Why We Need Deep Learning

I did something radical in 2008. I waited in line for an entire week at the flagship Apple Store in New York City to buy an iPhone. It was part of a PR stunt. My friends and I were the first people in line because we knew that mobile devices were going change how people worked. However, I had no idea, at the time, the considerable impact mobile devices would have on education.

Will Richardson has written extensively about the impact technology has had on education. In his book Why School? he explains that the role of the teacher is changing. A teacher used to be the smartest person in the room. They would bestow knowledge to the class. Now, a student with a mobile device and access to the internet can connect with more information than any single teacher could ever know.

Now, teachers are no longer the lone experts in the classroom. With mobile devices, it’s like every student has the Library of Alexandria in their pocket. Therefore, the new role of teacher’s is helping guide students to find relevant information and aid them in deciphering it.

Clay Shirky makes a similar argument in his 2010 TED Talk titled How Social Media Can Make History. He says the internet is the first media medium in history that supports large groups to have conversations. Consumers are now producers of content too. For the first time, the audience can not only talk back, they can communicate with each other.



Shirky’s ideas about social media and connectivity are directly related to modern education. Technology gives students the opportunities to learn from each other. Students can reach outside the classroom walls, connect across borders, and collaborate with a range of participants. Students can build learning networks and engage with other learners. This level of connectivity is unprecedented in scholastic history.

Technology in the classroom also comes with pitfalls. The Internet has made almost everything instantaneous. The speed that students can get information is giving way to a feeling of impatience. Simon Sinek discusses young people’s impatience with his answer to The Millenial Question. He says that Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Google bring everything in a flash. This is not always good.



The problem with instant gratification in regards to education is that learning is not instant. It takes time. As Sinek says, many young people see the summit but not the mountain. There are ways to expedite learning, but generally, it takes work and practice. It’s a commitment.

Learning is about incremental growth. James Clear wrote Continuous Improvement: How it Works and How to Master it. In his post, he stresses that small changes over time account for significant gains. Learners need to understand this approach and apply it to their process.

Another problem with tech in the classroom is shallowness. The abundance of information and its ease of access means students are able to gather material from numerous sources. They can “surf” from topic to topic with only a few clicks. While this is great for a width of knowledge and awareness, it’s usually only surface knowledge. There is little depth to their understanding.

Educators need to start a Deep Learning movement to combat the skimming of information people now do with technology. Teachers could help students understand that learning takes more than reading a Wikipedia article or watching a video on YouTube. Those are just jumping off points. Deep learning comes with time and perseverance.

In summary, technology has brought amazing changes into the classroom. It is changing the classroom dynamic with teachers and students. It allows learning to take place inside and outside the classroom walls. It provides connections to a global audience, and it allows networks to build up and communicate around learning. Technology can also bring impatience and shallowness. Students need to realize that learning is a process that takes time.

When I waited in line for that iPhone, my friends and I did more than twiddle our thumbs for a week. We used our position at the front of the line to talk to people about the Slow Food movement. The Slow Food movement was started in the 1980s to combat the fast food craze. It would be great to get that kind of attention for a Deep Learning movement. Spending time on a single subject can pay future rewards, and it will build communities of other learners. That would be radical.

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