Magazine article Training & Development

Howard Gardner Talks about Technology

Magazine article Training & Development

Howard Gardner Talks about Technology

Article excerpt

This is the second piece in a series by Weiss about the brain and learning. The first article, "Brain-Based Learning," appeared in the July issue.

People and technology! It's a love-hate relationship.

Those who long for the simpler days of old blame societal ills on a variety of technological advances: the industrial revolution, the automobile, the electric light, the telephone, film, radio, television, computers, multimedia, and now the Internet.

Trainers also have a love-hate relationship with technology. They blame it for shoddy instruction, low course completion, and the mindless adoption of e-learning just because it's currently the hot way to teach. Some confess they fear that technology will undermine their authority by putting learners in charge. There are plenty of trainers who'd be happy to stick with the Socratic method, period.

Nevertheless, technology--and learning through the use of technology--is here to stay. Just listen to educator Howard Gardner, the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gardner, well known for his theory of multiple intelligences, advises us to regard technology as a tool, neither positive nor negative. It's merely a tool we can use to educate, but one that shouldn't dictate educational goals.

Gardner says that one major task before embracing any new technology is to determine the educational goals and demonstrate how that particular technology can help achieve them. An equally important task, he states, is to ensure that adequate technical assistance is provided so that the technology is deployed effectively.

In Gardner's view, the same events that stimulated the development of the computer also brought about a revolution in our understanding of teaching, learning, and the way the human mind functions. His ideas refer to the transition over the past four decades from the behaviorist theory of psychology (that the way people learn is through a series of sequential reinforcements) to the theories generated by cognitive scientists, who use computers to help them simulate and understand the way the brain works to solve problems, store and manipulate data, and use symbols.

"Instead of focusing on actions and reactions, as the behaviorists did, cognitive scientists argue about the nature of human mental representations," says Gardner. "What is the stuff that we think in, how many forms of representation do we have, how does one learn, remember, understand, and create?"

According to Gardner, viewing the brain as solely an information-processing entity, comparable to a computer, gives an incomplete picture. In his seminal book, Frames of Mind, he questions the information-processing psychologies, saying they have "the blithe notion that a single, highly general problem-solving mechanism can be brought to bear willy-nilly on the full range of human problems."

Gardner adds: "To my mind, the excessively mechanistic, computer-driven model for thinking and the penchant for scientifically oriented test problems foreshadow certain long-term problems with the information-processing approach. That tack is studiously non- (if not anti-) biological, making little contact with what is known about the operation of the nervous system. For another, there is, as yet, relatively little interest in the open-ended creativity that is crucial at the highest levels of human intellectual achievement."

In other words, the human mind is far more than just an information-processing machine.

For the past two decades, neurologists have excitedly explored the physical structures, processes, and connections that occur in our brains as we go about the business of our daily lives. They've conducted research on analyzing the brain's most basic operations--such as how neurons and synapses are formed, work, and process chemicals. They've also noted how a whole host of behaviors are predicated on basic chemical and electrical processes. …

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