Education Technology and Mental & Physical Health Disorders

The relationship between internet usage and learning through a computer or mobile device is elementary. While there may be differentiation in the assignments or tasks undertaken (personal as opposed to specialized) the media interface is identical. For example, researching for a project or reading through an online Publisher’s book-like interface, or playing a video game, or updating Facebook, or social networking, or using a movie making application, or a language or mathematics based application for school or college courses all involve similar cognitive processes which utilize our working memory, reasoning and creative brain functions. They also involve similar interactive relationships between a human being and a machine, no matter what type of branding and packaging of the machine be it an iPad, a Samsung galaxy, a Microsoft or Lenovo tablet, or any other of the myriad hand-held mobile devices on the market today. So to distinguish between an internet addiction and an addiction to a mobile device is useful only insofar as it delineates the purpose not the interface used for that purpose.  Spending 6-8 hours online at school or college or playing games or chatting or surfing the net watching YouTube clips or using a computer or mobile device to study or complete research for an assignment all carry the same psychological and physical health risks.

We know very little about the long term psychological and physical effects contemporary technology has on people in general and youth in particular except that some of the early studies are indicating that fundamental changes in social behaviour and mental and physical health after extended periods of time using technology are deleterious to human physical well-being, human social relationships and the human character.

For example, there’s evidence to suggest people behave more rudely and aggressively online. Psychologists call this the disinhibition effect-I call it bad-mannered, belligerent, antagonistic and outright cruel and rude anti-social behaviour. It is argued people feel less inhibited when not seen and feel they can express themselves more freely and without feeling vulnerable to criticism. But the results of this kind of reasoning put into practice can have devastating and tragic consequences.  Recently, a 13-year-old girl hanged herself after being bullied at school for months by a group of her peers who tormented her with names and threats of violence. Seventh grader Rachel Ehmke killed herself after what her parents said were months of abuse at her Kasson, Minnesota middle school. Several days before she took her life, an anonymous text message was sent out to other students at the school calling her a ‘slut’ who needed to be forced out of the school. (Thompson, 2012). In another tragic case, a young Indian student committed suicide by hanging herself after two boys posted obscene comments about her on Facebook (Jalandhar, 2012). But probably the most cruel and sadistic example of online anonymity and the disinhibition effect is the tragic and untimely death of 13 year old Megan Meier. Megan began receiving nasty messages from a boy a few weeks after she met him, via her MySpace account. After many messages of kindness and support she received one telling her the ‘world would be a better place without you’. Megan believed she had been rejected by the boy and committed suicide in her home. However, the boy never existed. He was an online character created by Lori Drew, a 47 year old married woman and a mother herself, who lived four houses down the street.

But it is not only social networking and the improper use of mobile devices which are having such a deleterious effect on our social relationships and our innate capacity for civility, compassion and kindness. The formal use of technology in education is undermining teaching and learning processes and the quest for knowledge. I mark hundreds of essays written by high school seniors every year for an international examining body, and I’ve noticed an exponential increase in the copying and pasting of information from websites-especially Wikipedia- without any real understanding of content. Moreover, I’ve also noted a reduced capacity for critical thinking and in-depth analysis from graduating high school seniors across the world.

Whereas teachers were once the bridge between the curriculum and the student, facilitating the teaching and learning processes, now technology is usurping that role, and the once strong, stable pillars of human reasoning, critical thinking, life-experience, empathy and understanding are being replaced by bridges of aluminium, fibreglass and fairy dust courtesy of Apple inc., Samsung and Microsoft These mobile devices are simply edutainment platforms for audio-visual media, books, periodicals, movies, music, games, apps and web content. They are being peddled and publicized by a marketing team of corporate moguls and educators with vested interests and embraced by educators caught up in the youthful but naive claim that teaching and learning methodology and content is outdated and needs to be realistic (whatever that means) and catch up to the 21st century.

There’s been no conclusive research which suggests that any mobile learning device is going to enhance and transform the learning success of school and college students. What we do know through research is that the kinds of experiences the iPad, laptop or desk top computers or any other piece of educational technology offers is limited to the innate ability of the user to learn. In other words, you can distribute a mobile learning device or computer to every pre-school, school or college age student in the entire world,  yet this will not make an iota of difference to whether they learn or not. Why? Well leaving aside intrinsic motivation, country, culture, social class and equal educational opportunities, the same cognitive processes are involved in learning whether the instructional tool is a person or a machine. Working memory, the key cognitive bridge between knowledge maintained and knowledge transformed through building on what’s retained, functions under whatever environmental conditions it encounters in the teaching and learning process. However, the caveat is this; cognitive overload a psychological and intellectual state which occurs when too much material of an auditory, visual- spatial or narrative nature is presented, undermines and prevents the uptake of key information and knowledge sequences in the teaching and learning process. And presently the educational technology currently used in pre-schools, schools and colleges without impunity are designed to increase rather than decrease the likelihood of cognitive overload.  Tools and applications which encourage multi-tasking in learning do not always act as facilitators of learning; they simply provide seductive distractions to what is required to be taught, learnt and remembered. Human beings on the other hand, are better placed to avoid this pit-fall, as they understand and have empathy with the learning process-two key human qualities not yet mimicked through technology or IT applications.

