How digital learning is impacting our children

Shortened attention spans and the rise of “selfie culture” are among the negative impacts of digital learning on today’s students, according to a new analysis. On the up side, e-learning is also cultivating self-control, collaboration and cooperation. Maximising the positives while minimising the deficits depends largely on how schools approach the digital challenge.

"The ubiquitous use of digital tools and environments afforded by mobile devices, social media and the internet creates both risks and opportunities for the development of young people’s social, emotional and critical thinking skills,” notes author Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the prime minister of New Zealand.

Some of the challenges outlined in his 2018 Policy Quarterly report, “The Digital Economy and Society,” include:

  • Shortening attention spans, with multitasking now common in schools. This includes presentation of multiple sources of information on a single monitor screen, working on several open windows, using interactive whiteboard technology and engaging in activities in online or video game formats.
  • Duration of use of digital devices - emerging as a risk for cognitive and social development. This includes increased distractibility for younger children, and addiction-like behaviours for older children.
  • Cyberbullying among children and adolescents is a growing concern in schools, increasing dropout rates and affecting academic performance. Access to digital devices is increasing both the nature and the prevalence of bullying.
  • Altered leisure patterns - are affecting physical health, especially obesity rates.  
  • Communication changes - from artificially extended 'friend' networks, to anonymity. These changes in communication are breaking previous social norms.
  • ‘Selfie culture’ and the sharing of previously private matters with a potentially global audience.
  • Sexualising practices involving children, including sexting, with unknown consequences.
  • Information overload, and fake news. Students need the skills needed to cope with vast quantities of information, while also critically evaluating that information.

Other issues to consider include the potential impacts of artificial intelligence and machine learning on our sense of autonomy and self-control. With emotional health heavily dependent on both concepts, these emergent technologies may have some negative impact.

The speed, scope and pervasiveness of digital technologies is profound, and affecting every aspect of the education system, notes Gluckman.

"The impacts of such technologies include not only the manifest benefits of new digital technologies, but also the implications of what may be the largest and fastest shift in individual, societal and economic relationships and power structures that humankind has ever faced.”

The real challenge for the education sector is how to maximise the advantages and opportunities technology offer, while minimising negative impacts. School leadership teams and boards need to consider cyber safety and their duty of care requirements.

Family Zone Education Solutions take a holistic, ecosystem approach to addressing the challenges schools are facing, including mobile device and BYOD management.

For more information on our School Partner program, visit us at

Topics: Cyber Safety, schools, e-learning, classroom management, digital learning

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