2004 December 07 Tuesday
Computers Reduce Childhood Learning

At least so far computers are not a panacea that automatically accelerate learning.For too many kids computers are a distraction that lower the rate of learning.

From a sample of 175,000 15-year-old students in 31 countries, researchers at the University of Munich announced in November that performance in math and reading had suffered significantly among students who have more than one computer at home. And while students seemed to benefit from limited use of computers at school, those who used them several times per week at school saw their academic performance decline significantly as well.


Mindful that computers are more common among affluent families, whose children often outperform more disadvantaged ones, the University of Munich researchers controlled for such variables as parents' education and working status.

When those were removed from the equation, having more than one computer at home was no longer associated with top academic performance. In fact, the study says, "The mere availability of computers at home seems to distract students from learning." Computers seem to serve mainly as devices for playing games.

But if games were kept off the computers would this pattern still hold?

Also, I'd love to see a study done like this but with IQ testing of the students. Are the kids with computers in upper class homes just as smart on average as those without computers?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 December 07 01:49 AM  Education

Matthew Cromer said at December 7, 2004 6:09 AM:

What is "learning"? Perhaps much of what we call "learning" is a useless waste of time or even counterproductive. Whatever our kids are doing when they grow up and enter the work world, you can be sure they will be doing a lot more communication on the computer than such activities as using a "card catalogue", writing out footnotes in MLA style, or performing long division of decimals by hand.

Most of contempory education seems to be designed to ensure that the vast majority of children develop a permanent antipathy to science and mathematics and a terminal case of economic illiteracy.

MichaelA said at December 7, 2004 7:55 AM:

I graduated from high school in 1996 from a relatively small town, with only one public option for high school. Although the district spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on computers, they refused to fund an AP biology program. I learned nothing useful from the computers, the classes were basic "how to use a word processor" classes, and would have loved to study advanced biology.

Invisible Scientist said at December 7, 2004 9:05 AM:

All depends on how computers are being used. For instance, the newer college admissions tests
are being administered by computers.

Ultimately, the same quantitative, visual, logical and verbal reasoning must somehow be learned
by the minds of children. Currently, the computers are VERY awkward in order to teach children and
infants in a nurturing manner. Initially the key word is "nurturing".

But in another 25 years, as the computers become more human-friendly, then the system will be more pedagocical.

noone said at December 8, 2004 7:25 AM:

"What is "learning"? Perhaps much of what we call "learning" is a useless waste of time or even counterproductive."

Learning and education is the simple transmission factual,accurate academic knowledge and sound technical skill to the student,something our education elites oppose,which leads to a question:

"But in another 25 years, as the computers become more human-friendly, then the system will be more pedagocical."

What is/will be the impact of the homeschooling movement?Will the market for factual,accurate pedagocical(and user friendly)software overcome the tendency of the producers to favor the PC line in their products?Will history lessons be objective or follow the Howard Zinn interpretation of history?I'm always surprised how little free market oriented conservatives and libertarians fail to use entrepreneurial opportunities to advance their agendas.

Invisible Scientist said at December 8, 2004 10:41 AM:

You wrote:
"What is "learning"? Perhaps much of what we call "learning" is a useless waste of time or even counterproductive."
"What is/will be the impact of the homeschooling movement?Will the market for factual,accurate pedagocical(and user friendly)software overcome the tendency of the producers to favor the PC line in their products?"

All depends on what future evolution we shall see in computing. The current linearly written code that is 2 rather
mechanical in its influence on people, may be totally different in the future. I am not accusing you of treading the word
word "pedagocical" as a synonym for "user friendy", but I am insisting that learning is not synonymous with accumulating
information, for information is not the same thing as knowledge. Knowledge includes some degree of understanding, and
understanding requires a certain intuitive inner form of thought, not just mechanical processes.

BOTTOM LINE: The future of computing will inevitably include a much better level of intutitive interaction with the human mind,
where the machine thought processes will be more compatible with the human mind. This will come from a revolution in

Bob Badour said at December 9, 2004 10:54 AM:

The results seem rather predictable to me. A higher understanding of mathematics, physics, linguistics, etc. improves one's ability to put a computer to productive use. Whereas, using a computer does little if anything to provide a higher understanding of anything else.

The best way a school district can prepare their students for life among computers these days is by teaching typing on typewriters. I seem to recall my grade 10 typing class taught me many useful skills including spelling.

Otherwise, the computer courses taught today belong only in vocational schools that have other similar vocational courses such as automobile mechanics or advanced home wiring or small engine repair.

And, yes, learning how to perform long division is a very useful skill to learn in school. Long division requires a process of estimation and trial with sanity checks that transfers as a skill to any number of other tasks.

Keos said at January 3, 2005 12:37 PM:

I believe that first you should look at the true purpose of school and educations. The divisions, mathmatics, history, etc are all based on one true purpose:
To teach kids to later blend in with society, while giving them the minimal skills to adapt.

School is simply the first place that a child interacts with people out side of his home. Groups are created, bonds made and ennemis formed. It's a society on a smaller level where you can make social faux-pas without the harsh consequences of the adult world.

I've used the word "children" however I believe you would be surprised to realise up to what age you're still learning about living in society.

Computers simply accelerated the process at which young adults are confronted with the "outside" world, that's why people like to find reason to hate them or at least blame them since I agreee "hate" may be too strong a word.

It seems that I've heard the argument of lowering school results before... it's become an "insert-word" phrase for such things as music, then television, now computers. study history and at one time you will even see that the word "book" also fitted at one time.

Computers are a source of information and interaction that decreases results in studies? seems paradoxal, perhaps it merely changes the interest.
I'm not going to finish with the "games are bad" argument that I find patheticaly weak, however I remeber wasting my study time riding a horse, reading books and playing with my friends... does that mean those things were bad for my education?
It's up to the child, THEN the parents, to inforce priorities and responsabilities.

Still I'm only 19 so if you don't like my opinion just blame it on my age.

P.S: Sorry About the mistakes but I'm more use to French

barefootmama said at July 7, 2006 2:23 PM:

I am a homeschooling mom of four kids. First I'd like to address the difference between learning, and schooling. Learning happens all the time , from birth to death, not just in a school setting. The purpose of school is supposed to be to prepare a child for adult life. Young children learn best from imitation and experience. The experience of using a computer will give a child experience in using a computer, not necesarily better acedemic scores. The sumary of studies I've seen so far shows that computer use in children ,especially used in a drill or electronic workbook form , does not increase acedemics, dampens creativity and causes problems with learning social skills with peers. Teens who used computers for more than 5 hours per day showed carpal tunnel syndrome, lack of physical fitness normal for their age group, increased depression and possible signs of computer addiction (choosing computer over food, sleep, social interaction with peers). the american acedemy of pediatrics recomends no more than 2 hours each day of combined media exposure (TV,computer and video games).

Now,like I said, children learn best through imitation, and they will want to imitate us adults using the computer. So, allowing them to e-mail a friend or use the computer to write a story is probably fine. Using the internet together to research some point of interest,probably also fine. IMing friends for hours,using software to replace lessons is NOT fine.

As a side note, I learned to use the computer when I was 25. I have never taken a typing class. I feel I can use the computer as well as the average person. That said,I do not think children will be harmed by waiting to learn to use the computer until age 10-12 or more.

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