TV, VHS. Speaking and writing were limited to telephone and letter writing, and ultimately, travelling to a country where the language was spoken could possibly have been one of the best ways to practise it and test your real life ability on it.
Technology has changed all that. Most of the aforementioned resources and learning tools are one click away. We have numerous mobile apps to help with word meaning, pronunciation, and much else besides. Technologies such as Google Hangouts and Skype allow us to have actual conversations with people anywhere in the world really, provided they have a computer and an Internet connection. There really is much we can do on our own, at our own pace, and as many times as we need it. Learning a foreign a language is, of course, an example I picked at random, not least because I’m an EFL teacher. But the examples of technology revolutionizing the way we do things today are far too many to need rehearsing here by me.
Yes, it can seem daunting at times, it does move at a faster pace than we can possibly imagine, and, yes there is a lot to learn. Snowden described it as a new set of symbols, a skill to be learned like learning to write a letter, only in this case we’re doing it with a keyboard and a monitor, we’re learning how computers interact and communicate. Of course, governments have to take the lead in investing on education that prepares people for this digital age. But ultimately it falls on the individual to make the personal effort and show the interest necessary for personal success. One of the most precious resources on the planet is the human brain, and it can keep learning, if only we use it.