A few weeks ago, my grandmother said to me: “studying nowadays is much easier than it was before. All you need is a computer”. She told me about the countless times she had to go to the public library, checking hall after hall and book after book of a given section, to try to find one that had what she was looking for; only to leave empty handed or with her question half answered.
I decided to reflect on her words to reach my personal conclusion.
Centuries ago, from Ancient Greece to the Middle Ages, having access to knowledge was restricted to elite social groups, usually the nobility and clergy. They were the only ones who could rejoice themselves over deepening their understanding of a subject through specialised education or discovery. The rest of the society was deprived of this knowledge, and hence, limited from a radical change in their economical development.
In the 18th century, efforts to change this impairment took place, with the aim of making access to education an equal opportunity for all children. As time progressed and the exclusionary system was left behind, it became the government’s responsibility to alphabetise its citizens, provide education to children, and protect any possible interference against it.
However, nowadays the situation is completely different. A revolutionary discovery, dating its origin to 1983, which is now integrated in the educational process, has changed teaching and learning. This technology is the Internet: a network of networks that allows users to communicate and get information. There is just one thing you need to access this network infrastructure, this unparalleled world filled with knowledge: an electronic device, either a smartphone or a computer that is connected to the Internet.
Time has evolved, and the introduction of technology in education has transformed it. With search engines, used by more than 93% of students, we can access more than 1.5 billion websites, 130 million books, countless documentaries, educational videos, maps and academic reports, available to users in the World Wide Web. We are literally, one click away from accessing the world’s largest library, having our academic questions answered, from researching, and nurturing our intellect, without the fear or leaving with our doubts half answered like it happened some years ago. All, just like my grandmother said, by having a computer.
Constraints of time and geographical location have lost their role in the process of accessing knowledge, as the Internet has outstripped local circumstances from the equation. Today, with so many resources at our hands’ reach, we experience a freedom of learning, only bound to the limits of our curiosity as to how much we dare to discover from certain subjects or topics.
The Internet has in fact proven that opportunities for learning can go beyond the classroom. Let’s take as an example the ongoing reality for many students. Due to the current crisis of COVID19, universities have made provisions for students to attend classes online. Through the designated platform, students can listen to lectures, ask questions to professors and continue with their education through a computer. Studying material including readings, presentations, and practice exercises are being uploaded to the online website, making it possible for students to stay up to date with their curriculum, while safe at home. Some years ago, a student’s educational process would have been interrupted by this crisis, putting a pause to their academic development. But now, thanks to the Internet, we have access to this vast ocean of knowledge without any type of constraints, as long as we have a computer. In fact, put this way, just like my grandmother said, “studying nowadays is much easier than it was before”.
But, having so much flexibility, and such an easy access to the Internet, hand in hand with the fact that this network is embedded in all the aspects of our lives, has brought new challenges in education, unknown to the previous generations. Before, the dare was the process of reaching the knowledge in books by spending hours in a library, or the lack of it. Now, it is maintaining concentration in the knowledge gaining process of this digital world. As technology has become so entrenched in our reality, our time is easily fragmented, just like our concentration is interrupted, especially when the average person checks their phone every 12 minutes, and is distracted every 3 minutes when working with a technological device.
In the same way that we are one click away from a world filled with resources for our education, we also are one click away from distracting ourselves: from watching a movie, reading a book that is not for university, chatting with friends, getting notifications from Social Media, or simply losing sense of time as you play a song or video on YouTube, and keep watching more as they automatically play afterwards. It feels as though staying focused has become the new challenge for our modern digitalised world, and as if constant concentration with technology has turned into a lost art. Just like the American Think Tank Pew Research Center said, the Internet is “creating an easily distracted generation with short attention spans”.
Evidently, we cannot deny that having access to the Internet has revolutionised education. It has empowered students, defied the scopes of learning, and brought endless opportunities for intellectual enrichment. The path of getting to a knowledgeable state has become cloudless, still, the actual trail to be followed is filled with new shortcuts and hidden roads that leave us further down from the starting point.
All of these infinite possibilities, just one click away.