The long-term effects of technology use on physical health are only beginning to be understood. Changes in the physiology of the brain have been detected through long-term online interaction; for example microstructure abnormalities in adolescents with internet addiction disorder suggests that poor goal directed behaviors along with impaired working memory are the direct result of prolonged long-term exposure to a computer or mobile learning device. (Yuan, et al., 2011) While the destructive and negative effects spawned through technology induced social behavior are now self-evident. The international mental health encyclopaedia known as the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-IV) will include Internet-use disorder as a condition “recommended for further study” in its forthcoming May 2013 edition. The educational sector would be well advised to take heed of this, and to monitor its implementation of educational technology and the effects it has on the impressionable, vulnerable minds and bodies of those in its pre-schools, schools, colleges and universities. It is one thing to be swept up in the hype and technophoria of the moment; and quite another to be held accountable for the long term psychological and corporeal effects and consequences that mobile and computer based learning is having on the physical and mental well-being of present and future generations of learners.


Jalandhar. (2012, August 16th). Student hangs herself over obscene Facebook comments. Retrieved October 13th, 2012, from Deccan Herald:

Thompson, P. (2012, October 13th). Girl, 13, hangs herself after months of torment at hands of girls who scrawled ‘slut’ on her school locker and warned her to leave. Retrieved October 13th, 2012, from Mail Online:

Yuan, K., Qin, W., Wang, G., Zeng, F., Zhao, L., Yang, X., et al. (2011). Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder. PLOS , 1-21.

Fame, Denial and the Conspiracy in Hero Worship

The world of fiction abounds in life lessons on the high cost of hero and celebrity worship; Shakespeare’s Othello and Macbeth, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Bolt’s Sir Thomas More to name a few, are examples of the price paid for self-mastery over the very frail and fallible human condition. After being lauded and held up as role models of excellence in their lives, each falls according to the flaws in their character; unable to admit to weakness and caught up in the myth that how others perceive them (including God) is the measure of a virtuous and successful life.

To some extent this is the creed of modern life too-successful achievement in life is measured by one’s celebrity status and the public need for larger than life characters who can be feted and rewarded then held up as role models as the justification for the guiding ethical principles which underpin the very foundations of a moral society. Some of the world’s contemporary heroes include footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, actress Dame Judy Dench, teen age singer Justin Bieber, and the young actress Emily Tennant. Then there are the every-day traditional role models in society who represent all that is good and all that one should aim for in terms of character, career achievement and success. They come in the shape and form of parents, grandparents, teachers, doctors, sports personalities and so on. But what happens when a role model fails and their once hero like status is in tatters? What happens when the public in its many guises as fans, family and friends, who once feted them with exquisite laurels of praise and awarded them their God-like status, suddenly turn on them, and in fits of fury and rage pull them off their pedestal and exposes their very weaknesses, which hitherto had been denied ever existed, yet had always been there?

Recent history throws up some interesting examples. Michael Jackson for instance managed to avoid conviction for some very serious allegations against him for his supposedly genuine, yet misguided fondness for young boys. There are still hundreds of thousands of his supporters who conspire to proclaim him a hero despite his public humiliation via multi-media access to judicial processes in the United States of America. The untimely demise of Whitney Huston to drug addiction and dysfunctional personal relationships saw her once untouchable role model status as The Voice barely functioning up until her death. More recently there’s been the scandal enveloping Lance Armstrong. He was a hero to millions, a cancer survivor who was establishing his reputation as the foremost cyclist in history. But the evidence put forth by a US antidoping agency painted a picture of him as a disreputable fraud, an insolent liar and an aggressor towards his own team mates who pushed others to cheat with him so he could claim hero status. Yet, in a desperate bid to maintain his crown, Armstrong refutes all these claims, and his tattered reputation still hangs on the precipice of erratic public opinion including misguided loyalty from pro-sportsmen like Alex Dowsett, who conspire to deny that Amrstrong did anything wrong-but perhaps not for much longer. And cross the Atlantic there’s the unfolding sorry and sordid tale of another community hero-the late Sir Jimmy Saville-once feted by religious and secular Royalty alike; now a moral post-mortem is being carried out on a man who appears to have been a serial predator of young girls and the occasional boy, with over 120 separate allegations coming to light a year after his death. It seems this chilling posthumous biography will rewrite history for many people not just the deceased. In all the examples cited above; Jackson, Houston, Armstrong and Saville someone, some where knew there was something wrong, but conspired with others to say nothing. The media machine kept churning out the images and narratives everyone wanted to see and hear, and the public drank it up like an elixir from the the mythical fountain of youth. No-one wanted their dream to end. Waking up to reality was just too costly. But the end result of this kind of folly is a breach of trust which takes a very long time to regain, and in some instances may never be regained. We already live in a complex world, fraught with irony and paradoxes when it comes to understanding the nature of people and human relationships. History could have forewarned everyone in all the cases cited above. “Show me a hero” wrote Scott Fitzgerald, “and I’ll write you a tragedy”

