Learning 'infantilised' by relying on internet

By Sean Coughlan

BBC News education correspondent

12 June 2012


The culture of clicking online for instant answers risks "infantilising" learning, says the head of a charity which runs independent girls schools.

Helen Fraser will warn delegates of the Girls' Day School Trust about the risk of pupils relying on "nuggets of information" from the internet.

She says that children should be reading whole books, rather than gathering a few shallow impressions.

Deeper learning takes time, she says, like a "slow casserole".


Ms Fraser is to give her warning against the intellectual equivalent of fast food to the annual conference of the Girls' Day School Trust, which runs 24 independent schools and two academies.

'Switch off'

"I do worry that the ease of access to nuggets of information means that our appetites are becoming infantilised.

"We're so used to fast facts that we're in danger of losing sight of the truth that some learning is more of a slow casserole, with knowledge stewing in our minds to form a richer, deeper flavour," Ms Fraser will tell the conference on Wednesday.

"So I'm a firm believer in the importance for our students of switching off the computer, the radio, the smartphone, the TV, and any other distractions, and reading a whole book - I would say from cover to cover."


Ms Fraser says she is concerned about the way that quick-fix answers from internet search engines can leave children with a lack of awareness of different views and a one-dimensional view of topics.

"I want to bring back thinking - and I think a lot of what happens on the internet is antipathetic to thinking and suggests there is no alternative view," says Ms Fraser, the trust's chief executive.

Learning should be about engaging with ideas, rather than "regurgitating facts", she says.

Screen age


Reaching for the search engine is not the best way of finding the value of competing and sometimes contradictory perspectives, she argues.

Ms Fraser, a former managing director of Penguin Books, says that schools need to create the space for children to think creatively around a subject.

But she says that it is hard to challenge the instant gratification of online answers when it is imbued from an early age.


"Two-year-olds are playing with their mothers' iPhones. It's a generation which looks to screens for stimulation," she says.


Ms Fraser says she is not against digital technology - and that educational software can provide useful motivation - but she is worried that an over-reliance on computers can leave children with only a superficial understanding or the belief that there is only one "right" answer.

"Research shouldn't just mean 'look it up on Google'," she says.

And in her conference speech she will speak of the importance of young people engaging with a whole book, rather than a few highlights.


"I'm not really bothered whether it's paper or an e-book, the important thing is that it's read from start to finish - following an author's train of thought, through perhaps some complex arguments and situations, from first principles through to their conclusion.

"It's only by learning deeply about and around a subject that you can truly hope to master it."


© 2012 by BBC