Technology and the Culture of Learning

September 2, 2013
Technology and the Culture of Learning

Recently in a Relief Society lesson we got onto the subject of technology.  Several sisters commented about people playing games on their phones in the midst of family gatherings.  One sister said she and her husband were on a dinner date and realized they were each immersed in their own technology while waiting to be served.  Another said her children were very unhappy when she required them to put away their devices while on a family vacation.  She put an audio book into the cd player and they complained again, but eventually they began to enjoy the book and would ask to hear it.

I thought about that a bit, realizing that the cd player is also technology.  In that rare situation the technology was under parental control, and by their action the parents changed the family culture, at least for a time, and blessed the children’s lives.

Then I remembered something from Elder Richard G. Scott’s April 2013 Conference message, which I had listened to that morning. He said:

  • You live in a world where technological advances occur at an astounding pace. It is difficult for many of my generation to keep up with the possibilities. Depending on how technology is used, these advances can be a blessing or a deterrent. Technology, when understood and used for righteous purposes, need not be a threat but rather an enhancement to spiritual communication.

Then the light went on: It’s not the technology, it’s the use of the technology!

Technology is similar to guns. Both are tools. Both operate at the touch of a finger, one more easily so than the other. Guns don’t jump up and shoot; they lie motionless until a human puts them to use either to kill or to protect.  Or to obtain food.  Or for recreation.  Taking guns from responsible people leaves the community without the benefits that the Lord and our Founding Fathers intended us to have, and that government’s job is to protect.

Likewise, technology lies motionless until it is put in a human hand. People often use technology to “kill” themselves and others, but responsible people use it bless lives.  Taking technology away leaves us without its benefits.

And just what are those benefits?  I submit that the Lord’s purpose in giving us these technological devices are to enhance our ability to learn and to communicate. I think He’s fine with a little bit of recreational use.  Here is more from Elder Scott:

  • For example, many of us have a personal electronic device that fits into our pocket. We are seldom without its company; we may refer to it many times a day. Unfortunately, these devices can be a source of filth and wasted time. But, used with discipline, this technology can be a tool of protection from the worst of society. Who could have imagined not very many years ago that the full standard works and years of general conference messages would fit into your pocket? Just having them in your pocket will not protect you, but studying, pondering, and listening to them during quiet moments of each day will enhance communication through the Spirit.

    Be wise in how you embrace technology. Mark important scriptures on your device and refer back to them frequently. If you young people would review a verse of scripture as often as some of you send text messages, you could soon have hundreds of passages of scripture memorized. Those passages would prove to be a powerful source of inspiration and guidance by the Holy Ghost in times of need.
Why is it that we don’t use our technology as Elder Scott suggests?  Many do, but I really think that most people simply haven’t thought of their devices as learning tools.  They play games because they have no conception of or connection to being lifetime learners. Can we do better?  Can we teach our children the correct use of technology?  Only if we as parents first develop a love of learning and the habit of using our devices as learning tools.

I did it right once, not too long ago.  I had been offered a good deal on a tablet, so I bought it and set up some expectations about how I would use it.  Soon a granddaughter came over for a short time while she was waiting for her parents.  She saw my tablet and asked to play a game.  Knowing that she was a horse lover, I asked if she had ever seen the Lipizzan horses.  She hadn’t heard of them, so we spent a delightful half hour on YouTube watching those beautiful animals working together in the arena. That time spent helped us each develop a tiny bit of our personal culture of lifetime learning.

Newborns and toddlers are curious, questioning learning machines, but somewhere along the line, usually in upper elementary school, that desire to learn is often lost and the questions stop.  Sometimes it seems the more schooling a person has the less likely he is to ever pick up a book just because he is hungry for knowledge.  I wonder if too much acted-upon, high pressure studying loaded on students over too many years leaves them with little experience in the joyful, unhurried, self-directed experience of learning with the Holy Ghost.

Once we reclaim our love of lifetime learning and we develop the habit of using technology as a learning tool as part of our personal culture, then we can work at building a family culture of lifetime learning.  Maybe we can make changes in the “architecture” of our home, arranging tables and books and wall hangings to invite learning.  Maybe we can upgrade our family dinner conversations, our tv viewing, and our Facebook postings.

For our children, the technology may require a “limited use permit” and an understanding of the word covenant as we teach them correct principles and help them practice governing themselves.  Our loving Father expects us to use His great gift of technology wisely to help us become more fit for the Zion society we are to be building.

So if bad things are happening, don’t blame the technology.  Blame the cultures — personal, family, community, school, political, etc.  Fix the ones we can and withdraw from the ones we can live without.

Surprise!  After failing to get this newsletter sent out on Saturday, I discovered today that the Church has made a request regarding the 2014 curriculum materials:

  • Before ordering, consider the following questions to help you avoid ordering more printed copies than needed:
    How many printed copies of each item does your unit already have available?
    How many teachers and members use digital versions of materials rather than printed copies?
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