Mass Unemployment :The Irony in Education for the Masses

The reality facing us today, regardless of the level of education we’ve attained is there’s very little cause for hope if we continue the same determinist approach in our schools, universities and colleges; that is educating to serve an increasingly redundant and collapsing economic and social order. Unemployment is at catastrophic levels throughout the world. In the West, the vast majority of jobs for the lower and middle classes have been outsourced to the developing economies of India and China. Moreover, those that remain are jobs which simply prop up an economic and educational system where any diploma or degree once earned is immediately undermined through a corrupt meritocracy that promotes anyone able pay to the front of the queue. In a desperate attempt to invent new ways to make money (and make people think they are valued) we have created the priority queue. This insidious idea is that a person pays to get through a queue quicker-they don’t have to wait. The system is used in supermarkets, medical centres, places of worship, night clubs, and movie theatres and themes parks. It even includes priority traffic lanes, priority seating in airplanes, lounges, restaurants, and priority classes in Colleges and schools, even priority restrooms! All the obverse of the morally corrupt idea that if you slip a couple of bucks to anyone you’ll get through the door and be ahead of everyone else. Money talks. Knowledge and its pursuit for the greater good of everyone is becoming increasingly irrelevant in an age of impulsive and reckless capitalism.

The values of respect for individual differences, social class, understanding, care, compassion, tolerance, patience and hard work have been usurped by a money culture which deludes everyone into thinking they may gain access to the top of the pyramid. Since the catastrophic collapse of the world economy in 2008, mainly caused through greed and usury by those at the top of the pyramid, most of the jobs in industry, manufacturing, middle management, and other semi-skilled professions in some of the key western industrial based economies have disappeared-never to return. Furthermore, rapid advancements in technology have eroded job vacancies in manufacturing, the auto-industry and traditional white collar professions. What’s more developments in technology are usurping the way we learn and undermining the teaching and learning profession. Educational theories and methodologies are being duped into promoting a kind of interactive edutainment in the belief (mainly endorsed by multi- billionaire corporation like Samsung,  Apple Inc. and Microsoft) that learners will be better educated in the present and the future. This just isn’t true. The inexorable fact is we live in an age of uncertainties and insecurities and the kinds of inventions and innovations which laid the foundations for economic growth, education and security in previous centuries and created entire industries, no longer exist for us today. It is unlikely such a golden age will ever return. Some would argue (like most of our leaders) that this is not the case, and that technology,  Ed. Tech. tools, mobile devices, computers and the Internet, which have given rise to mini-industries in their own right have created new opportunities for everyone. But, the reality is that the jobs and opportunities which have been spawned in the technology sector are highly specialized for the most part and also there just aren’t enough of them to go around the 200 million plus people unemployed in the world today. For example, retail opportunities presented through Ebay, Amazon and other online industries, are limited in number, and do not even begin to make inroads into say the USA unemployment figure of 12.5 million or the United Kingdom’s 2.59 million unemployed. What’s more the applications and services made possible by Face book, My Space and LinkedIn etc. along with the mobile cosmos opened up by the deluge of smartphone and other mobile device manufactures hasn’t alleviated unemployment in the slightest, despite claims that it has done so. The truth is the world needs to create a further 400 million jobs over the next ten years to avert a further increase in the current world-wide unemployment rate, and even if it does so –which is highly unlikely-this would still leave 900 million workers living with their families below the US$2 a day poverty line, largely in developing countries.(ILO, 2012)

