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Ed Reform, Technology, The Art of Teaching

If the Internet Has Changed our Brains, Why Haven’t We Changed Our Teaching?

There is a lot of information right now in the blog-o-sphere about how the Internet is changing the way we think.

I have to confess; I have noticed it not only has reshaped the way I work, it also appears to be reshaping the way my brain operates.

It led me to wonder what implications this knowledge holds for teachers in today’s classroom.

Current research on how the internet is changing our brains shows the most evident changes in modern brain function as follows:

  • Shortened attention span.
  • Less interest in reflection and introspection
  • Difficulty remembering specific facts
  • Fragmented, distracted thinking.

Sound like any students in your classroom? If so, you’re not alone! With student engagement and retention levels at an all-time low, teachers are struggling to find ways to get students to “pay attention”  and retain information being taught.

But perhaps, therein, lay our problems…

Perhaps too much emphasis is being placed on changing  teaching and not enough on understanding how our brains have changed.


 When I think back on the past life of my brain – before its exposure to the internet – I can clearly recall having a strong ability to remember and to memorize

Ask me 10 years ago to memorize and quote the Gettysburg address and I would be ready in 24 hours. Now, in 2012, I find it extremely difficult to memorize even a simple paragraph, let alone an entire speech!

Another thing I have noticed is a decline in my reading skills – or at least the ones I prided myself on in my youth. At age 15 I had read nearly every classic piece of literature I could get my hands on. From Dickens, to Homer, to Hawthorne and Theroux, my ability to attend to lengthy and copiously written classics was supreme.

Recently, I tried to pick up a Dickens novel and nearly fainted from exhaustion by the end of the first chapter.

Have I gotten dumber or grown feeble minded in my old age?

I don’t think so.

However, I do recognize that the way in which I utilized my grey matter, prior to the internet, is vastly different from the way in which I utilize it today.


Clearly my brain has undergone changes as a result of technology use. Though I may not have the capacity to retain all the information I encounter, I have found that my analytic skills and ability to hunt out and use meaningful content have increased tenfold.

If there is something I need to know, I don’t think twice about checking out the internet over checking out a book. While sifting through the glut of information the internet provides, I have learned how to locate the best and most relevant sources for my immediate needs, then synthesize the information gathered to formulate a plan and solve my pressing problems.

I have no reason to memorize long passages from historical pieces because, if I need to, I can simply access them on my tablet, pc or cell phone.

Do I remember every single page I visited on the internet yesterday? No! But why should I when the simple click of a button stores information in my “virtual memory” for later retrieval.

If I, as an adult can notice the change in my attention and thinking, why are we as educators, not recognizing this change in student thinking as well?


Naysayers will tell you nothing has changed and that children today just need greater discipline, and perhaps they are correct. I believe though, there has been a change, and as educators we must address it.

I don’t believe our students are any less focused or interested in obtaining a quality education than we were. In fact, research has shown that well over 80% of kids today believe an education is best way to achieve success.  However, the ways in which students obtain that education have to be different than the ways in which we obtained ours.

Humans are adaptable and evolutionary creatures, adjusting quickly to the environments in which they are placed. If students today had the attention span I did as a young girl, it wouldn’t be long before they would experience mental breakdown from the overload of information coming their way. As a means of survival, the human brain has evolved, making regular dumps of irrelevant and unused information, so as handle the information overload the internet and modern living has created.


So how, you say, does this affect the way we teach?

In every way my friend….

With the changes in the way our minds think, if we are to engage and truly TEACH students, we must toss out dated ideologies.

Learning must be research and action based rather than emphasizing rote memorization and worksheets. We must allow our pupils to “figure out” stuff for themselves. This involves completely restructuring the ways in which we “teach” our students.

For example, instead of explaining to student how to do double digit multiplication, why not allow them to form teams, scavenging the internet to find the best sources by which to learn the skill? As they work together and “test” resources found, they must “evaluate” which resources were most valuable and why. This mode of investigative learning places the student in control of the experience while utilizing the strengths of an internet shaped brain.

I once heard someone say “Never teach students anything they can Google”. At the time I felt confused as to what that person meant, but now I believe it is becoming clearer.

Our world is changing rapidly, and as such, the skills our students need to learn are changing too. Our economy and our world need efficient problem solvers, self-directed learners and thinkers. They need people with strong research and analytics skills and a team player mentality.Nothing about sitting in their desks for hours, listening to a teacher drone on about some abstract concept, prepares students with the skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century.

If we are to prepare our students for their future lives and careers, we must stop teaching like it is 1955.

It’s time to open the hatch on internet and problem based learning, unleashing the full potential of what our students really have inside their heads; a powerfully evolving brain that has changed to meet the demands of the world today.

If their brains have evolved,  then why hasn’t our teaching????


4 thoughts on “If the Internet Has Changed our Brains, Why Haven’t We Changed Our Teaching?

  1. I have enjoyed your site so I’ve nominated you for the Illuminating Blogger Award for illuminating, informative blog content. You can check out the details at my site … http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/ … Hope you’re having a great day

    Posted by Food Stories | June 1, 2012, 3:14 am
    • Thanks for the nomination! I visited your site, and found it to be very informative! May do a related blog soon featuring one of your stories! Thanks!

      Posted by cammyharbison | June 1, 2012, 3:37 am
      • Wow, didn’t expect that … thank you … Let me know if you need any help or wish to communicate on any topic 🙂

        Posted by Food Stories | June 1, 2012, 4:20 am


  1. Pingback: Reflections on “Narrowing the Widening American Skills Gap” « Mensa Musings - June 1, 2012

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