High Tech companies like Apple Inc. while grabbing a billion dollar market to promote their gadgetry in a failing education sector, outsource most of their work from the USA and avoid paying decent wages and humane employment conditions to their workers (some who have been found to be underage). It seems not only do economists and educators have their heads buried in the sands of their own ideological mindsets but so do the world’s leaders. We hear what they say clearly: “we’ll create more jobs, more opportunities for economic growth…” and so on; but what we see everywhere doesn’t match this kind of utopian rhetoric prophesying recovered economies and good times ahead for everyone. Among a plethora of crises facing the world in general and the educational sector in particular is unemployment:


% General   Unemployment

% Youth   Unemployment
















Bosnia  & Herzegovina           27.6                 47




































New Zealand















South Africa












United Kingdom



United States









Source: multiple sources were used to compile this graph-please contact the blog for details

There just aren’t the jobs which were once guaranteed at the end of one’s high school diploma or University/College degree.  This begs the question of why we continue to educate for a world which no longer exists. Why not educate for a world which could exist, a world in which hope grows out of struggle and caring for one another, and cooperation and support are valued over aggressive competition. A world where human beings are not debased because of how much they earn or have accrued throughout their lives, but are valued for who they are as persons.

An alternative archetype of education to challenge today’s deterministic model needs to be liberating. We seem to have come full cycle because such a model was argued for by John Dewey and the social Reconstructionists nearly a century ago. The model proposed below for the post-modern age is similar, and one predicated on the principle that education should not simply be a matter of reproducing the values, knowledge and skills of a dominant culture that sets up one social class against another; rather it must advance a just and fair society while promoting an emancipatory approach to understanding ourselves in relation to the times we live in:


Topic Area



Languages & Cultures A study of Narratives  and Lifestyles from throughout the world


Linear   Theories and Models of Thinking and Being Mathematics and the Natural Sciences


Knowledge and Human Societies A cross cultural study of the teaching and learning people have created throughout history to add   meaning to their lives


Gender   Studies Understanding Social Constructions of self and the ‘other’


Learning to Understand Cultures, Religion and   Spirituality A study of the  paradigms of thought which add meaning to people’s lives


Awareness   and Understanding of Self Design your own program of study based   on the themes within  the table’s influence


Sports Science & the Creative and Performing Arts A Collaborative approach to kinesthetic learning and knowing


Environmental   Awareness and Understanding Learning to live a sustainable lifestyle

This model has a compelling epistemological foundation, along with sufficient time set aside to promote, cultivate and encourage critical thinking, reflection and rumination on what is taught, learned and achieved throughout the years of formal education.  It is based on the ‘uncertainty of being’, which is a significant characteristic of living in our late post-modern societies. It places the learner at the centre of the teaching and learning process. It does not subordinate the procedure of teaching and learning to any specific ideology or methodological processes, neither does it shackle teaching nor learning to the hype and technophoria of multi-media and edutainment; rather it places such gadgetry in its proper servitudinal position, as instructional tools which may or may not be helpful at any given point in the formal educational process. In the model above learners are required to undertake a course of study from Groups A,E,F,G and H plus one elective from B, C, D or E. Or they may negotiate a course which best suits their circumstances and aspirations. Self assessment against criterion referenced descriptors would form the basis of formal learning appraisal. Students would be learning at their own pace and not be fiercely competing against one another to achieve the highest grades. Moreover, they’ll gain an understanding that the future grows out of their own creation and doesn’t need to be dependent on the deeds or misdeed of others. An essential part of this alternative model to education today is the personal growth and development of the individual. If education is to be liberating for communities, societies and nations, then it must begin with liberating the self.

ILO. (2012, October 4th). Exceutive Summary. Retrieved October 4th, 2012, from International Labor Organisation:

Education, Apple Inc. and the Way We Learn.

There’s no doubt that iPads, along with other mobile devices bring interactive learning and amazing resources to the very heart of the educational process.  This is a constantly repeated refrain from the Apple and Ed. Tech. converts, or as one of my colleagues likes to call them ‘the Ed. Tech Cult’.  Apple Inc. goes further and says the iPad is the “perfect learning companion”. In 2011 Abilene Christian University produced a paper entitled iPad or iFad, in which the writers produced a rigorous defense of using Ed. Tech through this device as an instructional tool in the paperless classroom; but provided no evidence of improved learning outcomes through academic success.  Pepperdine University in the USA is currently the only tertiary institution to have undertaken a longitudinal case study on the use of the iPad as an instructional and learning device in an attempt to establish the validity of claims made by Apple Inc. that their device is the future for education. They framed their study around 2 key questions:

1. Does the iPad have the potential to enhance students’ performance on course learning objectives?

2. Can we develop a formula for success?

The results which Pepperdine have posted online to date do not show any statistical evidence that using the iPad has “enhanced student performance on course learning objectives”, and the results from their questions and surveys do not indicate they have yet “developed a formulae for success” in using this device. It is my opinion that there is an urgent need for more informed, critical debate on whether or not the iPad in particular or Ed. Tech in general is enabling learners to succeed whereas without the aid of these tools they would fail.

Mayer (1993) has argued since the early 90s, that there seems little point in infusing the debate with opinions about those who support or do not support the use of online learning and Ed. Tech. in teaching pedagogy. People being people take time to adjust to the new and untried. It is a matter of respecting this and ensuing that these differences of opinion do not over shadow clear critical thinking when considering what is best for today’s and future generations of learners.

From an historical view point of view the educational sector, when it has had the means to do so, has always embraced new technologies for better or worse. From the days of the printing press, to the invention of radios, the telegraph, television, vinyl records, tape recordings, videos, CDs, DVDs, internet resourcing, podcasts, wikis and so on, educators have taken to what works well and what contributes to the genuine development of sound pedagogical processes in teaching and learning. It has never been a simplistic argument about those who embrace the new or those who resist the new and untried. Such a black and white perception of the IT revolution and what is occurring in education is profoundly naïve simply because there is a huge difference between embracing technology in all its guises as an instructional interface and understanding how such devices affects pedagogical processes; and more importantly how they impact on  the psycho-cognitive processes of learners.

There is a vast corpus of researched literature on the effects of online learning and Ed. Tech tools on children and students regardless of age nationality and gender.  For example one key study by the Milken Exchange –a subsidiary of the powerful and influential Milken Family Foundation (Transforming Education through Technology, 1999) claimed that 11% gains made to elementary school learners through mathematics and vocabulary development were directly attributable to technology usage. Yet, if these findings were tested more rigorously through applying a chi square statistical set it would show that there are no significant differences between students who learn online and through Ed. Tech tools, and those who learn offline without an Ed. Tech. interface. The differences claimed in the Milken Exchange study could have been due to many other variables in the teaching and learning processes. I have found similar results in my own research (Burke, 2010, 2012) which suggests that there are too many variables at play to be able to find a control group that will give more than a 50% mean difference between different kinds of teaching and learning methodologies and processes.

Clarke (1983) argued that there are absolutely no accrued learning benefits through using media of any kind in teaching and learning pedagogy. His famous quip that a new Green Grocer vehicle won’t change the dietary habits of a nation is an interesting analogy for today. Yet, we’ve move beyond such a perfunctory view of Ed. Tech. tools and online learning to one where we are essentially concerned with the impact and affect on the cognitive processes of learners. This is where the debate must center and focus for educators. We need to eschew the technophoria and hype, along with the awe and glamour of new devices, new applications and software, as well as the talk show type debates about online vs. offline learning, and seek a clear critical understanding of how we learn and the cognitive processes most deeply affected through Ed. Tech. tools and online learning. A number of educators are engaging in this debate; Mayer & Moreno’s (1998, 2001, 2002, 2003), well founded research and arguments for controlled and discerned use of Ed. Tech tools, and Fuchun, L, Yan, Z, Yasonng D, Lindi, Q, Zhimin, Z and Hao, L  (2011) and their seminal study on how brain structure and function are adversely impacted through prolonged online engagements are among a plethora of recent modern studies and are where the debates should be centered today for all educators.

However it is unfortunate that this may not come about because the IT lobby in the corporate sector, with its billions of advertising dollars and its quasi-research projects-all biased towards their own outcomes hinder a clear, critical public debate. This is clear in the ITL research group’s recent report on innovative teaching and learning (2011) 95% of the report condemns schools and learning institutions for not using the latest products and gadgetry, there is no informed, clear critical research on how their products perform or affect learners cognitively or how they define methodological and pedagogical processes in a constructive way. It is one thing to argue for every child having an iPad to reduce heavy back packs with lots of books, and quite another to pursue the argument that it will increase knowledge gains for learners.

Teaching and learning is a highly sociable process. It is built on a fundamental axiom of clear inter-personal communication. Moreover, schooling and tertiary studies is a highly controlled social process as well as an intellectual one. We require those who graduate from our high schools and universities to be civil to others and to have good manners and treat people respectfully. Working in the isolated vacuum of virtual realities where “I am my screen” and “I do not have  to share my thoughts and ideas” does not contribute to positive social learning outcomes at all. I’m all for ‘rethinking education’ and embracing technology; but it should be an intrinsic part of any performance management plan which has as its core principle how students learn, not what they like using and doing best.